Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV shows! I’m Cathy and I’m Karen. Today, We’re going to talk about episode 37+38 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace . These 2 episodes are setting up the stage for hua fei’s last ditch effort to maintain power.
The drama is currently available on Youtube if you would like to rewatch and or follow along. If you’re new to the podcast, please start with our intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. If you have any comments/questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share this podcast with your friends!
Episode 37 starts off with 甄嬛 meeting 曹贵人 and her daughter Princess 温宜 in the gardens. 温宜 is such a cutie pie! Definitely the cutest of the kids in the show, at least that’s my personal opinion.
曹贵人 is very astute in seeing that 华妃 will only be in favor for a short while. The two ladies discuss their plan going forward. 曹贵人 will continue to pretend to be an ally of 华妃 while in reality, she’s now team 甄嬛. Essentially she’ll be a spy. In order to strengthen this relationship, 甄嬛 says that she’ll be Princess 温宜’s what you would call godmother so that their incentives are aligned.
甄嬛’s next stop is to see her friend 沈眉庄 who is annoyed at her, as we discussed in the last episode, for being the one to ask the Emperor to promote 年妃 back to 华妃。 It’s understandable that 沈眉庄 is upset. 华妃 was the one who caused her to catch the plague and the fake pregnancy scandal was because of 华妃. 甄嬛 tries to explain her point of view in that 华妃 returning to favor was inevitable. She’d rather be the one to make this ask so that the Emperor will feel guilty. In this conversation we find out that their friendship growing up shaped what 沈眉庄does or likes in order to not be second to 甄嬛. I guess that shows her competitive nature. 沈眉庄 is also sad that 甄嬛 seems to have everything – Doctor 温实初 ‘s love, the Emperor’s affection, and her family’s growing position, while she has nothing. 沈眉庄 is showing a bit of jealousy towards 甄嬛.
Pay attention to what she says first – Doctor 温实初 ‘s love! Not the Emperor’s affection. This is a hint of who is more important to her!
Both sides have their own perspective and unfortunately neither will back down. 甄嬛 says her goodbyes and says she won’t bother 沈眉庄 until she has succeeded.
The people that reap the biggest reward from the divide between 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 are none other than the Empress and 安陵容。Both of them discuss that the 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 cannot be allowed to grow their power within imperial harem and especially cannot be as powerful as 华妃. That’s perhaps why 安陵容 was trying to sow discord between the two. 安陵容 is sooooo fake.
安陵容’s inferiority complex is on full display in this episode. She can’t wait to “gift” 甄嬛’s mother items from the palace. She fully admits this! She even says, it’s my time to gift people things. Sure honey. This again, is her worldview. She didn’t give any thanks about spending time with 甄嬛’s family – she just said, I felt beneath them, now look at me.
At least in this episode, 沈眉庄 completely calls 安陵容 out on it. We have a scene later in the episode where 安陵容 and 沈眉庄 are talking again. This is such an awesome scene. You just want to say “Yas girl”. 沈眉庄 totally saw through the fact that 安陵容 used her maid to tell her, 沈眉庄 about 甄嬛 asking to reinstate 华妃 in an effort to make 沈眉庄 mad at 甄嬛. 沈眉庄 knows that 安陵容may not be as straightforward or good either. 沈眉庄 tells 安陵容 to stop scheming as well. The entire time 安陵容 is clenching her fists because she is being told off. She holds her tongue and again plays up the whole I’m innocent act. I’m really happy 沈眉庄 sees through her act. FINALLY, someone does.
安陵容 doubles down on her act to be good friends, or what you would call “sisters” with 甄嬛. She makes some medicine for 甄嬛 with some very expensive ingredients and even goes so far as to cut her own wrist to use blood as an ingredient in the medicine. She brings the medicine over to 甄嬛 who notices the injury. 安陵容 goes on to say a whole speech about how she feels that her and 甄嬛 have lost touch as friends. 安陵容 starts crying and hoping that the two of them can remain really close friends. She cuts herself in an effort to gain 甄嬛’s trust or at least to show that she is trustworthy.
BUT YAY, 甄嬛 doesn’t even drink the medicine. She has gotten much smarter. She knows to not drink anything not given to her by the imperial doctor 温实初 so she asks her maid to dump out the medicine. 甄嬛 says that it doesn’t really matter if 安陵容 did cut herself, her trustworthiness is not reflected in these types of acts. Clearly, 甄嬛 is also skeptical of how earnest 安陵容 is.
But hello, what else are you using from her??
I’m condensing the episode a bit but there are 2 other items to talk about.
- 甄嬛’s younger sister, 玉娆, and her mother, are able to come into the palace and visit 甄嬛. This is the first time that they are able to visit 甄嬛 in the palace since she became a concubine. They have a lovely chat and 甄嬛 is presented with the opportunity to share at least briefly that she’s having a difficult time in the palace. Her mother though, says that 甄嬛 should be careful what she says in the palace as one never knows who might be watching or hearing. It’s a heartwarming scene to see the family together. 甄嬛’s mother does notice that 浣碧, one of 甄嬛’s maids is wearing really nice clothes. 甄嬛 says she treats her maids like her sisters to which zhenhuan’s mother says that they may be treated like sisters, but they’re not actual sisters. Welp I guess at this point, she doesn’t know that 浣碧 is indeed 甄嬛’s half sister. I guess 甄嬛 and zhenhuan’s father are keeping the mother in the dark about that. 甄嬛 also seems to be treating 浣碧 pretty well with the nice clothes at least. There’s not much else to say for this scene other than a lot of foreshadowing of what’s to come in the future. We’ll see 玉娆, 甄嬛’s sister in future episodes. They sit for just a short while before leaving. They don’t want to give the optics that the family is using the emperor’s favor to stay in the palace too long. This contrasts heavily with 华妃’s family who often visits her in the palace apparently. See – with just one small detail, you see the difference between 甄嬛 and 华妃 and who will last longer in the imperial harem.
Side note: the dub for 玉娆, her sister is the same as the bubbly 淳贵人 who died. I was very confused the first time i heard this.
- The second item to talk about is the newfound interest the emperor starts to have in 华妃’s main maid, 颂职。One day the emperor stops by for a meal and takes note of the maid after she is able to answer a question very well. The emperor compliments her a couple of times which…immediately causes 华妃 to be jealous but there’s not a whole lot 华妃 can do. That evening, 华妃 gets very mad at 颂芝。She wants to kick her out of the palace. But after being calmed down by her main eunuch, 颂芝 is left alone.
This interest is continued into the next episode, episode 38.
This episode focuses on the Emperor’s last straw with 年羹尧 and 华妃’s effort to maintain her family’s power plus her own position in the imperial harem.
From the start of this episode, the emperor receives many reports of the corrupt and overreaching actions by 年羹尧 and his underlings. This puts the Emperor in a dour mood but is still thinking about what to do. Who’s delivering the reports? 甄嬛’s father.
华妃 hears the news that her brother is being negatively discussed in front of the emperor. She’s worried that no one can help put in a good word for 华妃 and her family because she herself has been neglected by the emperor. I think it’s funny because you see in her dialogue how naive she still is and that she is generally still a terrible person.
For 1, she says her brother’s underlings were being reported for embezzlement and bribery. She doesn’t say this is wrong, she just says “how can these people be so careless”. Clearly, she doesn’t care about the fact that corruption is bad, she is just mad they got caught.
Second, she doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation her brother is in. She’s still wondering if the Emperor is going to be truly mad at her brother or if this will be like previous times where the emperor sided with her brother because this is just his underlings acting poorly. She has absolutely no idea that the emperor is already really done with her entire family.
But to try to protect her family and have someone be able to speak to the Emperor on her behalf, 华妃 begrudgingly decides to send 颂芝 over to emperor for tea…
颂芝 stays the night…and becomes a concubine.
‘Pause’ – can we just say – WOW emperor. WOW.
Massive eye roll. I believe he did this on purpose! Why else would he pay attention to 颂芝 in episode 37? She’s been around forever!
华妃 is understandably very saddened by this all evening. The next day 颂芝 returns to 华妃’s place to continue to serve her. She tells 华妃 that she’s been given the position of Second Class Female attendant, which is a step up from “Chosen Maid”, or 管女子 which is what generally maids are promoted to after becoming a concubine. 华妃 has to suppress her discontent. I mean, she is the one who allowed 颂芝 to stay the night.
At least this step indeed pushes the emperor to come see 华妃 where before he was avoiding her. That at least means her move was a success. The emperor stops by for a meal to see this new concubine which allows 华妃 to discuss her brother. However, the emperor tells her that she shouldn’t be discussing such matters.
This promotion, of sorts, gets discussed by 曹贵人 and 甄嬛. 曹贵人 explains that 华妃 has been meaning to develop additional allies in the imperial harem to help her strengthen her position but doesn’t want to use someone who has a strong family background. Thus, she picked her trusted maid. 甄嬛 asks 曹贵人 if she thinks 颂芝 is going to be a threat.
曹贵人 though, is rather direct and says that 华妃 was too hasty in this decision. 颂芝 is too afraid of 华妃 which means she will not be too much of a threat. 甄嬛 is pretty funny at this point because she says that she doesn’t even deign to take action against 颂芝. I guess 甄嬛 sees 颂芝 as a level 1 opponent. Not someone she has to actually worry about to endanger her current position and status.
The next scene is pretty funny. The ladies have all moved to the summer palace 圆明园 earlier in the episode and now they are out on a walk. 甄嬛 is walking her her maid and bumps into 华妃, 颂芝, and 曹贵人 (who is pretending to be part of 华妃’s group). 华妃 saunters over to 甄嬛 and gloatingly asks whether 甄嬛 would see the day that she has favor again. 甄嬛 is nothing but respectful towards 华妃 with of course a slight tinge of sarcasm which annoys 华妃. Little does 华妃 know that 甄嬛 is the whole reason why she has returned to favor. It’s moments like these that showcase the difference in intelligence levels between the two women. I do appreciate that now 甄嬛 is no longer meek or scared of 华妃 but rather, she stands her ground. 颂芝 tries to stick up for 华妃 and humiliate 甄嬛 by insulting her but 甄嬛 is able to return the jabs. 曹贵人 steps in to calm the situation and diverts the ladies away from each other. Still, an interesting and fun scene.
Little does 华妃 know that in court, there are many, many dissenters against her brother 年羹尧. At this point, 皇上, the emperor is discussing at court with a select group of ministers the negative things being said about 年羹尧。
The Emperor brings up an important topic that he’s discussed with the 年羹尧 and wants to here from the ministers in front of him. The topic at hand is the emperor’s 8th brother and 9th brother. This is a touchy subject. These 2 brothers are part of the infamous coup where 9 brothers all vyed for the throne or the Nine Lords War. The 8th brother and 9th brother were on the losing side. They are currently imprisoned in 宗人府 or Imperial Clan Court. Apparently, these 2 have not been remorseful while in isolation. The emperor asks a bunch of his ministers what to do about these 2 brothers. Some say to be lenient. Others say to be harsh and punish them. Faction lines have been drawn based on their answers.
华妃 discusses this with 曹贵人 because her brother, 年羹尧 has been asked what his suggestion is by the Emperor. They are all worried about this answer because it could imply something bigger to the Emperor given all of the negative information coming out about 年羹尧。 华妃 asks 曹贵人 what should be the response to the emperor on this topic so it doesn’t hurt 年羹尧 。
曹贵人, the shrewd one, recommends that 年羹尧 focus on brotherly love and past merits. She tells 华妃 that mentioning these things will appease the emperor and also remind him of the valuable things 年羹尧 has done for the emperor. 华妃 is convinced by 曹贵人 that this is the correct move.
[side musings] – now that 华妃 is back in favor, 曹贵人’s hairstyle and clothes are much simpler again. She knows she can’t wear anything too attractive in front of 华妃.]
Everyone knows 华妃 is on her last legs except for her. 甄嬛 even makes a big show of jealousy about 颂芝 at an evening gathering with 曹贵人 and 欣常在。I find the next scene hilarious – 颂芝 is with the Emperor trying to discuss politics or more specifically 年羹尧. I love the eye roll the Emperor gives when she leans on him. In this situation, even the Emperor has to um … pretend?
Is it me or does the Emperor’s wig also seem off in these two episodes? It seems a bit higher on his scalp?
The episode ends with 华妃 gloating to 曹贵人 that her brother seems to have gotten a reprieve from the Emperor. With some goading by 曹贵人, 华妃 is back to relishing 甄嬛’s seeming lack of favor. Poor girl – you have no idea what’s coming for you.
Phew – Let’s get into our analysis – we did most of it in our recap. These two episodes focus a bit more on the Imperial Court so let’s talk about politics.
In Episode 38, the Emperor voices his displeasure of his younger brothers, the 8th Prince 胤禩 and the 9th prince 胤禟. That’s their given names. Remember way back in episode 2, we discussed how everyone throughout the Empire had to change their names if any part of their name sounded like the Emperor’s name? That’s why here, they are referred to as 允禩 for the 8th Prince and 允禟 for the 9th Prince.
These two princes are imprisoned for their involvement in the Nine Lords War. There were several factions including the Crown Prince’s Party, the 8th Lord Party, the 14th Lord Party, and finally the 4th Lord Party. The 4th Lord won and is now our Emperor 雍正。
Let’s talk about the 8th Prince. Born in 1681, he was a strapping young lad who was promoted to 贝勒 or a Prince of the 3rd Rank or Noble Lord at only 17. The youngest of all of Emperor 康熙’s children at the time. This prince, 允禩, was always ambitious. There was a Crown Prince at the time but his position wasn’t stable. In 1712, the Crown Prince or the 2nd Prince was finally stripped of his titles and demoted, no longer posing a threat for the throne. The 8th Prince tried to seize his opportunity. I mean, throughout the years, he was constantly building his own faction, which I think was his undoing. He was too obvious. The Emperor was still alive and healthy. He could very much see what his sons were up to. The 4th Prince or our current Emperor was much more subdued in building his own faction
One specific incident in 1714 dashed all hopes for the 8th Prince’s bid for the throne. On a tour of Jehol Province (热河) or modern day 东北 Province, the 8th Prince was supposed to travel with his father as a member of the Imperial retinue. However, he requested leave so that he could visit his mother’s grave. For his absence, he sent two eagles as gifts to the Emperor. Unfortunately when the Emperor received them, the eagles were feeble and ailing. This enraged the Emperor. To the Emperor, the dying eagles symbolized the 8th prince’s desire for himself to die. The 8th prince was admonished in front of court – the emperor even went on to say we are no longer father and son. The Emperor also cut off all of the 8th Prince’s salary.
Seeing that his chances for the throne were gone, the 8th prince steered his faction towards the 14th Prince 胤提. Who is he? Why, he’s our current emperor’s blood brother! This faction now included the 14th Prince, the 8th Prince, the 9th Prince, the 10th Prince, and many other court officials and generals. It came down to the wire – people were waiting with bated breath at Emperor 康熙’s bedside – the successor the 4th Prince.
In history, the 8th Prince wasn’t immediately thrown into prison but his faction, along with all of the other factions were slowly destroyed. The 8th Prince was imprisoned in the Imperial Clan Court in 1726 – 4 years into the reign of Emperor YongZheng. He died there shortly after. The 9th Prince was also imprisoned and died in 1726.
In the drama, I can’t tell if the timing is exactly right. 甄嬛 has been in the palace for at least 2 years because we’ve seen two winters. This is a 3rd summer so I think it adds up.
This is just a tiny snippet of what actually happened during the Nine Lords War or 九龙夺嫡, but this provides some context for the Emperor, 雍正’s actions in this episode. He cannot show mercy even to his brothers – they plotted against him. This is alway why he is so wary of 年羹尧 and his faction.
That’s it for today! The chess pieces are in motion! The traps are laid! We’ll have to see who survives!