[Cathy]

Welcome back to chasing dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and Culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Karen and this is Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 29 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace! 

If you’re new to the drama and this podcast, welcome. We recommend starting out with the “Intro to the Drama” and “Intro to the Podcast” episodes to get your bearings on what this podcast is about. Basically we watch historical Chinese dramas and discuss the context and stories behind the drama. This drama is set in the reign of Emperor 雍正 of the Qing Dynasty in the mid 1700s.

We’re at episode 29 now and this is on YouTube for those of you who are interested in watching along.

 

[Karen]

This episode is extremely intense. Very plot heavy but nothing really significant of note from a culture perspective. Somewhat different from the last episode that had lots of history. So let’s dive right into it.

We left off the last episode with 安陵容, one of the concubines who is now on the empress’s team, exposing 齐妃’s idiotic plot to poison 甄嬛, the main character and cause her to have a miscarriage. 齐妃 is a high ranking consort in the imperial harem who has a son, the 3rd prince. She is anxiously awaiting news of this tragedy  but is instead summoned by the Empress 皇后. Let’s pick up from there.

齐妃 greets the Empress 皇后, who promptly shows 齐妃 the incriminating plate of water chestnuts pastries. If you recall, 齐妃 sent a plate a pastries to 甄嬛 in order to poison her.  齐妃’s like “oh crap!” but she still acts dumb. Yes, I did send these! But this was out of goodwill! The Empress 皇后 raises her eyebrows – “Goodwill? I asked the Imperial doctors. There’s a large amount of nerium oleander powder in here! Nerium oleander is poisonous!” 齐妃 immediately tries to rebuke this claim but the Empress swipes the plate onto the floor. She is quote on quote “livid”

 

[Cathy]

The Empress puts on such a good show – “How dare you! You’re the only one who requested for甄嬛’s pregnancy prescription! Nerium oleander added with cinnamon is a deadly combination for a miscarriage! You’re plotting murder! You knew exactly what you were doing!”

齐妃 has finally grasped the gravity of the situation. She’s begging for forgiveness – this was all for my son, the third prince. If he isn’t declared the crown prince, there’s no future left for him. The Empress 皇后 bluntly points out – even if you were successful, the Emperor will only think about you as a murderous woman. How is that any better for your son? He still won’t be made crown prince. 

 

[Karen]

In the last episode we discussed at length about 齐妃’s stupidity.  Maybe she’s realizing some of that for herself now? But let me clarify why 齐妃 is a low level opponent here. She provided a plate of pastries with poison in them. For 1, the poison is easy to deduce as 安陵容 was able to smell it no problem. 2, she doesn’t hide the fact that she sent those pastries. If anything happens to 甄嬛 everyone knows who did it. She isn’t able to hide her actions and she will be punished. Compare that to the empress who manipulated this woman into this action.

Unfortunately, the Empress has to serve out a punishment because 甄嬛 already knows about this, and you, 齐妃 can’t be expected to get away with this. The empress says that I’ll help you cover up as much as possible. BUT, the Empress banishes 齐妃 from visiting the 3rd prince. The 3rd prince is also no longer allowed to visit his mother 齐妃. Instead, the Empress will take care of the 3rd prince from now on. If 齐妃 wants to see the 3rd Prince, she will have to come to 景仁宫, The Empress’s palace. This is a devastating blow to 齐妃 but there’s nothing else she can do. This is an appropriate punishment.

 

[Cathy]

I also mentioned in the last episode that the Empress always had a grander plan. Otherwise, why didn’t 安陵容 just let 甄嬛 eat the poisonous pastries? Well we find out now what she was really planning. I will also say – in the first viewing of this drama, none of this is obvious. The Empress is still the charming head of the Imperial Harem. I honestly thought that she was trying to help 齐妃 out of this situation, but after a few rewatches. Wow – what a plan! 

So what does the Empress actually want? She wants the 3rd Prince! She doesn’t have children of her own. She knows 甄嬛’s child will be favored as soon as he or she is born. The Empress needs to make her own plans. The best way to do so is to have a child, well she can’t get pregnant. She needs to take someone else’s child. The 3rd Prince, the only adult prince, has a dolt of a mother. He’s also not too bright but nonetheless, he’s the eldest, he comes from a good family, but most importantly, he’s easily moldable. Once the Empress gets guardianship of the 3rd Prince, her position within the Imperial Harem will be strengthened. 齐妃 is a non-entity, the Empress doesn’t need to worry about her. All the Empress needed was a valid excuse for her to rightfully gain guardianship of the 3rd prince. A failed poison attempt is the perfect excuse. This was her plan all along! She needed 齐妃 to send the poisonous water chestnuts so that she could get caught red handed.

Notice how in this exchange with 齐妃, the Empress does not mention 安陵容 once? 齐妃 is left to believe that 甄嬛 figured this out all by herself! 齐妃 would have blabbed that it was 安陵容 who gave her the idea. 齐妃 doesn’t know that 安陵容 is on the Empress’s team. The Empress doesn’t need to play all of her cards just yet. 华贵妃 has always been the main antagonist. But the Empress has always been in the background, concocting her own plans. 

Well the Empress has taken care of 齐妃 and snatched guardianship of the 3rd Prince. Exactly according to plan, 甄嬛 is mollified with this punishment. It is a pretty severe sentence so she just lets this incident slide. The Empress summons 甄嬛 to discuss the incident. The Empress praises 安陵容 for her quick thinking and subtly hints for 甄嬛 to have 安陵容 around more.

 

[Karen]

Moving on from this event, there’s been a severe drought in several areas of the Empire. The Emperor and Empress will head to the 天坛 or the Temple of Heaven to pray to the gods and ancestors for rain and prosperity. Uh oh, this means the most powerful person left in the Imperial Harem is 华贵妃. Both the Empress and the Emperor tell 甄嬛 to avoid her as much as possible. She’s pregnant, it’s a peculiar time, better not draw the ire of 华贵妃.

甄嬛 is also still recovering from her cat scratch. The scar is healing nicely thanks to 安陵容’s special cream. The Emperor checks in on 甄嬛. There’s one line that I find absolutely hilarious. The Emperor says – if I wasn’t the emperor and I was just a normal prince, I’d be happy with one wife, the Empress, and two concubines, you and 华贵妃。Oh boy – you just picked the worst people, haha!

Well the rest of the episode is an absolute disaster for everyone. No sooner do the Emperor and Empress leave, does 华贵妃 start bullying 敬妃. Definitely not a good sign. It’s the summer, it’s hot out. It’s dangerous to be outside for too long. 华贵妃 has grand plans for her “reign”. It’s time to take care of some people. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 isn’t feeling all too well so she has some servants go and summon an Imperial Doctor. Unfortunately, 华贵妃’s head eunuch 周宁海 comes with orders for 甄嬛 to greet 华贵妃. At first 甄嬛 doesn’t want to go but finally relents after some thinly veiled threats. This is going to be an all around terrible day.  

On the way to 华贵妃’s palace. They walk past the 17th Prince 果郡王. He entered the palace to check in on the Empress Dowager. He sees her but 甄嬛 isn’t feeling well so she doesn’t even see him. At 华贵妃’s palace, everyone is settled in. There’s a quick conversation about the specific fragrance from her palace, 欢宜香. We’ve discussed this before – it’s very special, gifted by the Emperor himself. There’s also an extremely rare ingredient – Ambergris which is made from sperm whale bile. I didn’t know sperm whales historically contributed to the perfume industry but here we are.

华贵妃 finally gets to the main topic for today. It’s time to clean up the Imperial Harem. People need to learn their lesson. 甄嬛, you’re late to today’s greeting. You show no respect for your superiors as such, you are punished to kneel outside.

Shoot – this is a pretty terrible punishment. 敬妃, 安陵容, and 沈眉庄 all try to appeal this decision but to no avail. Outside, 华贵妃 orders her Eunuch to force 甄嬛 to kneel. “You’re already out of your first trimester, you can handle kneeling for 2 hours”. With that she throws a copy of 女诫 or the Admonitions for Women at 甄嬛. “Read – everyone needs to hear you”.

 

[Karen]

In a mark of true friendship, 沈眉庄 also kneels to try to appeal on behalf of 甄嬛. This only angers 华贵妃 even more. “You’re like sisters. Fine – you can also kneel outside. Bring the book next to your dear sister as she reads”. 沈眉庄 only says – I’ll join you. 

To add more insult to injury, 华贵妃 orders that all of the concubines have to sit outside to watch them. “This is your result when you do not respect orders”. 华贵妃 has ice brought out for herself. She’s lounging luxuriously inside but all of the other concubines are sitting outside in the heat!

敬妃 can’t handle it anymore. She again tries to appeal to 华贵妃 but 华贵妃 says. It’s only been an hour. She won’t die. 

Side note – it is clearly not the middle of the day anymore. Just look at their shadows – haha. 

甄嬛’s half sister and servant 浣碧 is anxiously waiting outside. 浣碧 rushes to find the only person that could possibly salvage the situation, the Empress Dowager. However, she’s barred from entering. She’s about to be turned away but she catches a glimpse of the 17th Prince’s servant.

Back at 华贵妃’s palace, 甄嬛 is weakening pretty fast. 华贵妃 sees this and orders 沈眉庄 to be whipped. 安陵容 finally can’t take it anymore and also tries to appeal. She begs – “She’ll get a heat stroke” 华贵妃 actually responds – “I dare her! Bring some mint and mugwort – let’s see if she’ll faint now. I can’t punish you but don’t worry, your sisters 安陵容 and 沈眉庄 will definitely receive their fair share”.  华贵妃 continues on and on – she’s just faking this to earn everyone’s sympathy. I can see right through her charade.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 cannot take it anymore and faints in 沈眉庄’s arm. In swoops a knight in shining armor! The 17th Prince, 果郡王, barges in to see the ladies trying to revive the unconscious 甄嬛. He immediately picks her up to rush her back to her own palace. This is a capital offense but he doesn’t care. 华贵妃’s servant screams in surprise. Why is there so much blood on the ground!

华贵妃 finally realizes the severity of the situation. How can there be blood? This cannot happen! It doesn’t look good for 甄嬛. There’s blood everywhere. The 17th Prince rushes to send word over to the Emperor and Empress who are at the Temple of Heaven. 

The episode ends with the Emperor’s main eunuch 苏培盛 rushing into the temple to tell the Emperor the news.

Phew what an episode! 华贵妃 really outdid herself this time. This was not an easy episode. It’s pretty easy to hate her. Her arrogance will be her downfall and this is a pretty severe incident. 

Ok just two things to discuss really briefly today.

 

[Karen]

The first is the Temple of Heaven or 天坛. It is situated right in the main city of Beijing, to the Southeastern part of the city. 

It was constructed during the Ming Dynasty between 1406-1420 under Emperor 永乐。The Temple mainly served a religious purpose, with the Emperor performing rituals twice a year to pray for good harvest for the coming year. The last scene of the episode, the Empress and Emperor are technically praying within the Temple of Heaven but it’s obvious that it’s not the real temple.

Karen – you went relatively recently. Any thoughts?

The next piece is of course time! In Chinese culture, there are technically only 12 units of time per day. One 时辰 is 2 hours. There was records of horology or 12 时辰 system since the Zhou Dynasty in 1000BC.

There’s a really cool drama that came out in 2019 called The Longest Day in ChangAn that really goes into time. We might actually discuss that drama next.

So when 华贵妃 punished 甄嬛 to kneel outside, she was ordered to do so for 2 hours. That’s tough for anyone to do, especially in the heat. I don’t know where she got the idea that a pregnant woman would be fine with that.