[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 46 and 47 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

Last episode our main character Zhen Huan birthed a daughter but was also utterly devastated from discovering the truth about her relationship with her husband the Emperor. The Emperor viewed 甄嬛 as nothing more than a replacement to his first wife. 

Heartbroken, 甄嬛 requests to leave the Imperial Harem right after she birthed her daughter, which the Emperor permits. As a concubine to the Emperor, there aren’t that many options for her to go and decides to live in a Buddhist nunnery 甘露寺 as a nun. Where is this 甘露寺 nunnery? What is it? We will talk about that later on in the episode. Last episode we titled it the death of 甄嬛。 This is the start of 甄嬛’s new life as a nun. To be very honest, these are probably the least interesting series of episodes in the entire drama. I think most people feel this way. When I’m rewatching the drama, I usually stop after 华妃 dies in episode 42 and then skip to when #spoiler alert, 甄嬛 leaves the nunnery. We’ll talk about episode 46 and 47 in this podcast episode though we’ll spend a bit of time talking about the nunnery and that tradition as well.

We start episode 46 with 甄嬛 tearfully assigning her maids and eunuch to different palaces. Surprisingly, her maid and also half sister, 浣碧 and the older maid 瑾溪 decide to accompany her nunnery. Say what you will about 浣碧 and we all know that Cathy isn’t a huge fan of 浣碧 but she at least decides to go to the nunnery with 甄嬛 which is not going to be a pleasant experience. That shows some type of loyalty. 甄嬛 leaves her daughter to be raised by the kind 敬妃.

The only two people who see them off are her good friend 沈眉庄 and the Imperial Doctor 温实处. It is quite a touching scene. We find out that 甄嬛 ‘s father is alive and well even though the family has been exiled to the north. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛, 浣碧, and 瑾溪 arrive at the nunnery and are greeted by the order of nuns. The abbess seems to be a kind enough woman but bluntly tells the ladies that they are now at the nunnery. They must leave all earthly desires behind.  甄嬛 is also given a new name 莫愁 which literally means “do not worry”. She is now a nun who is able to keep her hair, something we will talk about later on, and her name is now 莫愁. 甄嬛 essentially doesn’t exist.  

A sour looking nun 静白 leads the ladies to their living quarters, which turns out to be a shabby and deserted shack. This is a far cry from the luxuries and splendors of the Imperial Palace. They face their first trial shortly after arriving. 甄嬛 starts suffering from cramps due to her recent birth. Her maid 瑾溪 tries to ask for some brown sugar to help soothe the pain but the nuns aren’t very generous. They instead ignore 瑾汐 and dismiss her. This is very counter to how nuns are supposed to behave. Nuns are supposed to be super nice! They’re Buddhist nuns for pete’s sake! There is at least one nice soul in the nunnery. 莫言 which means do not talk.. Very interesting names. Again we’ll talk about this later in the episode. A grouchy nun barges in and gives 甄嬛 a bag of brown sugar but that’s just to keep 瑾溪 from bothering everyone. 甄嬛 realizes that life in the nunnery is going to be tooough,

Back at the palace, the Empress is playing with 甄嬛’s daughter! The princess’s title is 胧月 or hazy moon. Let’s pause for a sec – Empress, you are the one who created this whole situation! How can you just be playing with the child?

Ok, no we know how. A). She knows exactly how to play the devoted wife in front of the Emperor and B). this princess is just a princess. She’s no threat to the Empress. Well, the Empress seized this opportunity to solidify her faction. The Emperor wants to promote other women in the Imperial Harem since he stripped 甄嬛 of hers. The Emperor wants to promote 沈眉庄 but the Empress subtly belittles 沈眉庄, specifically highlighting her ties to 甄嬛. The Emperor is still very salty about the whole 甄嬛 situation so he agrees with the Empress’s decision. Only 祺贵人 who gets promoted from a Noble Lady to Concubine. 

 

[Karen]

There are a couple of scenes showing the abuse that 甄嬛 experiences in the nunnery while the Empress is living her life in the palace.  She doesn’t have much to worry about in the palace Everything is going to plan!  I guess in her boredom, the Empress gets this brilliant idea when she chats with the Empress Dowager. There’s frost in the south, which could damage the next year’s harvest. The Empress Dowager tells the Empress that the Emperor wants the women of the Imperial Harem to pray to the gods for a good harvest. Well, why not pray right at the nunnery where 甄嬛 is currently banished? I feel like you can hear a mwahahaha from the Empress. 

That was my first read of the Empress’s actions but gloating was not her only goal. In her own palace, the Empress divulges the real reason as to why she wants to bring the Imperial Harem to pray at the nunnery. Her own posse comprised of 安陵容 and 祺嫔 is waiting for her in the Empress’s palace. As the Empress puts it, the Emperor is still not over 甄嬛, despite her banishment. The Empress points to these examples; his devotion towards the young princess, his dismissal of the older maid 芳若 due to her ties to 甄嬛, and his coldness towards 沈眉庄 for the same reason. The Empress is worried that 甄嬛 might plan for a comeback. She needs to personally see 甄嬛’s current state to be sure that her own position is safe.

This woman is always calculating. At the end of this conversation, the Empress 皇后 gifts 祺嫔 a red jade necklace but curiously doesn’t gift anything to 安陵容. 安陵容 makes a comment on it’s peculiar smell…hmm…what does that mean? We know 安陵容 is the jealous type, why doesn’t she seem too disappointed about the gift?

 

[Cathy]

It’s already been 3 months since 甄嬛 has left. Her good friend 沈眉庄 is worried about her so she sends the Imperial Doctor 温实处 on a trip to visit 甄嬛. 

The good doctor is stunned at what he sees at the nunnery. 甄嬛 doing chores with the rest of the women. What’s worse, 甄嬛 also has small lesions caused by inflammation from exposure to the cold air. Not just her but 浣碧 and 瑾溪 too. There’s not much the doctor can do but give him whatever medicine he has. 

Life continues to be basically terrible. The nasty nun 静白 must have a vendetta against 甄嬛 or something. She orders 甄嬛 to wipe the floors in the main hall. The other nuns gossip and belittle her! Again, shouldn’t this be a place of zen?

As she’s wiping, a surprise visitor shows up. Why it’s the 17th Prince 果郡王! Yay!  We haven’t seen him in a few episodes and we find out why. The two have a chat at a nearby river. The 17th Prince was “banished” to the city of 盛京 or modern day 沈阳 for speaking up for 甄嬛’s father and he has only just returned. He has a gift for her – a painting of her daughter, 敬妃, and 沈眉庄. Aw, how touching and thoughtful! That’s not it, he’s even brought materials for 甄嬛 to make clothes for her daughter’s first birthday. He’s thought of everything, including the princess’s measurements! Time also is flying! It’s already a year since 甄嬛 left the palace?

It’s time for the ladies of the Imperial Harem to pray at the nunnery. Every concubine from the Imperial Harem arrives. 甄嬛 for better or worse, is still stuck wiping the floor. The episode ends on sort of a cliffhanger? How will the ladies react to seeing each other after so long?

 

[Karen]

Let’s dive right into episode 47.

The interaction doesn’t go too well. 甄嬛 gets humiliated and stepped on (literally) by the loathsome 祺嫔。 Ugh,  the Empress and her posse just lay on the insults. The nasty nun 静白 doesn’t help either. She declares to all that 甄嬛 is just a common nun. She does all the chores. An accidental step on the fingers isn’t a big deal. She actually says that! Like what? 

The Empress in her serene but pretentious way just states – 甄嬛 is the same as the other nuns. She should be treated as such. Basically just implicitly allowing the nuns to continue their horrendous treatment towards 甄嬛. 沈眉庄, the amazing friend that she is, steps up to 甄嬛 to try and help. 甄嬛 is the mother of am princess! She deserves better treatment! This does not go over well with 祺嫔 nor the Empress. The Empress states everyone has their own position in life, a commoner cannot compare to an imperial concubine. Know yours. You have stepped out of your position today – you’ll be punished to pray at this temple for the rest of the day. 

[add on]

Back at the Palace, the Empress is very pleased with the events of the day. 甄嬛 no longer poses a threat to anyone. It’s the Emperor who still can’t leave everything behind. Now it’s time to gloat. She orders 祺嫔 and 安陵容 to focus on maintaining favor with the Emperor. We also find out that 祺嫔 has also been bribing or instructing the nasty nun 静白 to be horrible to 甄嬛. 

 

[Cathy]

Despite her punishment during the day, 沈眉庄 still tends to the Empress Dowager 太后. The Empress Dowager heard of what happened during the day and agrees that the Empress’s actions were a bit out of line. 沈眉庄 begs the Empress Dowager to help 甄嬛’s situation. The Empress Dowager is a shrewd and calculating woman. She at first hesitates but I think what truly sways the Empress Dowager into agreeing is hearing 沈眉庄’s true devotion to 甄嬛. This type of friendship is rare in the Imperial Harem. That and also 沈眉庄’s framing of the princess’s situation. A princess should not have a mother treated in such a manner. 

The Empress Dowager then turns her attention towards 沈眉庄’s own favor with the Emperor but she doesn’t care for it. She requests to move to 碎玉轩, 甄嬛’s old quarters. This is basically a death sentence for her prospects of favor but she doesn’t mind. The Empress Dowager sighs but agrees to this request. 

Time flies by – it’s already the Princess’s first birthday. 甄嬛 has completed her gift for her daughter and meets the 17th Prince 果郡王 on the appointed day. The 17th prince is laying on the flirtation but 甄嬛 is either oblivious or too jaded now to care. 

 

[Karen]

On her return to her quarters at the nunnery, she’s excited to see a surprise visitor. The senior maid 芳若! This maid now serves the Empress Dowager. This maid brings some gifts and medicinal supplies from 沈眉庄 and the Empress Dowager. She receives news from 芳若 that the Palace is preparing for a grand celebration for the Princess’s first birthday. 甄嬛 is obviously happy to hear this. 

甄嬛  asks who still keeps the Empress 纯元’s belongings. The maid tells her that the vast majority are with the Emperor, then the Empress and a few are with the Empress Dowager. The Empress 纯元 had a favored jade collar necklace that was gifted to her for her wedding night. Upon hearing this, 甄嬛 makes a request. She asks the maid 芳若 to have artisans make a similar collar necklace out of jade for the Princess to wear during her birthday. The maid agrees. 

Even in exile, 甄嬛 is planning for her daughter’s future. Since she can’t do much the few things she can do is to suffer the terrible treatment from the other nuns to loosen the 警惕之心 wariness from those in the palace towards the Princess. If 甄嬛 remains harmless, no one will place their attention towards the princess. She knows full well that the Princess must rely on her father’s favor for any position in the Imperial Harem. She asks for the artisan to make a similar collar necklace for the princess because now she knows how much weight the Emperor puts on things related to the Empress 纯元. She is hoping that that the collar necklace will stir pleasant memories about the Empress 纯元 for the Emperor and if the Princess wears the necklace, the Emperor in turn will favor the Princess. 

At least now, 甄嬛 knows the key so to speak to the emperor’s heart. His secrets have been revealed to her so she knows how to manage his attention. 

Before the maid leaves, she announces quite loudly for other nuns spying outside to hear that she will return monthly for copies of Buddhist scriptures as requested by the Empress Dowager. This request acts as a shield for 甄嬛. If someone from the palace comes monthly from the Empress Dowager’s palace no less, then other people both at the nunnery and the palace can’t literally kill 甄嬛 or torture her too badly. This is all by the grace of the empress dowager. A simple request that is nevertheless effective. 

 

[Cathy]

Well it’s time for the princess 胧月’s birthday! She does have a jade collar necklace on. All of the ladies in the Imperial Harem are doting on her. You can really tell that 敬妃 is a devoted mother. The Emperor arrives and he immediately notices the jade collar necklaces. 敬妃 quickly states that she was the one who asked artisans to make it for the Princess. He isn’t angered, he merely states that it looks familiar. 

The kind 端妃 chimes in with the exact words to help the Princess. She says, the late Empress 纯元 had a similar one but 敬妃 entered the harem late, she couldn’t have seen it. There are many layers to this statement. 1) She is invoking the memory of 纯元 so it’s top of mind for the emperor and 2) She is protecting 敬妃 from being accused of purposefully copying 纯元。 甄嬛 was severely punished earlier for accidentally wearing a robe of 纯元. 端妃 didn’t want 敬妃 to be reprimanded for it.

The Emperor doesn’t suspect a thing and actually gifts his daughter the necklace from the late Empress 纯元.  This is even better than what 甄嬛 could have hoped for! This necklace will be a talisman for the Princess. If ever the Emperor gets mad at his daughter, if she’s wearing the necklace, he might think twice about any punishment. 

 

[Karen]

What else happens in this episode?

Two major storylines:  

1. On his way back from the Princess’s birthday festivities, the Emperor passes by 碎玉轩, the palace where 甄嬛 used to live. He’s surprised to see his own son, the unfavored 4th prince, waiting outside. He asks his son what he’s doing outside of the palace and the 4th prince explains that 甄嬛 was always kind to him when he was young, telling him to read and focus on his studies in order to be a good son. The emperor hears of 甄嬛’s kindness towards the son and decides to enter the palace. He is quite saddened to see that 甄嬛 left almost everything that he had given her. Clearly, he is upset she’s gone and is still not over her.

2. 甄嬛 meets a kind looking nun who turns out to be none other than 舒太妃, a concubine to the previous emperor 康熙 and the mother to the 17th prince, 果郡王。 甄嬛 and this woman are both women from the imperial harem who have left the palace to live out their lives as nuns. 甄嬛 actually has her Chinese instrument, the 古琴 that used to be that of this 舒太妃. 甄嬛 accidentally broke it earlier in the episode but was able to bring it to this 舒太妃 in order to fix the instrument. Who happens to be with his mother when 甄嬛 comes to visit? Of course, it’s the 17th prince! Lots of conversation ensues primarily around trying to find 浣碧 a husband. The 17th prince thinks she would be good with his servant 阿晋  since they get along very well but 浣碧 is like nope! Not interested.

It’s getting more and more obvious to everyone that the 17th Prince is interested in 甄嬛. He even calls her 嬛儿, a very intimate nickname. 浣碧 warns 甄嬛 of the 17th Prince’s affections towards her. This man is the younger brother to her husband! 甄嬛 flatly states that they are 知己 or confidants, The episode ends with the 17th Prince’s servant delivering the news that the Empress Dowager is looking to find a wife for the 17th Prince. 甄嬛 is happy for him but that is not what the servant wants to hear. He asks her – does she truly not know who the 17th Prince wants for his wife?

Buddy stop – that’s a very dangerous topic.

 

[Cathy]

This episode will be light on analysis. I will compare these episodes to the training montage of the Dark Knight Rises? Where Batman gets thrown into the pit by Bane? Bane is wreaking havoc in Gotham but Batman has to build himself up from the ground to return to the palace. These episodes are basically 甄嬛’s struggles in the Pit. 

So what are we going to talk about today in our analysis? 

We’re focusing on the nunnery and 甄嬛’s new life as a nun. Since we are watching a Chinese drama, the discussion we have here is focused around Chinese nuns.

 

Women in the imperial harem leaving to become nuns is not unheard of. It is a potential option for women when their husband, the emperor, dies but this option in the Qing Dynasty is extremely rare.  The alternatives are:

1. 殉葬 which means you are sacrificed and buried with the emperor. The Chinese were very superstitious in ancient times. Emperors wanted to have a large posse of people with them in the afterlife. So…the women were generally all killed. The methods of sacrifice varied. I guess the nicer ones are that you are poisoned or some eunuchs come with white linen to strangle you. Others are more gruesome such as burying the women alive. This practice differed in each dynasty. It was actually banned in the Ming Dynasty, the dynasty before this one but was reintroduced in the Qing dynasty. The practice of human sacrifice or 殉葬 was finally banned by the current emperor’s father 康熙 in the 1670s.

2. You live in another palace in the Forbidden Palace. In Qing Dynasty, this meant living in the northwest quarters of the Forbidden Palace. The Empress Dowager occupies the biggest palace with the biggest allowest. A female’s rank after the death of her husband depended on her rank while he was alive, her issue, her family’s position at court, and ultimately what the current Emperor decides to give you. The title includes the word 太 or what we would call Dowager. During the reign of this emperor, anything below a 常在 or a 1st Class Female attendant would not be granted a Dowager title. Life as a Dowager in the Imperial Harem was often tough. They were often neglected, with little allowance, and political influence. For many women, this meant a meaningless life as they could not remarry or leave the Imperial harem.

 

[Karen]

Back to the nunnery – when you decide to become a nun, the biggest physical change you have is that you cut off all your hair. This is part of the ritual to become a monk or a nun. In Chinese, the term is to ‘出家’。甄嬛 is allowed to keep her hair, as does her maids but they are now considered nuns. 

The other change is that their names have changed. Once you become a nun or are ordained as a nun, you are given a Dharma Name or in Chinese a 法号 or 法名。 Generally the names are based by generation depending on when you became a nun. As a nun, you are supposed to study Buddhist scripture, pray and strip yourself of the earthly world you once knew. You are to be vegetarian, cannot drink alcohol and cannot marry. In general, you are to do acts of good as a Buddhist nun. That is why the fact that there are many nuns bullying and abusing 甄嬛, now known as 莫愁 is surprising. These women are supposed to be kind hearted especially as nuns but that is clearly not the case.

I also want to speak briefly about the location of this temple where 甄嬛 now lives. The temple that is mentioned in the drama, 甘露寺, does not actually exist in Beijing. This name is actually the name of the temple as described in the book. Remember that this drama is largely based on a book. The filming location of the temple for this drama is a temple called 戒台寺。 The temple was first built in 622 during the Tang dynasty and has since had renovations in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The fact that this was built in what is now modern day Beijing is quite interesting because the capital city during the Tang dynasty was not Beijing, but rather, modern day 西安。The ordination altar in this temple is one of the 3 largest in the country and this temple welcomes many tourists each year.

 

Well that’s about it for today’s episode discussing episode 46 – 47 of Empresses in the palace! Next few episodes we’ll see the affections of the 17th prince on full display! Please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com if you have any questions and we will catch you in the next episode!