[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas.  My name is Karen,  and this is Cathy. Today we are going to be discussing Episode 50 + 51 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传。For those of you just joining us on this podcast, I highly recommend starting with our intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episodes.

The last couple of episodes we’ve seen our main character 甄嬛 move out of the imperial harem and into a nunnery where she is to be a nun, albeit one who does not shave her hair. However, she was treated very poorly and suffered health issues. Fortunately, the 17th prince was around to save her and after sharing his feelings and seeing his devotion, 甄嬛 decided to be with the handsome 17th prince. They are spending some good quality time together as a couple.

We’ll start our recap from there. I’ve been nagging on this portion of the drama. These 2 episodes are probably the 2 most boring episodes in the series? I feel like it’s quite a drudge to go through them as not a whole lot of exciting stuff happens but here we are. We will go through the recap and then also do the analysis. 

 

[Cathy]

Episode 50 begins with our faithful imperial doctor 温实初 visiting his love since childhood, the main character 甄嬛. However, he sees that she is painting with the 17th prince and their relationship is very close. He is upset at this sight because he always thought that this was his chance to be with 甄嬛。Unfortunately, 甄嬛 already chose the 17th prince and she explains as much to him. He’s heartbroken but knows deep down she never liked him and walks away. 

The couple, the 17th prince and 甄嬛, enjoy their bliss together. You can tell that in this relationship, 甄嬛 can be herself. She never has to worry about her actions towards the 17th prince like she does with the Emperor. She doesn’t have to use wiley means to grab his attention and she can truly be herself. The 17th prince loves her and only her.  This is a pretty wonderful relationship to have and she is very lucky to be with such a great guy. This is also one of the healthiest relationships? But also not quite healthy? I don’t know.

 

[Karen]

Uh yea because she is technically still his brother’s wife so there you have it.

While these two love birds are happily together, the emperor in the palace is not having such a good time.. He’s been stressed lately with matters of court  and has only been staying with 安陵容, the former friend of 甄嬛 who has since backstabbed her and is now working for the manipulative 皇后, the empress.。On this night, the emperor is staying with 安陵容。In the middle of the night, however, 安陵容 hurriedly asks for doctors to be called because the emperor suddenly has a high fever. Everyone is worried and confused as to what’s happening. The empress dowager, the emperor’s mother, upon hearing the news, at first thinks 安陵容 is to blame. However, it is revealed that the day the emperor fell ill was none other than 甄嬛’s birthday. 

That’s right – in the Emperor’s subconscious, he still deeply cares about 甄嬛 and cannot let her go even though it’s been several years now.

 

[Karen]

Because of this information, 安陵容 is safe from punishment for now. But when the emperor was discovered to be sick, she quickly tells her maid to dump out some fragrances. Why is that? Knowing her, there’s something that’s deeply icky there and we’ll see this come back to haunt her in the future. 

Anyways, the emperor is ill and family members have been called in to tend to him at his bedside. This includes the 17th prince. He has to stay in the palace so he cannot visit 甄嬛. Instead, the two send lovely poetry to one another as a way to express their thoughts of each other during this time apart. We’ll discuss these poems at the end of the episode.

One day we see the emperor being tended to by the amazing 沈眉庄 and the 17th prince. 沈眉庄 is the childhood friend of 甄嬛. The empress dowager also comes to check in on the emperor. In his unconscious state, the Emperor mutters “嬛嬛” which is what he always called 甄嬛。However, the 17th prince says that he’s muttering about his first wife – the deceased 纯元 when the empress dowager asks who the emperor is muttering about. Remember that her nickname is “菀菀“ which sounds very similar to “嬛嬛”。 I thought this was very interesting. The 17th prince is steering all direction away from his love. He knows full well that the emperor is muttering about 甄嬛 but he is, i don’t know, trying to protect 甄嬛? Or he’s being more possessive to keep 甄嬛 out of the thoughts of people in the palace. Thoughts?

 

[Cathy]

Oh yea – he definitely doesn’t want people to know that the emperor is still muttering about a concubine that is out of favor, and for his own personal reasons. 

While everyone is busy tending to the emperor, a character we haven’t seen in a while decides to visit her son. 齐妃 goes to visit her son, the 3rd prince of the current emperor. For those of you who need a refresher, 齐妃 is the not very intelligent consort who is the birth mother of the 3rd prince. The 3rd prince is the eldest surviving  son, who is technically 1st in line for the throne. 齐妃 is prohibited from seeing her son due to some manipulation by the Empress several years ago, or several episodes ago, who successfully navigated her way to be the guardian of the 3rd prince. By now, the 3rd prince is more or less an adult and is studying quite diligently to become a potential crown prince. Currently, the emperor has not decided who the crown prince will be.

This day, the 3rd prince’s mother, 齐妃, sneaks over to see her son and laments how she cannot care for him. She hopes he will become emperor so she can become Empress dowager. This conversation is overheard by the Empress’s faithful maid who immediately tells the Empress, 皇后。 This makes the Empress extremely angry as she wants to be the one and only Empress Dowager when the 3rd prince ascends the throne. She does not want to share power with this other woman, especially this pretty idiotic woman.. The current empress will always be the empress dowager but since she is not the birth mother of the future emperor, she feels her position is challenged if this woman actually becomes an empress dowager. So of course, the Empress will want to find some other  way to eliminate this threat. Her opportunity comes later.

 

[Karen]

After some care, the emperor finally wakes up. However, he’s not very happy to see the women in the imperial harem and decides to head off to the summer palace, Yuan Ming Yuan. We’ve talked about this place before.  The emperor actually has some funny quotes here. He says that women might have different faces but otherwise they are all the same. He thinks they’re boring. It’s like – ok buddy. You have so many women available to you and you’re not impressed with any of them. But the one person you do care about, 甄嬛, you treated really poorly. Hmmm. Who’s to complain?

To add some spice to his life, the emperor turns his attention to the lowest of the low in the palace. He finds interest in a beautiful horse tamer named 叶澜依, another one of my favorite characters in the show, whom he sees taming horses while he’s strolling in the summer palace. As she’s doing her job, he is enraptured by her aura. He sees a level of confidence and unbridled energy as she’s riding these horses that I guess he doesn’t see in the palace. I’ve read that people think she reminds him of the now deceased 华妃. He doesn’t say anything but his trusty eunuch, 苏培盛 knows exactly what the emperor is thinking. This brings us over to episode 51.

苏培盛 finds where this woman lives and, by the order of the emperor, makes her into a concubine. This woman, 叶澜依, is not impressed whatsoever. She is like “okay” and “thanks” with a rather rude attitude. Indeed this makes her very different from all other women in the palace who would have loved to have gained the attention of the emperor. She is very direct and actually wants to be as far away from people as possible in the palace. 

 

[Cathy]

The thing is, 叶澜依 is already in love the 17th prince. We find out in this episode that he saved her life a few years back. She has loved him since that encounter. Or more like devoted. She knows, however, that their stations in life are vastly different so she never has actually moves forward with any desires and thoughts about marrying him. She just holds her love for him close to her heart. For example, one day he says he thought she looked great wearing green. Guess what? She now loves wearing green.

Not only is 叶澜依 not pleased about entering the palace, the other ladies in the imperial harem are not happy as well. Why would they be? This 叶澜依 has been captured the attention of the emperor so fully that he’s been ignoring everyone else. But not only that, she is just a lowly horse maiden, how can she compare with the rest of them? There’s a lot of jealousy going around. Sadly, 叶澜依 is now stuck in the palace. No one ever asked if she wanted to be there but that is her fate. She hates it so much that she even takes her own birth control because she desperately does not want to be tied down. That’s pretty bold. All women want to have children except for her, it looks like. 

The actress for 叶澜依 is called 热依扎。She’s born in Beijing but she is not ethnically Han Chinese. You’ll notice in her features that she doesn’t look like the other women. Instead, she is from the Kazakh ethnic group in China which is among the 56 ethnic minorities recognized in Country. Kazakh is a turkic ethnic group that has a large population in modern day XinJiang province in China.

 

[Karen]

Back to the 17th prince and 甄嬛. We kind of shifted the narrative a bit to make the recap flow. Anyways – the 2 are on a lovely hike in the mountains holding hands where they encounter a mysterious man writhing on the ground, pleading for help. The two kind people rush to his aid. This part is some hokey tv magic. The 17th Prince magically deduces that the man was bitten by a snake and just so happen to have an antidote or “medicine”. They feed him the antidote which instantaneously settles him. The man awakens 2 seconds later. The 17th prince praises the Dzungar man that it was his own physical health that saved him. 

The man is impressed. How did they know he was from Dzungar? The 17th prince briefly explains to him that 甄嬛 noticed the man’s hands had many calluses and was muttering in Dzungar. The man then creepily stares at 甄嬛 praising her beauty and intelligence. Eck – the way his eyes blatantly stares at her with that smirk is a bit gross. 

He then openly boasts about his ambition for the Dzungar people to conquer the Qing empire. This man doesn’t know who they, 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince, are but this encounter is important for later events. 

 

[Cathy]

Some time later, the 17th Prince arrives with a surprise for 甄嬛. 合婚更贴 or a marriage contract. We’ll dive into this later. He’s serious about her! He’s been feeling rather jumpy lately, especially with the emperor’s illness and wants to cement his relationship with 甄嬛。He wants the both of them to sign this 合婚更贴. 甄嬛 is at first a little hesitant but after a little persuading, agrees to signs it. They are now man and wife. The 17th prince has come up with a plan. He will fake 甄嬛’s death and elope with her to live happily ever after. 

Does this sound familiar? Romeo and Juliet anyone? Yea we know how that turned out…

甄嬛 is just ecstatic about the turn of events. She drags the 17th prince over to the bedside and cuts a lock of her hair and creates a knot with a lock of his hair. We’ve talked about this type of knot before, a 同心结 or a love knot. They’ll be of one heart together. Aww…

The boy finally gets his girl but we need to get back to business! The Emperor summons the 17th Prince to discuss the unrest in Tibet. The Emperor needs the 17th Prince to quietly travel to the Yunnan and Tibet regions of the Empire to investigate. The 17th Prince agrees and hurries out. Immediately after, the Imperial court minister 张廷玉 is summoned by the Emperor to a) protect the 17th prince on his journey and b) spy on his every move. What the heck emperor? You like that the 17th prince doesn’t really meddle in court affairs which is why you ask him to help but then spy on him to make sure he doesn’t meddle too much. This guy… is exhausting.

The 17th prince has to say goodbye to 甄嬛 but assures her that he’s only going to be gone for 40 days or so. It’s a short trip. After that they will fake her death so the two of them can elope. They’ll change their name and live happily ever after. It’s a beautiful dream isn’t it? After a tearful and emotional goodbye, he sets off on this journey… Will they get their wish? Welp! We still have 20+ episodes of this drama left so…maybe?

 

[Karen]

As 甄嬛 is waiting for her beloved to come back, she receives a surprise guest. Her best friend, 沈眉庄。 She has come to pray at the nunnery and on the way decides to visit 甄嬛。 The two friends have not seen each other in many years and it’s wonderful to see each other but 甄嬛 knows something is wrong. So 沈眉庄 doesn’t beat around the bush anymore and tells 甄嬛 that her father is very sick. If you recall, her family was exiled to the far off 宁古塔 for having upset the emperor. 沈眉庄 tells 甄嬛 that she has to find a way to bring her father back to 北京 to heal him. Otherwise, he will die. 

To add onto this stress, we find out 甄嬛 is actually pregnant! The episode ends with 甄嬛 sharing this news with her maids. We’ll see how the 17th prince finds this news!

Alright – phew. Through these 2 episodes. That was a journey… Trust me. Let’s get on with some of the analysis.

 

Analysis

[Cathy]

When 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince are apart because the 17th prince was called away to care for the emperor, they exchange a series of notes. These verses collectively come from a collection of poems called 九张机. They originated in the 宋 dynasty and are based off of a series of songs during the time period. Two of these 九张机 are recorded in a collection of verses called 乐府雅词. It is categorized as a 词牌名 which is a type of tune for the words. The performance style is called 转踏 where there is a combination of dancing and speaking for the performance. There is a specific tone pattern for this poem. Many people have written other verses in this style.

The verses of the particular 九张机 that is shown here in this drama reflect a silk weaver’s longing for her beloved when he is away, the loneliness of separation, and her worries that they might not reunite. 甄嬛 and the 17th prince here are sharing their love for one another through these verses. These seem to be made up and follows the verses but not reciting anyone in particular.

This is really sweet and everything but in my opinion, why send verses? Maybe they fear that the notes might be intercepted so they don’t want to be very blatant? They are literally just quoting verses and sending them to each other. They both know how the next line goes. Why can’t they actually write something more personal?

 

合婚更贴

Next, let’s talk about the marriage slip that both the 17th Prince and 甄嬛 sign. It’s called the 合婚更贴. 

This is a common tradition that is still practiced in various parts of China today. When the couple exchanges this red slip, they are engaged or betrothed to be married. The couple will write their name, hometown, and something called 生辰八字。This literally translates to birth time eight characters but in English it’s the Four Pillars of Destiny. Your birth year, month, date, and hour comprise these 8 characters, which are very important in Chinese culture. These are used in fortune telling as well as for marriage matches. 

Think of it as your horoscope. For marriage, often what will happen is the  the families will send either their son or daughter’s 生辰八字 to a matchmaker. The matchmaker will compare the information between the two to determine if the man and woman will make an auspicious match. If yes, the hallelujah, proceed with the marriage, if not then find someone else. It’s very, very complicated. I tried and went down the rabbit hole of trying to explain more but I can’t really do that justice. Google 4 pillars of destiny.

 

[Karen]

梁山伯与祝英台

Finally let’s talk about 梁山伯与祝英台 or the tragic love story of the Butterfly lovers. Why? Well the night before his departure, the 17th prince says that he and 甄嬛 will not end up like the Butterfly Lovers. So what is it? This literally foreshadows what’s going to happen and is a throwaway line in the show but rather significant.  This story is one of the most famous folk stories in Chinese culture. The first records of the story appeared in the Tang dynasty. 

There are many many versions of the story but the most famous one goes like this. 

The young woman, 祝英台 wants to attend school but can only do so disguised as a man. On her journey, she meets a fellow young man named 梁山伯. To their surprise, they find out that they’ll be classmates at the school. They take a liking to each other and swear an oath of brotherhood.

They study together for the next three years. During that time 祝英台 falls in love with 梁山伯. He is completely oblivious of her feelings for him and doesn’t suspect her true identity in the slightest because 祝英台 is supposed to be a boy at this time One day, 祝英台 is suddenly recalled home. Months later, 梁山伯 visits 祝英台’s family. During this visit, he discovers 祝英台is actually a woman. To her delight, he proclaims his love to 祝英台. But this happiness is short-lived. 祝英台 is betrothed to a wealthy man called 马文才. There’s nothing these lovers can do. 

Heartbroken, 梁山伯 wastes away at his job as a county magistrate. He dies shortly afterwards. On her wedding day, a strong gale prevents 祝英台’s marriage procession from continuing. They just so happen to stop near 梁山伯’s grave. 祝英台 realizes where they are, steps out of her carriage to pay her respects to 梁山伯, crying that she wished they could be together. Just then, a bolt of lightning cracks the grave open. Without second thought, 祝英台 jumps into the grave. The grave closes and two butterflies emerge from the grave and fly away together. 

And that’s in a nutshell, the tragic story of 梁山伯与祝英台.

There are differences in the versions on when 梁山伯 discovers 祝英台’s true identity but for the most part, that’s the general gist.

As one of the most famous folk tales in Chinese culture, this story has been past down through the generations in various art forms. There are famous operas, movies, TV shows, plays, and musical pieces all about these butterfly lovers. Most of them are actually quite lovely. 

People call this the Chinese Romeo and Juliet but this of course preceded Shakespeare’s story by almost a thousand years. 

Back to our drama, the 17th Prince declares to 甄嬛 that they will not end up like the Butterfly lovers, one dies of heartbreak, the other marries a person she does not love. HMMMMMM. I wonder what happens in this drama? They were so adamant that this would not happen.

 

Well that’s all for us today on this episode! We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We are working on quite a few additions to expand our reach to fans but that is upcoming. We’ll catch you in next episode to find out what happens with 甄嬛’s pregnancy. Thank you all so much for listening and hope you have a great week!