[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas! Here, we talk about Chinese culture and history through Chinese Dramas. I’m Cathy and Karen !  Today, we are going to discuss episode 27 of 后宫甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace. If you are new to the podcast and the drama, we recommend listening to the Intro To The Drama episode to get your bearings and what this drama is about. You can always watch this drama on YouTube, just search Empresses in the Palace and it’ll pop up. I don’t know if there are English subtitles moving forward so we’ll do our best to recap.

Let’s get started! This episode is a doozy!

The Emperor 皇上 visits 沈眉庄. She was previously very favored by the emperor. But she fell victim to a fake pregnancy scandal and was demoted. With some help from 甄嬛, the truth came out and she was reinstated to her rank of Noble Lady. The emperor is willing to mend their relationship but she very much is opposed to this. She backs away at his attempts to even touch her. She’s not rude, but she’s not welcoming.

Is it me or is her clothing even darker now? She wore purple before but this is a darker shade of purple. She seems more subdued.

 

[Karen]

You’ll recall that we talked about chrysanthemums in episode 4 of the drama. 沈眉庄 loves chrysanthemums because of the 气节 or integrity of the flower. The chrysanthemum would rather wilt on its stem that blow into the north wind. This attitude is fully being reflected by 沈眉庄。 She’s basically saying that you don’t trust me anymore, you have discarded me. I will not bend back to be your lover. She holds her ground against the emperor.

Which honestly – is really quite an action. In the imperial harem, without the emperor’s attention, you really can’t survive. She is totally ok with that. It seems like she’s resigned to being stuck/left in the palace without attention. I’m impressed. She’s really commendable for doing so. If there is anything to be said about 沈眉庄 is that she is like her favorite flower. She has that level of integrity, which may be seen as stubbornness. 

 

[Cathy]

Spurned by 沈眉庄, the Emperor visits his favorite concubine 甄嬛. Remember, she’s pregnant now. He has a gift for her. A pear blossom that plucked himself. He’s in a happy mood, praises her to high heaven. No one can compare to your beauty. Another flower for us! Pear blossoms represent the purity of love. 甄嬛 laments that no one has done a pear blossom makeup. There’s the famous plum blossom makeup but white isn’t very conducive for makeup. The Emperor disagrees – it’s not hard to do so. 

He then paints a pink pear blossom on her forehead, using rouge with white to make the pink. 甄嬛 remarks, this is beautiful but it doesn’t look real. To which, the Emperor responds, “it doesn’t have to be real, as long as it’s beautiful.“ Let’s bookmark this for later. He names the style “姣梨妆”, Beautiful Pear Makeup.

The topic then shifts to 沈眉庄 and the plague. There’s still remnants of the plague within the palace. Rumor has it, the two doctors 江诚 and 江慎 are taking bribes from the servants. Whoever can pay will get the antidote. This is a sticky situation for the Emperor. He doesn’t want doctors like them in his employ but they are the only ones with the cure. Finally, 甄嬛 reveals that the imperial doctor 温实处, her childhood friend, was actually the one who wrote the original cure. These two other doctors merely stole it.

甄嬛 wants to dispatch these two but doesn’t have a solution. They are a part of 华妃’s posse. It wouldn’t look good to have two doctors suddenly sentenced to death. The Emperor waves that worry away with his response. There’s plenty of ways to eliminate them.

The conversation then shifts to 甄嬛’s birthday. The Emperor wants to make a big hullabaloo about it for her and the baby. Now pay attention to this next line. 甄嬛 naively asks – you love children and you’re always at 华妃’s place. Why is she not pregnant? The Emperor, without missing a beat, kind of like nonchalantly responds – she will never have children. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? This is shocking news to 甄嬛. She presses a little bit but the Emperor doesn’t respond. You also realize that this was a brain fart on his end. He shouldn’t have said it but he let it slip.

That night , there’s some ominous music and The Emperor orders his corp of assassins 血滴子 to murder the two 江 doctors. He says that it has to be discrete. No one can find out about this. He tells 夏刈, the leader, to keep a close eye on the Imperial Court, especially for anyone with rebellious tendencies. The two 江 doctors are quickly dispatched. 华妃 is stunned at the news – she quickly reports this to the Emperor. He, of course, acts all somber and tells her that he’ll get to the bottom of this.

Let’s rewind. 华妃 and these two doctors were accused by the doctor 刘畚 for the pregnancy scandal with 沈眉庄, but the Emperor could not punish them because they found the cure for the plague. With the news that 温实处 was the original author of the cure, the Emperor was free to eliminate these two doctors, dealing a blow to 华妃. This is the first time we see the Emperor taking action against 华妃. 

 

[Karen]

Now….

The Emperor is making a big deal of 甄嬛’s birthday! So much so that he invited the handsome 17th Prince 果郡王 to help plan it. We haven’t seen him in a while. They are enjoying the 虢国夫人游春图 – The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing. We’ll discuss this painting later.

It’s April 17th – Everyone is at the Peony Pavilion in the Summer Palace 圆明园 for 甄嬛’s birthday. 华妃 is extremely jealous that 甄嬛 got this honor. The camera pans to the wives of the princes in attendance. They all have the Beauty Pear Blossom makeup on their forehead! 曹贵人 loudly describes that this is very much in vogue throughout the capital city and it’s all thanks to 甄嬛. 

The rest of the concubines get very salty. 

 

甄嬛 checks in on 沈眉庄. She reminds 沈眉庄 that  even if you don’t care, you still need the Emperor’s favor. That’s how you survive. 沈眉庄 is apathetic to this remark – she’s over it. 

甄嬛 then talks to the wife of a prince sitting nearby. The Beauty Pear Blossom Makeup is all the rage in Beijing. 甄嬛 is the trendsetter. The socialites also want to show that they have happy marriages. If your husband has time to draw this for you, then it’s a sign of a tranquil and harmonious marriage.

The conversation is interrupted by the 17th Prince 果郡王 because… it’s time for her present! They head out to the lake to watch what surprise he has. And what a sight to behold! A sky full of kites greet them. The Emperor then brings 甄嬛 closer to the lake and they see that the  lotus flowers are in full bloom. It’s capped off with 果郡王 walking up to them, performing a piece called 凤凰于飞 Phoenices in the Sky on his bamboo flute. 

This truly is a special birthday gift. It’s April on the lunar calendar, most likely May in the Gregorian calendar. In Beijing it’s still relatively chilly and not the season for lotus flowers to bloom. The 17th Prince 果郡王 planted the lotus roots and diverted warm water from the nearby hot springs into this lake to make the flowers bloom during this season! Now that’s dedication.

We’ll analyze this a bit more later. 

 

[Cathy]

The celebration ends with 甄嬛’s mother also receiving an honorary title of the 3rd rank – 诰命夫人. Back at her palace, 华妃 looks as though she can murder someone because this is quite a high honor for a woman. 华妃 doesn’t like that 甄嬛‘s family is getting so much attention. This is very much a threat to her own position. Unfortunately 曹贵人 bears the brunt of 华妃’s anger, receiving vicious insults. 华妃 openly declares her desire to eliminate 甄嬛. It’s not easy being 曹贵人。 

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode isn’t as um rosy. Remember the cute and bubbly 淳常在? She’s the adorable foodie that’s really young but loves hanging out with 甄嬛. She’s no threat and is genuinely a cute person. She has no nefarious thoughts and just likes spending time with 甄嬛 and eating food. She’s hanging out with 甄嬛 and they decide to go out to fly kite. Or at least, 淳常在 flies the kite while 甄嬛 watches. 

Problem is, 淳常在’s kite breaks and she goes to grab it by herself but in the process overhears 华妃 discussing some shady business. 

(side note – there’s a quirky costume continuity error. When 淳儿 is flying the kite, she’s still wearing her flower-pot bottom shoes. When she climbs up the rocks to grab her kite, she’s wearing flat shoes)

 

[Karen]

Basically, 华妃 is enacting her corrupt plans which of course she wants to keep quiet. 淳常在 hears this but isn’t sneaky. 华妃 discovers 淳常在 overhearing the conversation. And….the result is that 淳常在…the adorable girl is eliminated by a eunuch. 

Nooooooo. It really doesn’t pay to be a foodie! She was only around for a few episodes! She was so cute! Why did she have to die!

During this whole scene, 曹贵人, who is the concubine on team 华妃 sees everything that happens. She actually goes to intercept 甄嬛 as she’s waiting out in the garden and prevent 甄嬛 from discovering anything was amiss. They have a conversation which we’ll discuss in more detail but ultimately, 曹贵人 tips off 甄嬛 that something is wrong.

甄嬛 frantically asks her servants to find 淳常在。 Later that evening, the servants report that 淳常在 was discovered… She drowned…

甄嬛 is heartbroken as are we. I’m sooo sad!!!

The episode ends with 甄嬛 hearing from a servant that there’s no way 淳常在 could have drowned because she is actually a good swimmer. So 甄嬛 can only surmise that 淳常在 was murdered but as they have no evidence, there’s nothing they can do….

Ugh. So far, the death of 淳常在 has been the saddest. She didn’t do anything except for be friends with 甄嬛 and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

[Cathy]

It’s now time for our analysis! There’s a lot to discuss here!

The first will be the specific painting `12122国夫人游春图 – The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing on display for the Emperor and the 17th Prince. This specific painting has a very storied history!

The original painting was commissioned and completed during the Tang Dynasty in 752 by the artist 张萱。The main subject of the painting is Lady Guo. She is the third sister of the famous 杨贵妃. We talked about 杨贵妃 before in previous episodes. It is one of the prime examples of court life during the reign of 唐玄宗. Lady Guo was known for her opulence. She is the lady in the center behind the male guard in white. She’s traveling with her other sister and has a cadre of guards and servants in the painting. It is peculiar that the focus of this painting is a woman. Before this time, females were rarely the focus of art. The painter 张萱 led some of that change with this piece. 

The original painting is lost. Unfortunately, none of the original pieces by 张萱 survive. Only replicas of his paintings from the Song Dynasty survive. This replica was in private collections during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. Emperor 乾隆 acquired it for his collection during his reign, so this here is another bug. We are currently in the reign of 雍正. With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the last Qing Emperor 溥仪 smuggled this piece along with other treasures out of the Forbidden Palace. In 1945, 溥仪 wanted to smuggle these to Japan but was caught. The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing has been in the collection of the 辽宁省博物馆 museum since 1948.

 

[Karen]

The next topic to discuss is the birthday presents from the 17th Prince 果郡王!We haven’t seen him in a while and he definitely knocked this one out of the park.

The kites were cool but the big wow factor were the lotus flowers. He explained how he was able to get the lotus flowers to bloom. I also think there’s another hidden meaning as to why he picked lotus flowers. Back in episode 19, 甄嬛 snuck onto 果郡王’s boat after visiting 沈眉庄 who was under house arrest. They had this whole conversation about Lotus Flower and the purity of the flower. Maybe he’s trying to evoke some of those memories?

He also performs a piece 凤凰于飞 Phoenices in the Sky on his flute.  This story originally comes from the Book of Songs which was compiled during the Zhou Dynasty back in the 11th to the 7th centuries BC. Phoenices in the sky represent a harmonious marriage and is commonly used as a phrase of good fortune for newlyweds. I don’t know if this specifically is very apt for the occasion though…甄嬛 is not the Empress. The Phoenix is the symbol of the Empress and this could very much be misconstrued in a negative manner. 

Phoenices in the Sky is the end credit song of this drama. Sung by 刘欢. It describes a very moving love story but not between 甄嬛 and the Emperor. The lyrics at the end 凤凰于飞,梧桐是依。噰噰喈喈 (yong1 yong1 jie1 jie) ,福禄攸归 actually comes from a work written in the Tang dynasty describing the Phoenices in the sky, leaning together in the Parasol tree, harmonious and content. Pretty cool right?

曹贵人

 

[Cathy]

We’ve discussed her at length before. In this episode we get some more examples of how calculating she is. We have a quick scene that reveals 曹贵人’s own shaky predicament. She can only do 华妃’s bidding. On the surface, she’s firmly on team 华妃, but there are several times where she tries to play the game to protect herself even from 华妃.  华妃 is overbearing and abusive in many ways. She used the daughter of 曹贵人 as a tool to gain favoritism and destroy others which 曹贵人 cannot forgive. So she’s trying to figure out the best way to protect her daughter. 曹贵人 is constantly analyzing each situation in the imperial harem to see what’s the best move.

The first example – during 甄嬛’s birthday celebration, she snarkily informs the rest of the concubines about the 姣梨妆 – the Beauty Pear Makeup. I can’t tell if 华妃 knows about the origins but 华妃 becomes extremely upset at this news. I think 曹贵人 is purposefully stirring the pot to make the other concubines jealous but why doesn’t she insult 甄嬛? She wants to draw more attention to 甄嬛? Her words just make 华妃 more pissed off. I guess this is to also make the other concubines jealous as well.

Here’s the second example – 曹贵人 and her maid are actually the ones who first spot 淳常在 overhearing 华妃’s bribery scheme. 曹贵人’s maid wants to verbally warn 华妃 but 曹贵人 quickly prevents her from doing so because she says it’ll draw too much attention, instead she throws a rock into the pond to draw 华妃’s attention. 

Throwing the rock is a very shrewd choice – by throwing the rock, she doesn’t draw attention to herself. It’s not clear if 曹贵人 knows about 华妃’s bribery scheme. She could put herself in danger if it’s known she’s also privy to this information. 曹贵人 knows exactly what fate might befall 淳贵人 but warns 华妃 anyways but she doesn’t make it known she was the one who warned her. You could also construe it as yelling would draw attention away from 淳儿 so it’s open for interpretation.

Finally – let’s break down this conversation between 曹贵人 and 甄嬛。曹贵人 accosts 甄嬛 in an attempt to divert her attention away from discovering 淳常在. 甄嬛, none the wiser of what’s going on, has a pretty frank conversation with 曹贵人. And basically says she suggests that 曹贵人defect to help someone, such as herself, instead of being on 华妃’s team. 曹贵人 in this conversation is considering her options. She hear’s 甄嬛 and certainly feels that she may be right. That’s why at the end of the conversation, 曹贵人 tells 甄嬛 to look “over there” which is basically a hint that something is wrong. Otherwise, 甄嬛 may still be in the dark about what happened to 淳常在。

 

[Karen]

In summary – for 曹贵人, we have to pity her and also admire her. Everything she’s done has been for her daughter. We know that having children in the imperial harem is very difficult with so many miscarriages so the fact that she was able to come to term was impressive. We learn in this episode that she had a difficult birth so she was not completely free from the nefarious deeds but ultimately, she was smart enough to birth a child. Fortunately it’s a princess. Who knows what other people would have done if it was a prince.

 

[Karen]

That’s it for this episode – episode 27. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

On a completely different tangent that’s been bothering me a while. The actress for 浣碧 is dubbed.  Everything seems fine but I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s actually saying when she says “小主”。 The mouth shape doesn’t look the same – I don’t know. Just wanted to point that out, haha.