[Karen]
Hello! Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that explores Chinese history through historical TV dramas.  This is Karen and this is Cathy. Today we’re actually going to be discussing episode 6 and 7 together of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace because it’s really plot driven with not a whole lot of analysis we can do that we haven’t covered already。As always, you can watch these episodes if you’re in the US on YouTube to follow along. There are actually subtitles now. I do highly recommend watching the show.

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[Cathy]
雍正 is still let’s just say enjoying the “pleasures” of 余莺儿, the maid. He’s even given her a special title with the name of 妙音娘子 which roughly translates to Lady with the Beautiful Voice, because, we find out that she’s also the daughter of a 昆opera singer and knows how to sing. She’s not super educated, even though she pretended to be educated and usurped 甄嬛’s position. The Emperor enjoys her singing enough to make up for this oversight and is having a fantastic time. 

Interestingly though, 雍正 decides it’s time to sleep with some of the other ladies from the selection who have not yet had the opportunity to serve the emperor. The one that’s left is 安陵容. Finally! Everyone in her palace is so excited for her. You’d think she’d be able to “fulfill her duties” but no. She’s shaking so much from nerves that the Emperor takes one look and says, nope I’m not spending the night with someone who doesn’t want to and…he sends her back! He gets 余答应 here instead. C’mon girl…This is absolutely devastating. 安陵容 waits months to get an opportunity with the emperor and she just blows it. She is crying as she is sent back to her palace. It is absolutely humiliating to be returned back to her quarters. She made such a poor first impression that it is unlikely she’ll ever be able to serve the emperor again. She is basically done.

 

[Karen]
At this point even 太后, the Empress Dowager, is annoyed at 余答应, the new servant-maid-turned-concubine who only knows how to sing in the dead of night. The empress dowager wants someone like 沈眉庄, who is composed and poised and even-keeled, taking care of the Emperor. You’ll see a theme here. The empress dowager favors 沈眉庄.

In any case, we find out that this 余答应  has been wreaking havoc in the 后宫, or the imperial harem, which we’ll discuss later. Shortly after, 沈眉庄 comes to 甄嬛’s palace give the news that 太后 herself gave the order to strip 余答应 of her 妙音娘子 (Lady of the Beautiful Voice) title, and confined her for half a month. Within half an episode, her favoritism and power is greatly diminished.

 

[Cathy]
甄嬛 heads out into the gardens to enjoy the fresh air. She’s been cooped up for several months. She’s playing her 萧,a vertical bamboo flute. Who happens to be wandering around? The Emperor! They finally meet each other face to face. But oddly? Or Cutely? Enough? Depends on how you see it, she doesn’t know who he is。 But he knows exactly who she is. He’s surprised she doesn’t recognize him and takes it in stride. He pretends that he’s the 17th prince instead of the Emperor himself. They have a long conversation about the piece she played on the vertical bamboo flute and…he is enamored. He walks back to his palace grinning ear to ear. 

 

[Karen]
So if you’re thinking about how it’s possible she doesn’t know who he is, what is explained is that during the selection, she had her head down the entire time. She did not look up to see what the emperor looked like. And also, in this scene the emperor is wearing more casual clothing, not his imperial garb, so it might be easier to mistake him for a prince. 

 

[Cathy]
When 甄嬛 gets back to her quarters, she asks her maids about the 17th Prince. She doesn’t think the guy is him because she knows that the 17th prince is supposed to be young as opposed to this guy who is in his 40s. She asks if the 17th Prince is actually here in the palace and it turns out he is. So this story checks out..

Not too long after, 甄嬛 is in the garden again with her servants enjoying a ride on a swing that her servants made for her and the emperor runs into both of them again. He is still upholding the facade that he is the 17th prince and they have a lovely discussion about apricot flowers. Which of course, we will discuss. What would our analysis be if we didn’t discuss all the references to flowers in this show. As she leaves, she asks the “17th Prince” to not tell anyone that they’ve met because technically, this is not allowed. He, of course, agrees.

 

[Karen]
The emperor is completely infatuated with 甄嬛 and is enamored with her 箫. But he hasn’t figured out how to see her again since she’s technically “sick”. 余答应 is, however, still trying to regain favor by the emperor, crying and singing while kneeling outside through the night at his palace. He relents and she regains favor once again and is flaunting it around, again.

This episode ends with the emperor failing to meet 甄嬛 for an “date” as it’s raining and he’s pulled away by his mother, the empress dowager. 

 

[Cathy]
That was episode 6, now onto Episode 7.

The main crux of this episode is that Zhen Huan and the emperor missed each other for their meeting. But because it was raining he falls ill and is bedridden for a while as he recovers from this sickness. Zhen Huan, also has her heart fluttering, but again, she’s thinking it’s the 17th prince and is still apprehensive.

The big scene of this episode is that Zhen Huan is out on the garden again after a few weeks and enjoying her swing with her maid. But who comes to visit her this time? It’s 余答应. Now this girl is nothing but disrespectful to 甄嬛 and dismisses her saying things like – you’re only a higher rank than me by a tiny bit, who do you think you are to tell me to curtsey to you and respect you, and “rank and title doesn’t matter in the palace, what matters is the emperor’s attention. I have his attention now and he cares only about me.”

 

[Karen]
Poor girl. She doesn’t realize there are ears everywhere and this whole exchange is overheard by none other than the emperor himself. He’s healthy now and wanted to come here. Like a knight in shining armor, he steps in and reveals himself to protect 甄嬛 from the verbal abuse and disrespect from 余答应. 余答应 is shocked and kneels on the floor immediately, referencing him as emperor. 甄嬛 hears 余答应 greet him as such and is equally shocked, because she now realizes that he was the emperor all along. 

余答应 is crying and wailing, trying to get the emperor to forgive her. But he’s had enough of her. She is demoted from her position to a position just above a maid. In response to her comment about 甄嬛 only being a tiny bit higher in rank than her, the emperor increases 甄嬛’s rank to noble lady. The same rank as 沈眉庄。This is out of the norm because she has yet to “serve” the emperor but he doesn’t care. He likes her a lot. So she gets promoted.

 

[Cathy]
The emperor, in an extremely romantic gesture, decides to pick up 甄嬛 and carries her all the way back to her pavillion – where everyone – the eunuchs, the maids, the guards can all see this. 

Dang dang dang dang – everyone now knows that she is definitely favored by the emperor. At her pavilion, 甄嬛’s servants are absolutely ecstatic to see the emperor. Because it means – hallelujah, they are saved. And indeed, what happens, after the emperor drops off 甄嬛, and makes the formal declaration that she has been promoted to a noble lady, she becomes showered with lots of gifts from not just the emperor, but the imperial household department. You know the department that was withholding coal and stuff in the last episode? Now they’re giving her tons of materials. She gets new servants to make up for the ones that left in prior episodes and now she has new clothes and clothes. It’s honestly quite despicable but whatever.

The episode ends with 甄嬛 discussing with her friend, the imperial doctor, 温实初 that it’s time to make her get better, slowly. That way, she’ll be able to fulfill her duties as a concubine. He’s obviously a tiny bit upset, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done. 

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Analysis – An Ling Rong

An Ling Rong is not really mentioned in these past few episodes but we have to feel for her. She had the opportunity of a lifetime to actually serve the emperor but she completely blew it. From one perspective, this again shows her class difference between herself and the other ladies. She doesn’t have the confidence and it was probably getting to her head a little. She didn’t expect to have the opportunity and therefore sealed her own fate. Other women knew they would at least have an opportunity. 

This is absolutely humiliating for her. Who knows what people are going to do to her now. She is the laughing stock of the palace.

Analysis – Yu Da Ying

 

[Karen]
So – who is this person. Let’s spend a little time discussing her. Her character to me is like Level 1 of this video game that is the Imperial Harem. We saw level 0, or the training level, with 夏冬春 because at least this 余答应 has served the emperor.

Why is she not a threat. You’ll notice that the empress and even 华妃 aren’t too worried about this new woman. 华妃 is nowhere near as jealous about this lady as she is of, say, 沈眉庄。Why is that? Well, because this 余答应 is a maid and her father taught her to sing. In historical Chinese society, singing and acting in general, is a very, low class activity. Especially if you’re doing this for money. You’re singing for money which equates you to…I’ll let you think what that means. Anyways, no one in 后宫 thinks that she’s actually going to become anything of substance in the Harem because she has no background, meaning her family isn’t wealthy or powerful, and because she’s not very classy or that smart…which will lead her to her demise. It’s a minor annoyance right now but everyone knows she’s just a tiny distraction for the emperor. Basically people are expecting her to crash and burn…it’s just a matter of when it’ll happen.

 

[Cathy]
So how do we see this. 

Well, there was a whole debacle with 余答应, 淳常在, and 欣常在。. 淳常在 says that she and 欣常在 walked passed 余答应’s carriage and her horse got spooked. 余答应 and 欣常在 got into a verbal spat and 余答应 ordered 欣常在 be thrown into 慎刑司. Department of Prudence or Office of Punishment? Basically it’s the 后宫 version of prison. 

How can 余答应 a second class female attendant do this to someone of a higher rank? She really overstepped her bounds. She has absolutely no authority to do this. Who is she to do this? Right? The arrogance of 余答应 has caused a lot of the other concubines to very mad. No one will help her.

 

[Karen]
Sure enough, shortly 沈眉庄 comes to 甄嬛’s quarters to give the news that 太后 herself gave the order to release 欣常在, strip 余答应 of her 妙音娘子 (Lady of the Beautiful Voice) title, and confine her for half a month. The Empress doesn’t give the order because, as explained in the next scene, 太后 has much more sway in these matters than 皇后 because inevitably, the emperor is going to try to ask for forgiveness and that undermines her authority. She can’t go punishing favored concubines but 太后, the empress dowager, can. It seems as though things have calmed down a bit and this 余答应 has definitely lost a level of her favoritism and power. And in just one episode. Now, the emperor who was super into her, doesn’t care that much any more. She’s outside his palace singing non-stop but he doesn’t care.

 

[Cathy]
But now, you see that she is actually quite a terrible person. She is cracking walnuts for the emperor as he naps, but to show her “power”, she asks one of the emperor’s eunuchs to come help her. But to help her, she demands that he uses his bare hands to crack the walnuts and not use any tools. Have you ever eaten walnuts before? They are encased in a very tough shell. You have to use tools to crack those walnuts so cracking those open with your bare hands is very difficult. She’s punishing him for literally no reason other than the fact that he’s a eunuch and she thinks she’s above eunuchs. He tries to push back but she insists. He can’t really do anything because he’s a servant and she’s a master now. So he cracks them and his fingers start bleeding. What a woman. So abusive with just a tiny amount of power. It’s also clear that this woman only cares about short term displays of power. Anyone with actual power would not pull these things (well maybe Hua Fei but she has more money and power to back her up). What 余答应 does now is only going to hurt her rather than help her.

 

[Karen]
I think this show is also a good lesson on the importance of treating people as equals or at least, treating people as just people, even if they are a bit different from you. A key theme of palace dramas is how overlooked eunuchs and maids can seem even though they are just humans like the rest of the masters in the show. 

余答应 cares only about her current situation and flaunts it. She doesn’t realize that compared to the rest of the imperial harem, she’s nothing. She does attempt to try to ally herself with 华妃 but that doesn’t work too well. This also show a little bit of oversight from 华妃. You’ll notice that 皇后 doesn’t even try to pick 余答应 as an ally because…she’s not worth it. And indeed, we see in episode 7 – 甄嬛 doesn’t do a whole lot and she is able to destroy this level 1 villain. Or at least knock her out for a bit. When 皇后, the empress, hears about 余答应 getting demoted, she doesn’t even bat an eye. She says, it’s expected. She also expected 甄嬛 to be promoted. 

 

[Cathy]
Let’s now discuss the fact that the Emperor and 甄嬛 finally meet. For the sake of this show, I’ll pretend 甄嬛 never actually met the Emperor even though she clearly saw him during the Selection.

 

[Karen]

Yea, I can’t really believe that she can’t see him but it is true that you’re technically not supposed to look at the emperor straight in the face.

雍正 and 甄嬛 discuss the piece she’s playing on the 萧, a vertical chinese bamboo flute. It’s called 杏花天影 by a Song Dynasty poet 姜夔 (Jiang Kui2). The poem’s title includes 杏花 or apricot flowers and is about someone missing his sweetheart and being nostalgic for a bygone era. 杏花 or Apricot flower is another flower that is commonly used in chinese literature. There are records of how to plant apricots dating back more than two thousand years in China. It’s also commonly used in Chinese medicine.

Well this apricot flower becomes a talking point the next time 雍正 runs into 甄嬛 in the garden. He asks if she likes them because she’s reciting a bunch of poetry about the flower in her analysis of them and she does say that 杏花 are modest and gentle. He says, the flower is like you. But 甄嬛 says no, I don’t like 杏花! They look pretty but the fruit and seeds are bitter. If my life starts out beautiful, but the ending is sad and lonesome, why would I want to be like this flower? I’d rather be a pine tree. I can stand forever in the forest, and be green and colorful for my entire life, even if I’m not the most extravagant or pretty.

There’s a lot of foreshadowing in this exchange. Most ladies like to use the flower metaphor. 沈眉庄 with the Chrysanthemums 菊花, 皇后 with the Peony 牡丹。But 甄嬛 doesn’t, she’d rather be something completely different like a tree. This shows that she’s different from the regular women in 后宫. This also shows the differences between 皇上 and 甄嬛. He automatically assumes that she likes 杏花 just because she played one piece and there just happened to be 杏花 around. He puts her in a box and although he seems intrigued by her, do we really think he’s listening? Or is he just inferring. BUT regardless, in episode 7 he really goes all out for her, so maybe?

 

[Karen]
The most eye-roll thing, or would you say naive thing about this drama, and perhaps this shows how old and cynical you and I are now, is that 甄嬛 is still wishing that she will have a once in a lifetime love that will be with her until death. The phrase she uses is 愿得一心人,白首不相离. This is one of THE most cliche lines in Chinese dramas. It is literally used in all sappy chinese dramas to talk about wanting an everlasting love. This line is actually from a poem from a Han dynasty female poet named 卓文君. The Han Dynasty was one of the earliest dynasties in Chinese history and existed more than 2000 years ago.

This phrase basically translates to, “I want to get the heart of one person, and we are not to part even when we have white hair”. Which just means, having a loving relationship forever. 

The young romantics in all of us would love that too right? Who doesn’t want a long, ever-lasting love? But it’s completely incongruous with the situation that 甄嬛 finds herself in. Like there is no way that the emperor can love her only if he has to spend the night with a bunch of other women. For all the other dramas where this line is dropped in a palace drama, it’s a ton of BS. 

Fortunately, 甄嬛’s main maid gives her a dose of reality and says, you can’t expect that especially with your fate and your life now. The only thing you can expect, is that he shows that he cares. He cannot have only one heart for you, but he can use his heart and care about you. That’s as much as you can expect. Hey, I think this is wise dating/relationship advice. Having fair expectations will help manage any relationship.

In general though, we find out what 甄嬛 really wants at her core, and I think what a lot of women want, which is to be loved by someone wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, in this drama and in their lives, these women of the imperial harem are fated to never experience that kind of love.

Now that 甄嬛 has the full attention of the Emperor, everything is coming into place for 甄嬛 to bear the brunt of palace drama. She will have to go to 请安 (greetings), deal with back-stabbing, and make alliances. 瑾溪 put it best, she never was truly away from palace battles and each ladies fortunes are closely related to court. We’ll see how 雍正 and 甄嬛 get along in the next episodes.

 

Well that’s the end of today’s episode. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them to chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com . Until next time!