Episode 60 – A Sigh of Relief
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today, we are discussing episode 60 of 后宫甄嬛, Empresses in the Palace. In the previous episode, the Empress went on the attack. She discovered 槿汐，甄嬛”s head maid and 苏培盛’s, the Emperor’s head eunuch’s, relationship and promptly sentenced them to hard labor in 慎刑司. 甄嬛 has been desperately trying to find ways to free her loyal maid even requesting help from 端妃. Let’s see if her efforts paid off.
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Let’s dive right in!
The Emperor strides into 甄嬛’s palace in good spirits. The harvest was good this year! The Emperor mentions that he paid a visit to 端妃 the previous evening and thought much of what she said made sense.
甄嬛, hearing this news, knows that 端妃 has played her part. Now she must strike with her own ace up her sleeve. What’s her ace? Why the previous Empress 纯元 of course! She first showers the Emperor with compliments as a leader of the Empire. Then she casually drops Empress 纯元 into the conversation and more importantly, how 槿汐 knew of 纯元. She says – if the Empress 纯元 was here, the Imperial Palace must be very different. The Emperor is intrigued – you’ve heard of her stories? 甄嬛 continues to emphasize how 槿汐 was able to share these stories. She then calmly asks if 纯元 was still alive, how would she handle the situation with 苏培盛 and 槿汐。 Before the emperor can offer any thoughts, 甄嬛 cuts him off and suggests that 纯元 is very kind, she wouldn’t actually want to kill 苏培盛 and 槿汐。 She continues by saying that the current Empress is sisters with the first empress, so their thoughts are probably aligned. Since the emperor is also forgiving, the current Empress most likely won’t do anything counter to what he and the former empress would do.
The emperor cannot stand the current empress being compared with her sister and says as much. But it seems like he understands 甄嬛’s words and brings up how there are 2 pregnant concubines in the palace right now, it’s not fortuitous to enact any type of executions. 浣碧, 甄嬛’s loyal maid/half sister suddenly chimes in about why 甄嬛 is currently 篦头 even though it’s later in the day and essentially tells the emperor that 甄嬛 hasn’t been sleeping well. This implies that the drama with 槿汐 could cause damage to the babies. 甄嬛 cuts her off and tells her not to complain in front of the emperor but the emperor is softened to hear that she’s not doing well. After some more conversation where 甄嬛 continues to be apologetic about what happened, that she didn’t manage her staff well, and how 苏培盛 has been serving the emperor for many years, the Emperor decides to step in and release those two from hard labor and return to their original posts.
The point in this whole conversation is how well 甄嬛 has mastered the politics of the imperial harem. She knew exactly what to say to the emperor. First invoking how much 槿汐 knew about 纯元. Before, 甄嬛 was heartbroken about being a replacement for 纯元 but now, she uses 纯元 as a weapon to her advantage. Because she knows the emperor has such a soft spot for 纯元, evoking anything she may or may not say will help her cause. She feeds words into 纯元’s mouth as to how she may handle this current situation and her forgiving attitude. This helps capture the Emperor’s attention.
甄嬛 also most likely trained 浣碧 to say that bit about her not sleeping well. Notice that she only cut 浣碧 off after she said her piece, not before so as to make it look like she didn’t want the emperor to hear these words but the info is already out there. I’m sure this was planted by the master/servant duo.
Something I didn’t mention in previous episodes but is very present in this conversation is 甄嬛’s body language. Notice how when she is talking to the emperor now, she is much more demure. Her eyes are generally looking down, very rarely directly at him. She also smiles in a blushing way. She’s trying to gain his sympathy, attention, and affection by being this smaller woman to stroke his ego. But as we’ve seen her in front of other people such as 安陵容 or the Empress, she is definitely not this woman. She is much more confident and brimming with repressed rage. It is a stark contrast to when she was first in the palace to now. She has no true emotions left for the emperor but is merely playing the game. That’s how she is able to manipulate him to releasing 槿汐 and 苏培盛。
Shortly after, 槿汐 is released from hard labor. Her only punishment is forfeiting one year of salary. The eunuch 苏培盛 is also released and allowed to serve by the Emperor’s side again. All in all, the punishments were extremely light. I’m sure if the Empress had her way, both of them would have been tortured and then killed. Interestingly, the Emperor is persuaded by the eunuch to allow his relationship with 槿汐 to continue. That’s very different to his normal predilection of murder first, ask questions later. Maybe he’s going soft?
Well it’s time for a morning greeting at the Empress’s palace. We haven’t seen one of those in a while. 欣贵人 is waiting outside with some other concubines whom we haven’t really met. They are gossiping about 甄嬛 and 槿汐. 祺嫔, who has been finally released from house arrest, saunters in to add her two scents. She sneers and says, if this happened to me, I would just hide for the rest of my life. This is so embarrassing.
I do enjoy the attention to detail in this scene – especially the curtseying. 祺贵人 enters, the maids behind the other concubines first curtsey, then 祺贵人 and her maid curtsey, and then the rest of the concubines curtsey. However, notice 欣贵人’s curtsey is not as deep because she right now is of a higher rank. Love it!
Just as the concubines are gossiping (except for 欣贵人), 浣碧 coughs to make their entrance known. 甄嬛 enters and immediately starts schooling 祺贵人. 祺贵人, who always likes to retaliate, retorts back, if I’ve done anything, at least it was just me and not one of my servants. A servant’s actions represent her master, who knows, her master might just be as bad.
Look at the glare 甄嬛 gives to 祺贵人. She is so much more direct now than before. 甄嬛 doesn’t even have time to respond before 槿汐 comes with a cloak for her. It’s time for 槿汐 to shine! We haven’t really seen how eloquent 槿汐 can be but she just dishes all of 祺贵人’s insults right back at her to the point where 祺嫔 is literally speechless. It’s so satisfying to watch.
The ladies are escorted into the Empress’s palace where the Empress casually comments on the pending return of the 17th prince 果郡王. There will be a grand banquet for his return and to celebrate the pregnancies of 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄.
Someone is very excited to hear this news and it’s not 甄嬛. Back at her own palace, 甄嬛 receives the newly released 苏培盛. He comes with a dessert 红枣雪蛤 or Hasma with Jujubes or red dates. I don’t think I’ve had any but a quick search says that it’s dried fatty tissue found near the fallopian tubes of frogs. Interesting…
甄嬛 offers 苏培盛 a seat. He expresses his gratitude for her aid in his release from 慎刑司. 甄嬛 calmly accepts it. She does however warn him to be more careful. The whole situation came to light because of his slip up. 苏培盛 even straightens up upon hearing this. It was his fault. He takes his leave shortly after but this conversation also had the purpose of strengthening 甄嬛’s alliance with 苏培盛。
When 苏培盛 returns to his own residence, he’s surprised to see 槿汐 there. He was afraid that all the gossip and the hard labor scared her from wanting to have a relationship with him. But as 槿汐 rightly puts it, why kill yourself just so others take pleasure. She’s happy to be with someone who actually treasures her. That’s very sweet. 苏培盛 is very touched.
This I think is also a commentary on the low status of eunuchs throughout Chinese history. Eunuchs were at times extremely powerful but people looked down on them. People always commented on how they weren’t real people and I think oftentimes masters in the didn’t treat them as human beings with real feelings. Several emperors died at the hands of Eunuchs due to their poor treatment of them.
The drama between 苏培盛 and 槿汐 comes to a close. The rest of the episode revolves around 甄嬛’s pregnancy.
It’s time for the mid-autumn festival and the ladies are getting ready for the evening’s events. 甄嬛 has her hair and clothes adorned with gold and red. When her maid 浣碧 walks in, 甄嬛 comments on how 浣碧 looks nice. Honestly, 浣碧 only added a tiny bit of decoration to her person, I don’t see a huge difference but I guess via dialogue, we’re supposed to see that she is more done up? 浣碧 responds that she didn’t dress up to look good in front of the 17th prince, if 甄嬛 dressed up, she would look even better.
At this point, I’m thinking – 甄嬛 is absolutely freaking gorgeous. Bright red lips, and her coiffure is solid gold. How much prettier can she get? Jesus. If this isn’t “dressed up”, I don’t know what is.
甄嬛 joins the Emperor and Empress at the mid-autumn festival banquet and who appears? The 17th prince. It turns out that the 17th prince was away for several months and got sick when he arrived at his destination, thus why he looks a little frail. Of course, we and 甄嬛 know that he left because he was heartbroken and probably became ill due to 甄嬛 returning to the palace.
The 17th prince exchanges some platitudes with the emperor and stoically greets both 沈眉庄 who is now pregnant and 甄嬛 for her pending birth. 甄嬛 is able to not betray any extra emotion but you can tell it’s tough for both her and the 17th prince. Fortunately, 浣碧 is currently a wonderful servant and sister. SHe promptly uses the fact that 甄嬛 needs to drink medicine as an excuse for her to leave the banquet and get some fresh air. This allows 甄嬛 to compose herself a bit from the overwhelming feelings she’s getting at seeing her love, the 17th prince.
甄嬛 and 浣碧 go for a stroll but the 17th prince comes to find them. 甄嬛 initially is reluctant to speak to the 17th prince but 浣碧 gives them some private space to chat. They clearly care for each other except in their current circumstances, they cannot spend too much time together. 甄嬛 also wants him to forget her. She feels guilty for what she’s done but he still loves her. They return separately to the banquet so as not to arouse any suspicion but it looks like the conversation was overheard by someone.
As they’re heading back, 甄嬛 is sitting on a litter being carried by a number of eunuchs. Out of nowhere, a bunch of CGI cats appear and attack 甄嬛‘s group. The eunuchs are unable to hold her up properly and she falls, causing her to gasp in pain and pass out.
These CGI cats are quite bad but I thought they were REALLY effective. It was kind of spooky!
Back at her palace, she is now in labor. 4 imperial doctors are kneeling outside as the midwives are helping 甄嬛 push. Her trusty friend, the imperial doctor 温实初 asks a crucial question as she’s pushing – if it comes to saving her or the babies, whom should they save? She says the children must be saved. They must sacrifice her in order to save the children. Of course, we know it’s because she wants to save her children that are the bloodline of the 17th prince. I don’t think she would have cared as much if this wasn’t the case. This line is a really important line that will come into play later on in the drama.
Fortunately, after an evening of labor, 甄嬛 successfully gives birth to a pair of twins, one boy and one girl. Woot! In chinese, it’s called a 龙凤胎 or dragon-phoenix pregnancy. This, as you can guess, is a huge honor and is incredibly fortuitous. It suggests that peace will come to the empire. Everyone is overjoyed. The emperor is there to see 甄嬛 when she wakes up. Shortly after, the Empress Dowager’s head maid comes over to check in and report back. The emperor, delighted at having a new prince and princess, says that he will promote 甄嬛 to 贵妃 or Nobel Consort. This is a high honor but considering that she’s now given birth to 3 children, it’s quite fitting that she receive this title. In the midst of the joy, the Emperor also formally award’s his head eunuch, 苏培盛，with 槿汐 to be his wife. So, a great day all around.
The funny thing is that even though the initiation of 甄嬛’s birth was a little suspicious with the hoard of cats that arrived, it worked out perfectly for 甄嬛. We all know that the children were nearing the delivery date, even though other folks think it’s a month later so she delivered on time, without additional medication needed.
The rest of the episode revolves around various people meeting the newborns and expressing their euphoria, or at least outwardly expressing their euphoria, for these additions to the royal family. First up, is the Empress dowager. The children are brought to the Empress Dowager’s palace where the Empress and the Emperor are both there, marveling at the newborn children. The Empress Dowager is, of course, very pleased to have new grandchildren. After seeing them. she makes a nonchalant comment about the 6th prince, 甄嬛’s newborn son, is a white and fat boy, not like the emperor who was born rather dark. The emperor states it’s because 甄嬛 is very pale. The empress dowager didn’t mean anything by it but we the audience know it’s because the children are not the Emperor’s kids.
Back at 甄嬛’s palace, 甄嬛 is speaking with the Emperor about how now that she has given birth, she has proven that those nasty rumors about her children were untrue. There was much talk about how her child was not the Emperor’s child because her pregnancy was too big but when you have twins, of course the pregnancy was bigger than usual! At this point, the Emperor fully trusts 甄嬛 and doesn’t suspect anything. He even says he needs to manage the tongues of people in the imperial harem. 甄嬛 tactfully brings up the Empress which prompts the to Emperor express some annoyance at how the Empress also agreed with these rumors.
As if on queue, the Empress arrives. I think she knew that she needed to do some damage control given that 甄嬛 gave birth to twins and she suspects the Emperor may not be pleased with her. Why do we say this? Because when she arrives, she promptly brings up how she doesn’t have anything valuable to give to the new children, but remembered that her sister, the first empress, 纯元，had a high quality jade that she, the Empress, made into 2 pendants for the children. This pleases the Emperor and he comments that 纯元’s stuff is of course good, glad that you a willing to part with it.
You know that the Empress is talking about her sister in order to make the Emperor forgive her for what she’s done. 甄嬛 knows full well what she’s doing. You can see the cuts to her face where she starts looking down with a faint smile. 甄嬛 and the Empress both know when to use the dead 纯元 to their advantage. 甄嬛 did it earlier this episode and the Empress is doing it now.
The Empress continues to bring up how she reviews her sister’s belongings from time to time which prompts the Emperor to note that he has not seen her for many months. And look at that, it seems like the annoyance the emperor had with her has diminished quite a bit. The Empress is intelligent enough to know when to back off because she urges the emperor to go see younger concubines that are prime to give birth, before noting that she left her sister’s belongings out and needs to return to them.
By now, the Emperor is thinking once again about how this Empress is sisters with his beloved 纯元 and is likely to forgive her for believing nasty rumors about 甄嬛。 It seems that the most powerful trump card in the imperial harem for both women, is the dead 纯元。One, because 甄嬛looks like her, and the other, because they are related.
The only other main piece to note before we get onto the analysis is that right after 甄嬛 gave birth, she started coughing. It turns out, a maid, 斐文， opened the windows by order of the imperial doctors which let in a draft. This angers the Emperor who punishes her to 20 slaps to the face. She is very upset by this but there’s not much she can do. This will come back to bite 甄嬛 in the future.
That was it for the recap. There’s a bit to discuss today!
First let’s start off with the poem called 八至. The poem is named as such because here are 8 至’s in the poem. Or, the 8 extremes. The lines are
甄嬛 recites this poem at the end of the episode as she and the Emperor are discussing her innocence amidst all the rumors. After she says these lines, she says that as long as the emperor believes her, they will be the most intimate husband and wife. So what do these lines mean?
Here’s my translation
The closest and the farthest are east and west
The shallowest and the deepest is a clear stream
The highest and the brightest is the earth and moon
The most intimate yet most alien are husband and wife
These lines were written by the Tang Dynasty female poet 李冶. Cool! She was born around 730 and died 784AD. 李治 was known as one of the 4 female poets of the Tang Dynasty. I wasn’t familiar with her work. She has a fascinating yet sad story. 李冶’s talents were evident even as a young child but her father didn’t really encourage her. She was sent to a daoist temple when she was only 11 and became a daoist nun. Nevertheless, she continued to write poems and became great friends and acquaintances with some of the most famous male poets of the day. She fell in love but was spurned but she still continued to write. Her understanding of love and the world shaped her writing style and as a nun, she was able to write poems such as 八至. The last line of this poem highlights her understanding of the world and I think is quite illuminating.
Late in her life, the Emperor heard of 李冶’s poetry and talents so he summoned her to 长安. Her stay in 长安 turned out to be her nightmare. Shortly after arriving in 长安, the general 朱泚 rebelled and invaded 长安. The Emperor fled the city but 李冶 was not one of the lucky ones to do so. Captured, she was brought in front of the newly self-proclaimed Emperor 朱泚. He demanded that she write a laudatory poem for him. Under threat, she did. The following year, a Tang dynasty general 李晟 successfully routed the rebels in 长安. The previous Emperor reclaimed his throne. Unfortunately, this Emperor wanted to make examples of anyone who praised the traitor and 李冶 was one of them. For her poem, she was sentenced to prison and beaten to death in 784AD.
Lastly, let’s talk about the 甄嬛’s children! In the drama she just gave birth to the 6th prince or 弘曕。In history 弘曕 was born in 1733 in 圆明园. His mother was 谦妃, someone that doesn’t exist in this show. He is 雍正’s youngest son. That’s all we’ll disclose for now. His real life historical counterpart does have an interesting storyline so we’ll save that for later. As for 甄嬛’s daughter, she does not exist in history so she’s just here for the story.
Well that is all for today’s episode! 甄嬛 successfully gives birth to her and the 17th prince’s twin children, much to the relief of everyone in the palace. Her position is secured now that she has at least one prince to call her own. This is a big triumph for her.
Thank you all so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed the discussion and we’ll see you in the next episode!