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 48 and 49 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.
Last week, we saw how terrible life was for 甄嬛 at the Buddhist nunnery. In these two episodes we squeeze in a complete romance movie. The 17th Prince really has to work for his girl. This probably the most cringe parts of the entire drama but there are some historical components to these 2 episodes, at least in Episode 49 which is quite interesting and I’m excited to discuss.
At the end of the last episode, 甄嬛 finds out that the Empress Dowager is trying to find a wife for the 17th Prince. She doesn’t really react but everyone around her is upset at her! Or her lack of reaction?
Let’s start from here.
The 17th Prince 果郡王 comes to personally deliver the news to 甄嬛 of his potential marriage. He flat out tells her that he will not accept this match. He will persevere until the woman he does want to marry changes her mind. 甄嬛 coldly rejects his professions of affections, even stating that they should stop meeting in the future.
Aw, poor guy.
Fortunately for him, he receives a chance to shine not long after. It’s winter time and 甄嬛 is in the nunnery but it’s evident she’s sick. She’s coughing quite heavily. Right then, a whole group of nuns barge in, led by the cruel 静白. You know whenever this nun is in the picture, nothing good will happen. Sure enough, the nun 静白 immediately tries to kick 甄嬛 out of the nunnery. She accuses 甄嬛 of having 肺痨 or tuberculosis which is a bad omen for the nunnery. Who will come pray at the temple anymore? Who will donate to this ancient establishment? All of the other nuns concur. In order to save their temple, 甄嬛 needs to be out.
To add insult to injury, the nun 静白 spots the bowl of the swallow’s nest in 瑾汐’s hand. She immediately draws the other nuns’s attention to it, declaring 甄嬛 a thief. She says that only she and the abbess have access to swallow’s nest. Therefore, 甄嬛 must have stolen the swallow’s nest. The nunnery cannot tolerate thieves. 甄嬛 must leave. Of course, the swallow’s nest which is a Chinese delicacy that has a variety of health benefits according to Chinese medicine, was gifted to zhenhuan by the 17th prince. They cannot disclose that information so they just have to accept these accusations. The abbess arrives but she’s completely useless and kindly suggests that 甄嬛 moves to 凌云峰 which is a mountain peak nearby to regain her health instead of staying here. Sure, let’s move this very sick woman out into a mountain peak where she’s probably going to get even more sick. Really smart move don’t you think?
Sure enough, as the ladies trek out to this peak, 甄嬛 passes out. It’s snowing heavily but there’s not a whole lot that can be done by 浣碧 and 瑾汐。 浣碧 runs off to find help and returns with our knight in shining armor – the 17th prince. He whisks her away to get medical attention.
Let’s take a second to give a shout out to the MVP of this saga – the stern but kind nun 莫言 who stands up for 甄嬛 and helps move them to the peak.
甄嬛 is now at the 17th prince’s mountain estate, 清凉台. She has a very high fever that just won’t come down so what does he do? He goes out to the freezing snow, lays down in the snow to get his body temperature down and then comes back to hug 甄嬛 to help cool her temperature. While she’s fully clothed of course. Gotta maintain her integrity. Thankfully his efforts pay off, i mean, would you have expected otherwise? I also don’t know if this actually works medically but eh we’ll take it.
Her fever subsides and the imperial doctor 温实初 arrives to take care of her. He couldn’t come earlier because he was looking after the empress dowager.
The next bit is kinda funny. The two men, both of whom are in love with 甄嬛, are vying for I guess the opportunity to take care of 甄嬛 and are both very ecstatic when she wakes up. Each of them are trying their best to contribute more to her health. I’m sitting here and just laughing at this. 甄嬛 wakes up and can feel the 2 men overly attentive towards her which means she needs to in Chinese, the term is 避嫌 or ultimately “avoid unnecessary rumors”. Both of them, are in my opinion, a little pouty haha.
When 甄嬛 is healthy enough to walk, the 17th prince is now sick after his display of love? Gallantry? The 17th prince’s trusty servant explains everything to 甄嬛 even though he was instructed not to. She is very grateful and decides to visit his quarters where he’s still recovering from his illness to check on him and express her gratitude.
They’re having a casual conversation but surprise guests arrive. She doesn’t have time to escape the room before the guests come in so she hides behind a screen. Who are the guests? Why it’s the Emperor and the lovely 敬妃 with none other than her daughter 胧月 in tow! That’s quite the shock. 甄嬛 is overwhelmed with emotion at hearing her daughter. The emperor is here to check in on the 17th prince after hearing that he’s sick. They stay and chat for a short while. Just enough for 甄嬛 to realize that it’s dangerous to open her heart up to the 17th prince because there are real ramifications if she does. When the emperor and his family leaves, 甄嬛 switches back to calling the 17th prince his formal title and quickly leaves to the mountain peak she’s supposed to stay at now that she’s healthy, much to the disappointment of the 17th prince. He is soooo in love.
I want to pause and say this is probably one of the least plausible things to happen in this drama. The location where the 17th prince is, is outside of the imperial palace. The Emperor said that he was feeling bored so came out for a stroll and walked passed the 17th prince’s place. How is that possible. Any time the emperor leaves the imperial palace, it’s a big deal. Especially with concubines and a PRINCESS in tow. They also stopped by for like 5 min before leaving. How is that possible? I really don’t think this made sense. I also totally didn’t realize that 欣嫔 was in this scene. She doesn’t say much and doesn’t do much other than make knowing glances when the emperor brings up the princess’s mother. Anyways. Rant over.
The episode ends with 甄嬛, now healthy, visiting the 17th prince’s mother at the Daoist nunnery. If you recall, the 17th prince’s mother became a Daoist nun after his father, the former emperor, passed away. It’s spring time. Who is visiting his mother just as 甄嬛 arrives? You guessed it. It’s the 17th prince. At the request of the 17th prince’s mother, 甄嬛 and the 17th prince play a duet – she on the 古琴, and he on the flute. The 17th prince’s mother recites the famous poem 长相思 as they play to much emotion. This duet further hints at the emotional connection between the two.
Sure enough, as we start episode 49, the 17th prince, who is escorting 甄嬛 back to her place, outright declares his affections for her. He says she is now free of the imperial palace and can be with anyone she wants. She, on the other hand, states that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with royalty. Plus she’s essentially an incomplete body. Her words, not mine. She does not want to start anything she knows is going to end poorly. She was heartbroken by the emperor and does not want to endure similar heartbreak again. He’s quite insistent but she shuts him down again.
Her resolve doesn’t hold for too long though. One night after 甄嬛, 浣碧 and 瑾汐 have moved to the mountain peak, a large CGI cat come to scare the heck out of the ladies. The cat was attracted by caged birds provided to 甄嬛 by the imperial doctor to help cheer her up. Who knew that the birds would attract cats! Well they do, and the ladies are screaming at the cat when the 17th prince BURSTS in. It’s not like he does anything and the cat runs away. Everyone is surprised he’s there but it turns out that he hangs outside their place every night. He’s happy to just watch the candlelight of 甄嬛’s residence.
Can we have a vote on if this is romantic or creepy?
甄嬛 doesn’t say much this time though is evidently moved by this protective behavior. Later on, the 17th prince is hanging outside playing flute. It’s pouring rain but he perseveres in wanting to protect 甄嬛 by waiting outside. At long last, 甄嬛 goes out with an umbrella to accept his affections. He has finally moved her enough for them to be together. Yay! He does not care about the fact that she was a concubine, that she had a daughter. He loves her and is over the moon. He immediately takes 甄嬛 to visit his mother again to share the good news. She is quite accepting and is very pleased with the match.
I will note that 甄嬛”s concerns are very legitimate! They are quite rational. The two of them can essentially only elope and it’ll be difficult for her to truly be his wife. He’s still a royal.
And Technically, 甄嬛 is breaking her oath as a nun. She’s not supposed to have relationships but she is totally letting that go now. Her hair is down and made up in a simple way and she’s wearing plain and colored clothes, albeit still a bit muted. But the lavender is quite a fitting reflection of her current emotions. And with that – the 2 love birds are finally together.
The two people who are least happy about this are the imperial doctor 温实初 who is still in love with 甄嬛, and 浣碧,甄嬛’s half sister/maid who is in love with the 17th prince. Even though she loves him, she doesn’t try to sabotage her sister’s happiness which I at least give her credit for. As for the imperial doctor, 甄嬛 makes it very clear that the 17th prince 允礼 is no longer an outsider.
With that! They are supposed to live happily ever after! Awwww. He is the picture of the rom com male lead who after sacrificing himself and stalks his love, earns her affections. Only joking! He’s still a great catch! Educated, kind, loving, handsome. What more can you want?
The other main storyline in episode 49 is quite fascinating actually.
It depicts the downfall of the famous 隆科多。隆科多 is a famous general/minister that helped the emperor claim the throne. The other guy is the now deceased 年羹尧。 隆科多 has always somewhat been in the background especially because 年羹尧 took up so much attention but with things slowing down, it’s time for the emperor to get rid of 隆科多。
Unlike with 年羹尧, we don’t really see what happens with 隆科多 at the Imperial Court. The Emperor simply tells his mother the Empress Dowager that 隆科多 must die. 太后 the Empress Dowager tries to persuade him otherwise, listing the following reasons.
1. 隆科多 was crucial in assisting our current Emperor seize the throne. The Emperor already killed 年羹尧, another person who was crucial in his claim. It would send a terrible signal to the Empire if the Emperor kills him. The Emperor would be viewed as ungrateful. The phrase the Empress uses is 狡兔死，走狗烹. We’ll discuss this later.
2. 隆科多 comes from a heralded Manchu family. He’s the younger brother of Empress Xiaoyiren, the 3rd Empress to Emperor 康熙. It would not look well to be killing prominent Manchu officials
The Emperor is unmoved by these remarks. He coldly responds, 隆科多 must die because he needs to protect the Empress Dowager’s reputation. Just because my father didn’t know, doesn’t mean I don’t. If you want to protect my throne and your own title as Empress Dowager, you know what to do. The Empress Dowager knows there’s nothing else she can say. She knows what she must do.
We’ll explain what the Emperor means.
In the evening, the Empress Dowager’s maid quietly brings the Empress Dowager to the room where 隆科多 is imprisoned. These two finally meet after several years. So what’s the history between the two?
It turns out that 隆科多 and the Empress Dowager were childhood sweethearts. They’ve known each other for a very long period of time. The empress dowager and 隆科多 reminisce about their past for a while. The empress dowager is very grateful to 隆科多 for helping her move up the ranks in the imperial harem and eventually, helping her son gain the throne. We find out that her original plan was to marry 隆科多 but fate didn’t go that way and she ended up a concubine in the palace.
She states that she’ll try to request clemency for 隆科多 from the emperor. 隆科多 is incredibly moved. Little does he know, the Empress Dowager didn’t actually come for that. It was to kill him. He has a sip of the bamboo wine she brought to console him and promptly dies.
Whaaat? Ok – I kind of knew this was going to happen. This woman will always put her son first. She tearfully explains this to his body.
Throughout the years, empress dowager secretly hated 隆科多 as much as she loved him. He purposefully told her to wear something that would attract the attention of the emperor in order to become a concubine. He didn’t want to marry her, he was using her to secure his sister’s, who was the empress’s, position in the harem. The Empress Dowager knew that 隆科多 would not have helped her son capture the throne if his sister had a son. She did not bear sons which is why 隆科多 turned around to help the Empress Dowager’s oldest son, our current Emperor. What the Empress Dowager wanted to believe was that he, 隆科多，loved her, but deep down, she knew he was only using her. She says that he ended her life. She’s doing the same for him.
隆科多 could have lived but the Emperor was not going to allow it. In this cruel act, the Emperor forced his own mother to kill her sweetheart. For her son’s throne, for her own clan’s fortunes, and for her own personal reasons, the Empress Dowager agreed. However, this is not something she wanted to do. You’ll notice that throughout the drama, she is worried about the Emperor’s reaction towards 隆科多. She tries to steer the conversation away from him and minimize the negativity around him, hoping that this would be enough to save 隆科多 from the Emperor. Unfortunately, this does not work. Why? It is heavily implied that 隆科多 and the Empress Dowager had an improper relationship/ The emperor may even be 隆科多’s child – that’s just speculation. The Emperor, though, seems to know something about this relationship and cannot tolerate it any longer. Thus, he does everything he can to remove 隆科多。Now, 隆科多is finally dead. The two officials that we were introduced to in the very first episode of this drama are…dead. Great job emperor.
The Empress Dowager falls ill after this incident but the Emperor refuses to see his mother. 沈眉庄 is the one who stays tirelessly by her bedside. The Empress Dowager is grateful for her actions and in a rare move, promotes 沈眉庄 from 贵人 or Noble Lady to 嫔 or Imperial Concubine! She is now the same rank as 安陵容 and 祺嫔。 What an ungrateful and heartless son! You tell your own mother to kill the person she probably loves and won’t see her when she is sick. Once again if there is the worst person award in this drama, it does not go to 华妃 or 皇后, the Empress. Instead, it should go to our Emperor!
Now it’s time for our analysis! We have three things to discuss today.
The first is:
长相思 which translates to Missing You Forever, or Longing. This is the poem that the 17th prince’s mother recites at the end of episode 48 when 甄嬛 so happens to visit her and the 17th prince is also there. They play a duet on the gu qin and flute while the mother recites the poem.
This is a famous poem by one of the most famous poets from Chinese history, 李白。It cannot be understated how famous this guy is. If you’re Chinese and had to recite poems, you recited at least 1 of his poems. He’s also involved in a lot of shenanigans during the Tang dynasty that are well documented.
The poem is rather lengthy and is actually split into 3 parts. The mother recites part 2 of the poem. We won’t translate it here. Essentially this poem reflects the longing a person feels for the one he or she loves. Generally this is about a man’s feeling for a woman as there are references to beautiful people throughout the poem. Beautiful people usually refers to women. The poem discusses the sadness of not being with the loved one, the dream state one feels as if the other person were nearby only to be heartbroken when realizing they are not there, among other items. It is a beautiful poem, though rather dense in meaning.
The 17th prince’s mother recites this poem as a way to express her feelings towards her late husband, the deceased emperor KangXi. Clearly she is sad he is gone.
The next phrase we want to analyze is this
This phrase is mentioned by both the Empress Dowager 太后 and 甄嬛 when they hear of the Emperor’s intentions to kill 隆科多.
The full phrase goes like this:
My translation goes like this – the birds have been shot, so the bow is no longer needed. The wiley hare is dead, so let’s feast on the dog as well.
This is a metaphor for a person who will exploit someone or something until it has lost all value, then he’ll discard that person. This is a rather extreme way of dealing with people. Usually people don’t go to such extremes of discarding or ridding people who are of no value. This phrase certainly has more ominous connotations than simply being something that one does. It’s often used to describe an Emperor’s actions towards his advisors, which is what happens here.
This phrase first appears in 史记 or the Records of the Grand Historian written by the Han Dynasty historian 司马迁 in 90s BC. It appears in genealogy of 越王勾践世家 or House of King Goujian of Yue. The political advisor 范蠡 makes this remark after helping the King Goujian reclaim his throne, only to be ousted from court and forced to resign.
Finally let’s dive a little bit deeper in to the figure that is 隆科多.
His birth year is unknown but he did come from the powerful 佟佳 clan under the Bordered Yellow Banners. He was the younger brother of an Empress to Emperor 康熙. 隆科多 rose to prominence during the later years of Emperor 康熙’s reign, holding various military and court positions.
He is perhaps most famous for his peculiar role during Emperor 康熙’s death. He was the only high level official present when the Emperor died and he was the one who read the will. There are many conspiracy theories about his role in declaring Emperor 雍正 the Emperor. If not for his support within the Imperial Court and the general 年羹尧’s military support, the Emperor 雍正 would have had a much more bloody path to the throne.
After 雍正 ascended the throne, 隆科多 was promoted to even higher ranks such as a 一等公 or First Class Duke. He was in charge of compiling various chronicles of Qing Dynasty and Ming Dynasty history and was granted untold riches.
This all came crashing down in 1727 only 1 year after the death of 年羹尧. The Emperor charged 隆科多 and his family with 41 crimes including bribery, corruption, and treason.
隆科多 most likely did build his own faction in court and probably did participate in corruption. The Emperor also probably really wanted this guy dead, so he found charges to indict him. 隆科多 was placed under house arrest and sentenced to house arrest for life but he died only on year later in 1728. There’s no evidence that he and the Empress Dowager had a fling.