[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! We discuss Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV shows. This is Cathy and this is Karen. The current drama we are discussing is 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. Today, we are finishing episode 31! There was just too much in the last episode to discuss together so today, we are finishing up episode 31.  As always, if you have any comments or questions, want to discuss Chinese history and TV dramas at this time, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We are always very happy to hear from you. Given the global situation, we are working hard to publish more episodes for everyone to enjoy. If you are looking for Chinese dramas to watch with all this free time but don’t know what to watch, please reach out to us and we can definitely recommend a few depending on which dynasty you want to learn more about, the subject matter, or the actors/actresses. 

In the last episode, 甄嬛 had a miscarriage and we learned about the secret to the newly demoted 年妃’s fragrance 欢宜香. This fragrance contains 麝香 or Musk. In Chinese TV land, this substance causes women to become sterile and is very harmful to pregnant women if exposed to it for a long time.

We left off our last discussion with 甄嬛 and 安陵容 discovering the musk in the fragrance. Let’s start off from there.

This episode primarily revolves around what happens when there’s a vacuum in favoritism in the imperial palace. We’ll finish up episode 31 with a recap and there’s also quite a bit of history/culture to discuss.

[Cathy]

The Emperor pays a visit to the Empress. The Empress is spending time looking over the booklet that records where the Emperor has been staying every night. He hasn’t been spending the night with any woman in the imperial harem. He shows up and you can see he is a little annoyed at seeing her look through these documents.  There’s a very revealing conversation between the two. The two somehow get onto the topic of bringing more women into the Imperial Harem for the Emperor. The Empress can tell he’s not happy and the Emperor hasn’t gone to the Imperial Harem in over a month, perhaps he needs new women? He waves off that idea. The Emperor 皇上 then brings up what he wants in a woman. She needs to be obedient and understanding. She needs to appreciate him and comprehend him, but she can’t be too sharp. Just enough quote on quote “intelligence” to be able to hold a conversation. But he doesn’t want someone too cunning or too dim-witted.

[BAHAHA – the problem is, the ladies in 后宫 are too intelligent. Well, some of them are, he just doesn’t know it]

 

[Karen]

The main development in the rest of the episode actually revolves around making the emperor happy. There’s a summer gathering where the emperor and the rest of the concubines are enjoying a nice meal and performance at the summer palace. Things are fine? I guess. The emperor is still not in the best mood given the whole miscarriage thing and the empress brings up again about getting new people to “serve” the emperor. 

Remember that conversation about how the Emperor doesn’t like dim-witted people? 齐妃 is very much in that camp. 富察贵人 gives a toast praising the Empress for the beautiful day and the Emperor for the prosperity of the empire. The Emperor seems to be in a better mood after this toast. Not to miss out on this opportunity, 齐妃 immediately stands up. She just says – “I would also like to give a toast” and that’s it. I love how the Emperor just blinks at her with his tiny eyes for two seconds, drinks and ignores her. HAHAHAHAHA

 

[Cathy]

The emperor originally really doesn’t want to see anymore people but upon the Empress’s insistence, agrees to see another performance. On cue, a mysterious woman appears singing a beautiful song. She has her face covered which adds to her mysteriousness. Everyone is listening to her singing and remark that the voice is even better than 安陵容, who is known for her singing abilities. Enraptured by the beautiful voice, the emperor is interested in seeing who this woman is. As the woman slowly comes to the pavillion, it is revealed that she is none other than 安陵容。 Everyone is shocked. Wasn’t she sick? It turns out, she’s been healthy for quite some time and has been studying voice lessons to improve her singing skills by the grace of the Empress. 

The emperor is beyond pleased, partly because 安陵容’s voice has been coached to sound 60-70% like his deceased first wife, 纯元, whom he loves very much. He is smitten by how lovely her voice is and immediately promotes 安陵容 up one notch to a “Noble Lady”. 安陵容 sings another song. It’s very familiar! It’s called 金缕衣! Where have we heard this before? All the way back in episode 16! 沈眉庄 was just banished due to her fake pregnancy scandal. 甄嬛 needed someone to take her place so she trained 安陵容 to have a meet cute with the Emperor. We discussed in length the meaning of this song and poem so go back to episode 16 for more details.

安陵容 now sings this song again to capture the attention of the Emperor.  There’s a quick camera cut to 甄嬛. She is very familiar with this piece because she taught it to 安陵容! In her current mental state, I don’t think she cares too much but I think she feels slightly betrayed. 沈眉庄 literally does not care, haha.

The Emperor immediately showers 安陵容 with lavish gifts, including a rare 金缕衣 or Gold Threaded Gown. There were only 2 made. One of them is currently with the 17th Prince’s mother. The other, well, is now gifted to 安陵容. Quite an honor!

 

[Karen]

It’s actually kind of hilarious that you have all of your concubines watching you be infatuated with another woman. How odd is that. 

The other story here is that 年妃 was for some reason invited to come but was not allowed to go to the island where the performance was happening. She was humiliated by the emperor since he’s now too busy to see anyone except for 安陵容 and tells 年妃 to return. She is livid but there really isn’t a whole lot more she can do. Thankfully she didn’t make more of a scene.

The episode ends with 曹贵人 bringing her daughter 温宜 to visit 年妃. After much crying and lamenting of past happiness, 年妃 turns spiteful at the turn of events. 曹贵人 ponders aloud that there must have been a sinister plot. The eunuch that came to deliver the original invitation wasn’t the usual eunuch from the Emperor’s retinue. It must have been someone else who wanted 年妃 to be humiliated. 

Which is most likely true! Well that’s that for episode 31. Let’s dive into our analysis! 

Analysis – 

 

[Cathy]

进乡情更怯

Right after the Emperor visited the Empress at the beginning of our discussion, the Empress says this line when asked by her maid why she’s pushing the emperor to not see 甄嬛。The Empress notes this line 进乡情更怯. This line originates from a Tang Dynasty poem by a gentleman named 宋之问. The full poem describes the feeling when one is away from home for a long period of time. The person misses home and is always wondering how things are back there. But as the person comes closer to home, the feeling is very overwhelming. So much so that the person is too afraid to ask nearby individuals how things are at home. 

How does this relate to the emperor and 甄嬛? It’s not that the emperor doesn’t want to see 甄嬛 or that he doesn’t care for her. It’s quite the opposite. He cares for her deeply. But the closer he is to her, the more scared/emotional he is to be around her because he feels bad about her miscarriage. He ultimately thinks it’s his fault. As such, he would rather stay away from her to not think about it. The more he stays away, the more it means he cares.

 

[Karen]

采莲曲

We have to talk about the first song that 安陵容 sings。 Every song in this drama has some type of interesting origin and this song is no different. This piece directly translates to Lotus Flower Picking Song. That’s why, in the drama, she has a lotus flower in her hand. Though I think there’s a bug in the drama – on the boat she has a white flower. The emperor even comments on the white flower. But when she gets on shore, the flower turns to a pink flower. This piece from the drama is beautiful. I thoroughly enjoy the calm bubbling arpeggios that introduce this piece which adds to the mysteriousness of her entrance.

The lyrics to this song originated from the Han dynasty and is part of the collection of local folk songs gathered from that time. The lyrics say that in southern China, it is time to pick the lotus flowers. The green leaves are flourishing. The fish in the pond where the lotus flowers are are playfully swimming around. One moment the fish swim to the east, the other to the west. 

The lyrics aren’t AS deep as some of the other pieces we’ve discussed. It is meant to reflect happiness and joy. Something light hearted about the pleasant scenery and environment. Overall, though very interesting to learn that this piece comes from a collection of folk songs.

—-

越女新妆出境心, 自知明艳更沉 , 齐纨未足时人贵, 一曲菱歌敌万金

As the ladies are watching 安陵容 being showered with attention by the emperor after her beautiful singing, one of the ladies says that 安陵容 is 越女新妆出镜心 and that 一曲菱歌敌万金。What is exactly does she mean? I’ll be honest, this isn’t a poem I paid a whole lot of attention to in the past. Partly because I find it awkward to have all the wives watching their husband being smitten with another wife. I find that really awkward. 

This poem is by a Tang Dynasty poet named 张籍 who lived around 800 AD。The Tang Dynasty is known for their poems and this is no different. 

The entire poem tells a story of a young woman who gathers water chestnuts. She’s recently did her make-up and clothes and looks very beautiful. She knows she’s beautiful but is not super confident in her beauty. But, the poem continues that even if other women wear the most popular and fashionable clothes, these other women do not compare to the singing of water chestnut woman. The direct translation of the last line is that one song from this woman is worth ten thousand gold.

This poem is very apt to describe 安陵容. 安陵容 has re-established herself with improved singing, new clothes and new hairstyle. Her song indeed is worth ten thousand gold as it has now helped her become a noble lady.

 

[Cathy] 

Let’s finish up with some random thoughts.

Random thoughts

-Let’s take a look at 曹贵人 during the celebration. This is the first time I’ve seen her with such a lavish hairdo! It must be because 年妃 isn’t there anymore so she’s like FINALLY, I can flaunt a little bit. Otherwise, she’s pretty meek and understated.

-I was recently watching a newly posted video comparing the ladies of this drama. The focus was on 齐妃. The nickname for her is 齐二哈 or husky 齐. She’s cute but also derpy. That’s how Chinese people like to describe huskies. 

That’s a wrap for today’s episode! 安陵容, with the help of the Empress, has successfully capture the attention of the Emperor. 甄嬛 is still out of it and 年妃 is still out of favor. What does this mean for the rest of the Imperial Harem? We’ll find out in the next episodes!

 

Thank you very much for listening today. If you have any questions or feedback, please email us at chasingdramaspodcats@gmail.com.