Episode 67 – Little Bird


[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today, we are going to be discussing episode 67 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. As for every episode, we first do an episode recap and then discuss the historical significance of any interesting items raised in the episode. If you have any questions or comments, email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.


The last couple of episodes were focused on marrying off 甄嬛’s 2 sisters, one to the 17th prince and another to the 19th prince. Now, we’re back to drama in the palace. There’s not a whole lot of historical analysis in this episode but there is quite a bit to discuss character wise that ties into history which we’re eager to chat about. 


[Cathy]

Empress Dowager’s death


We start up right at the Empress Dowager’s bedside. She’s on her dying breath. The Emperor has rushed over to her bedside after the wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th Prince which is perfect timing because when there’s a grand death, such as the death of the Empress Dowager, the country has mourning rites where no one is allowed to get married for 3 years. This is what Zhen Huan tells us as well in the last episode. The rest of the concubines in the Imperial Harem are already there. The Empress Dowager starts muttering in her sleep. The Emperor understands what she is saying and immediately dismisses the women to have one final conversation with his mother.


Mother and son try to have a heartfelt discussion but it ends in disappointment for both of them. The Empress Dowager wants to see her other son the 14th Prince. It’s been years since the current Emperor ascended the throne but the 14th Prince is still imprisoned. The Emperor coldly denies this request. He claims that his brothers forced his hand. She begs him with tears streaming down her cheeks but he is not moved by this. This goes back to the entire story about how the Emperor gained his throne. We’ve discussed this earlier in this series but his younger brother from the same mother, the 14th prince, decided to back another prince for the throne. In total, there were 9 princes vying for the position of Emperor. Those that were not on the Emperor’s side were either killed or banished. The 14th prince is one of them. 


[Karen]

The Emperor then starts numerating his own filial piety towards her. He claims he didn’t say anything about her relationship with 隆科多, he’s treated 纯元 and the current Empress well. This was all for the Empress Dowager. His final words to her are – thank you for dealing with 隆科多, you spared me from sullying my own reputation. After hearing this, the Empress Dowager gasps her last breath and passes away. Remember that the Empress Dowager went and poisoned 隆科多 who was one of the Emperor’s trusted advisors but the Emperor had no use for him any more and needed to get rid of him.


The Emperor, seeing this, kneels at her bedside to recite a childhood song. She never sang it to him, can she sing it to him one last time?


[Cathy]

Usually we leave the analysis of scenes at the end of the episode but this is all fresh in our mind so I want to talk about this right now. I’m going to go on a rant.


First and foremost – ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Once again, this Emperor shows that is a childish, petty, selfish, self-centered man. Your mother sacrificed so much for you, you even acknowledge this! She paved the path for your throne, scheming, building alliances, and even killing her beloved to secure your throne. Let’s recall that the Empress Dowager and 隆科多 knew each other before she entered the Imperial Harem. She was the one who killed him because the Emperor couldn’t be seen killing all of his ministers. All the Emperor had to say is, you should thank me for NOT revealing your past with 隆科多? On her deathbed??? Even at the very end, he’s lamenting what she didn’t do for him, like singing a child’s lullaby. There’s a reason why he won’t let her see the 14th prince, his own blood brother. He’s still jealous of the relationship they had so even on her deathbed, he won’t grant her this request. Sure there might be political motivations and everything but i think it is more to do with his own jealousy and insecurity. The Empress Dowager dies disappointed at her son and I’m honestly disappointed too. 


I will commend both actors in this scene especially 陈建斌 the actor who plays the Emperor. He’s stoic face breaks when he realizes his mother has passed but he quickly composes himself as he kneels at her bedside.


[Karen]

Anlingrong’s pregnancy


With the Empress Dowager’s passing, the whole Empire is in a state of mourning. It’s the new year and all of the celebrations were muted. The Emperor commends the Empress for her frugality. There’s some small talk and the Emperor makes some subtle jabs at the Empress. Well I don’t think he realizes it but she certainly took it that way. He says things like, you haven’t had children in a long time, you probably forgot how difficult it is to raise one. The Empress is like – nuh uh – i’m over this. She stands up and congratulates the Emperor, she exclaims 安陵容 is 3 months pregnant!


What? This is surprising news. 宁贵人 is the first to get all snarky – she’s like…isn’t this opportune? If we remember from the last episode, 安陵容’s father is in prison and she’s been looking for a way to save him. This is her trump card. The Empress immediately uses this opportunity to push 甄嬛 into a corner. She says – well, we need to make another 齐妃 fiasco doesn’t happen again. 甄嬛 understands the context. Remember 齐妃 was worried that 宁贵人 would get pregnant, so she stupidly sent a bowl of 藏红花 or basically infertility medicine to 宁贵人 and she drank it. For her trouble, 齐妃 committed suicide. 甄嬛 right now runs the palace, if anything happens to 安陵容 during her pregnancy, the responsibility will fall under 甄嬛. This is basically what 甄嬛 did to the Empress the times she got pregnant. She asked for protection under the Empress which meant that the Empress couldn’t actually do anything. 甄嬛 agrees to “protecting” 安陵容.


[Cathy]

Seeing this settled, the Empress then makes another request; promote 安陵容 to the rank of Consort or 妃. Her father is still imprisoned, the news of a promotion will lift 安陵容’s spirits. In the palace there can be 4 consorts, currently there are only 3. There’s space enough for 安陵容. I’ll applaud the Empress – she knows how to get what she wants. She told 安陵容 last episode that getting pregnant is the only path forward and now with 安陵容 pregnant, the Empress can ask for higher titles and solidify her alliance.


甄嬛 back at her palace is surprised. How can 安陵容 be pregnant? She knows full well the lengths 安陵容 took to regain favor including taking large amounts of mus which means she cannot get pregnant anymore. Something’s fishy…


Anlingrong’s consort title


Shortly after, 甄嬛 brings some desserts for the Emperor. They include lotus leaf soup and lotus and osmanthus cakes, all specialties of the now deceased 沈眉庄. Why does 甄嬛 bring these specific desserts? Let’s pay attention to that because I have my thoughts. 


[Karen]

Right after, the eunuch 苏培盛 presents three characters that the Ministry of Internal Affairs or 内务府 determined as options for 安陵容’s consort title. She currently still is referred to by her last name. As a consort, there is justification to gift her a title. Just as 甄嬛’s title is 熹or 沈眉庄 ’s title was 惠. The Emperor allows 甄嬛 to help pick the title. 


Let’s take a look at them

肃 – means serene or stern. Doesn’t really fit 安陵容 so 甄嬛 dismisses this.

文 – when paired with 静 means gentle or peaceful but by itself, 文 means text so as a title, the person must be learned and cultured. It’s widely known that 安陵容 hasn’t read many books so this does not fit her. However, listen to what 甄嬛 says, instead of belittling 安陵容 outright, she says, if we give her this name, 安陵容 might have extra thoughts. The subtext is that she might think everyone else is mocking her. The Emperor agrees, haha


This leaves 俪. 俪 by itself means companionship. 甄嬛 then adds this also represents the deep affection between husband and wife, using the idiom 伉俪情深 which uses the word 俪.The Emperor initially agrees but after further examination disagrees. 安陵容 is just his concubine, how can she use the title 俪 which is used to describe the love between husband and wife?


甄嬛 comes up with a different solution. Why doesn’t the Emperor just gift a title for 安陵容?The Emperor agrees and orders 甄嬛 to come up with a suggestion. What does she write?


鹂 or Oriole. 甄嬛 explains – the oriole has a charming voice, is gentle, and only has one mate. The eunuch 苏培盛 chimes in – oh yes, I hear orioles also have many offspring this will be a good omen for 安陵容。 


[Cathy]

The Emperor doesn’t think much of it, agrees and orders 苏培盛 to tell the Empress the good news. 苏培盛 chuckles as he exits the palace, going so far to tell a young eunuch to grab 50 orioles to gift to the new 鹂妃 to congratulate her.


We’ll dive into this in our analysis because instead of this being a complimentary title, it is instead a slap in the face for 安陵容.


Palace promotion!


Well, with 安陵容’s title settled, 甄嬛 has other important matters to do such as manipulating the Emperor into promoting her own faction so as to better counter the Empress.


She starts off by reminiscing about her dear friend 沈眉庄 who tragically passed away and asks the emperor to provide her with some type of title now that she is gone. He agrees. She continues to ask for similar rewards for other women who have passed such as 齐妃, the 3rd prince’s mother we mentioned earlier. The Emperor on his own volition brings up 华妃 as well.


[Karen]

Now the 甄嬛 knows the Emperor is in a giving mood, she brings up the women in the imperial harem that are still alive. She says she agrees with the Empress in that there are many positions in the harem that are still empty and it’s a good idea to fill those positions with capable people so as to strengthen the camaraderie in the palace. And the most important line she says here is that no matter how the Emperor wants to promote, 端妃 must be at a higher position that her.


This is surprising because normally, people would want to move up the ranks as much as possible themselves but here, 甄嬛 is showcasing her gratitude and respect towards 端妃 who helped her when she first entered the palace. This is also showcasing that 甄嬛 doesn’t care too much about power. Yes, power to some degree is good, but it is better to share that ability with others. This is again, a difference in managerial style between 甄嬛 and the Empress.


The Emperor agrees to 甄嬛‘s suggestion and of his own volition, decides to promote 敬妃 to 贵妃 or Noble Consort, which is the same rank as 甄嬛 and 欣贵人 to 欣嫔 or Imperial Concubine.端妃 is to be promoted to 皇贵妃 which is the equivalent to vice empress. All three of these women are on 甄嬛’s team which most certainly bodes well for her stability in the palace. One last highlight is that the Emperor point blank asks whether 甄嬛 wants any type of reward. She actually says no, she has the Emperor’s favor and that’s enough. Her strength comes in knowing when enough is enough and that when others prosper, she does too.


[Cathy]

After this conversation, we have an interesting scene at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Head Eunuch is giving orders about the promotions and reminding the other eunuchs who are the most important people in the Harem. He then asks for the eunuchs that provided those words as potential titles for 安陵容. Instead of praising them, he instead has them beaten and sent to do hard labor. He tells the remaining eunuchs that trying to cozy up to the wrong person will have this result. Clearly, he can see through that even though 安陵容 was promoted to 鹂妃, she is not someone that should be valued. 


Ouch that is harsh. I’ve seen this scene many times and can’t help but wonder if 甄嬛 had a hand in manipulating those eunuchs into providing those titles to the emperor. She came to see him just in time for him to choose those words and was the one to direct the conversation on what words work better than others, and the one to finally give 安陵容 the title of Oriole. We’ll never know but that’s my hunch.


[Karen]

The rest of the episode circles around 安陵容’s pregnancy. The Empress and 安陵容 need the pregnancy to last as long as possible so 安陵容 has the Imperial Doctors do what they can to stabilize the pregnancy, using traditional methods such as burning 艾草 or Chinese mugwort.


At the promotion ceremony, everyone is in attendance except for 安陵容. The excuse is that she’s pregnant so it’s not safe for her to attend. Of course 安陵容 takes offense to this but what can she do. Everyone has gotten promoted, even 宁贵人 and the new 瑛常在 who was provided to the Emperor by 玉隐,the 17th prince’s consort and 甄嬛’s 2nd sister. They are now 宁嫔 and 瑛贵人。So again, everyone from 甄嬛’s team is getting promoted.


Some time passes and the ladies of the imperial harem visit the bedridden 安陵容. There’s 甄嬛, 敬贵妃 and now 欣嫔。 They make some lighthearted jabs at the luxuries that 安陵容 now has including the silk pillows, tea, and curtains. 甄嬛 covers these comments by saying oh my this is just a reflection of your favor from the Emperor!


[Cathy]

While on the surface 甄嬛 is being kind and sisterly, this entire scene is rather passive aggressive on 甄嬛’s part. She comes in with all these compliments and even reminding 安陵容 on what to avoid in order to protect herself but this is more or less putting on a show. She has multiple women accompany her to visit 安陵容,plus she has everything she is gifting 安陵容 examined by doctors to confirm that none of those items will harm the baby. She doesn’t want anyone to frame her for anything. You can tell that 安陵容 is a little uncomfortable with all the attention.


The whole purpose of this trip though was for 甄嬛 to investigate 安陵容’s pregnancy. As she was talking to 安陵容, 卫临, who is the student of her friend 温实初, was scoping out 安陵容“s medical condition while 小允子,甄嬛’s head eunuch, scoped out 安陵容’s palace for anything amiss. Sure enough, the eunuch discovered a weird type of fragrance. After they leave 安陵容’s palace, 卫临, the doctor first informs 甄嬛 that her suspicions were correct. 安陵容 will not be able to keep her baby. All the signs are there that her pregnancy is in danger. This is important information to protect 甄嬛 from being alone with 安陵容. She knows that the Empress and 安陵容 will try to pin any harm to 安陵容”s baby on her, 甄嬛 so she now must stay away. 


As for the fragrance. The doctor informs 甄嬛 that it is a very potent aphrodisiac. It contains monniers’s snow parsley and ylang ylang. Obviously, it is used to seduce the Emperor. This is another useful piece of information that 甄嬛 will be using next episode.





Official State of Mourning –


Empress loses her biggest ally


History


[Karen]

鹂 – Why is this word such an insult. The nickname for 安陵容 amongst all the chinese chat channels are to call her 安小鸟,or little bird.  It is because it reflects how the emperor feels about 安陵容。 He has no real emotions towards her, but rather, he sees her as a pet, a play thing that is very demure, talented, well trained and even cute. 安陵容 comes from a poor family and this is a huge slap in the face for her. If you look at the titles of the other ladies in the harem, such as 敬妃 or 端妃, those are all respectable titles. Indeed, 敬 means respect, and 端 means composed. The only person in the harem with an animal for a title is 安陵容。 While 甄嬛’s explanation was quite nice that the oriole or 鹂 has a beautiful singing voice, which reflects how 安陵容 first came to favor, and is also a calm natured animal, but this title is indeed insulting. Everyone in the palace picked up on the insult except for the Emperor himself. That shows his selfishness again since he doesn’t see anything wrong with placing 安陵容 on the same tier as an animal.



Next let’s discuss some history, specifically the Empress Dowager. The Empress dowager came from the powerful乌拉那拉 clan and a member of 正黄旗 or the Plain Yellow Banner. She was born in 1660 and entered the Imperial Harem in 1675 when she was only 15. She steadily climbed the ranks within the imperial harem, becoming a consort in 1681 with the title of 德 or virtuous. She had 6 children which reflects her favor with the Emperor 康熙. She had 3 sons and 3 daughters, her two most famous sons are of course the 4th prince and the 14th prince. Her other children died relatively young. The Empress dowager in history died 1723which is different from a timeline perspective. We are in around 1730 i would say. There is also no historical record of any romantic ties between her and 隆科多. He died in 1728 so there’s no way she could have poisoned him. 


As for the 14th prince, he was imprisoned in 1725 and not released until 1735 after the death of 雍正. He died in 1755.


Finally, let’s give a shoutout to the actress for the Empress Dowager 刘雪华. Born in 1959, she became a well known Hong Kong actress in the early 80s but she reached the zenith of her popularity acting in 琼瑶 dramas in the late 80s and 90s. 琼瑶 is of course the author of other popular dramas such as 还珠格格 and 情深深雨蒙蒙. She still acts in tv shows nowadays but they’re mainly empress dowager roles.