[Cathy]
Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. Today we are analyzing episode 9 of 后宫甄嬛传.

So in the last episode, we saw that our main character 甄嬛 and the emperor finally get together and he has showered her with attention. He took her to another palace for a lovely spa day, and gave a her a ton of gifts. All of the other concubines in the palace are inevitably jealous. 

For today’s episode, we’ll do more plot analysis. The ladies in 后宫 the Imperial Harem are getting restless and people are putting some plots into motion…let’s see what happens.

 

[Karen]
Episode 9 starts off with the powerful 华妃 giving 甄嬛 and her friend, 沈眉庄 a hard time, mainly by trying to incite jealousy between the two. A few stray observations here – 1) This is probably my least favorite look of 华妃’s. I don’t know why but her hairstyle is not flattering for her face and makes her look much chubbier than she is. But that’s just my take. And 2) I didn’t think about it too much the first however many times I watched this drama, but by today’s standards, you are serving/ultimately sharing a husband with your friend. In the palace, you’re supposed to call the other concubines “sister” as a sign of respect and family. That’s so odd.  

She tells 沈眉庄 to copy 女论语 as a method of a) being a punishment, but also b) in her terms, of sending a signal to the rest of the imperial harem (后宫) to be mindful of what is expected behavior of concubines。

 

[Cathy]
Fortunately, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 were able to fend off the fighting words from 华妃。Partly because 沈眉庄 has also developed better bantering techniques against 华妃 so yay!  华妃 leaves them alone. We hear the two friends discussing and 甄嬛 is wondering if 沈眉庄is upset that she now has the favor of the emperor. Again, can you imagine being in their shoes as a 21st century woman? 沈眉庄 is very honest in saying that she’d rather it be 甄嬛 because at least she won’t turn around and harm her. 沈眉庄 shares that she can’t trust anyone in the palace except for 甄嬛, not even the other girl, 安陵容。

That night, the emperor is again spending time with 甄嬛. She actually turns around to tell him that he should stop spending too much time with her as it’s been about 7 days. But she’s tactful in that she tells him she doesn’t want the imperial harem to be a place of jealousy and hatred on her account. The emperor is a smart and respected emperor, he knows what he should do. 皇上, the emperor, is a little annoyed but agrees. Again, in China, at least, it is a very modern concept to have one wife and one husband. You see here that she is literally pushing him away from her to save his “imperial rule” but also to protect herself. It’s such a different standard.

 

[Karen]
The next day, the emperor, 皇上, goes to visit his mother, 太后。 Now, I absolutely love scenes between 雍正 and his mother because they have probably the most tiring conversations ever. Nothing is direct, everything is calculated and guided. The online forums for their conversations are always hilarious because ugh, even as emperor, 太后 is the big boss who controls everything.

The empress dowager, or 太后, starts out and says – 皇上, you seem quite energetic today. It looks like the people who are caring for you are doing a good job.

 

[Cathy]

Which is quite nice right? Mother, making sure her son is being taken care of] He says yes, he’s recently gotten a 菀贵人 that he really likes.

 

[Karen]
We’ll ignore the fact that they’re treating women like property and commodities. And remember, 菀贵人 is the official title of 甄嬛。 They are one and the same right now.)

太后 says that’s wonderful. It’s nice that you have a kind-hearted person who is able to take care of you. Unlike your brother, the 17th prince who even now isn’t married and doesn’t have an “official wife”

 

[Cathy]

If you’ve forgotten who the 17th prince is, he’s the handsome/dashing younger brother of the emperor whom we met a few episodes ago.

 

[Karen]

The emperor doesn’t say anything so 太后 continues and says – I haven’t seen old 17 in a while, I wonder how he’s doing. Obviously, 皇上 interjects and says that if she wants to see him, I can tell him to come into the palace to visit you by noon. 【That’s pretty reasonable right? Wouldn’t you do the same for your mother?】

Now, what does 太后 say – she goes, “Yes, it would be lovely to see him, but if I see him, I might be reminded of when your father was still alive, how his mother was the reigning concubine in the palace and had all the attention which made the entire imperial harem resentful and jealous.” ….

At this point, you see the emperor completely silent and looking down, away from his mother.

太后 brushes this off by saying, please excuse me. As I age, I think about things more and might prattle on. Don’t mind me. 

But of course, the emperor knows exactly what she’s trying to say and tell him to do. The emperor leaves quickly and is escorted out by 太后’s main maid. But he isn’t stupid. I love this part. He wants to know who has been telling stories to his mother. But he doesn’t outright ask the main maid who’s been tattle-tailing to his mother.

So, he asks the maid – “My mother’s health hasn’t been very good. Has 华妃 come to see my mother to check on her health?” Because he thinks 华妃 is the one gossiping. The maid says 华妃 hasn’t stopped by. She also quips that 皇后, the empress, did stop by earlier today but only for a short while, just to help the empress dowager drink medicine. Thus, absolving 皇后 from suspicion. The maid then goes onto say, however, 丽嫔, was here yesterday with 太后 and they chatted for a very long time. The emperor hear’s 丽嫔 and hurriedly walks away.

 

[Cathy]
Oh really? I took this in a completely different way. I thought he wanted to see who has been spending time with 太后 so that he can give some thanks. Wow…totally didn’t get that.

 

[Karen]
That night, when being given the name plates of the women who are available to the emperor, the emperor scowls at the sight of 丽嫔’s name plate and immediately, his head eunuch says, “Oh, it looks like 丽嫔‘s name plate is dirty, go fix it and don’t present it as an option for a few days”. Do you understand what’s happening? He’s eliminating the opportunity for 丽嫔 to serve the emperor. This is I guess a passive aggressive way of punishing 丽嫔。

Why I love this scene is because everything was passive aggressive and subtle. If you want to know who is THE top tier boss of the imperial harem, it is the emperor and then it’s the empress dowager。Her maid knew exactly what the emperor wanted to find out and she presented it willingly. You saw what the end goal of the conversation was but basically, this entire exchange from her first sentence of “it seems that someone nice is taking care of you” , Tai Hou intended for this conversation to direct to the fact that the emperor should not spend all his time with 甄嬛。She did not need to bring up the 17th prince but she did in order to talk about the 17th prince’s mother. But of course, 太后 does not directly tell her son to be mindful. She’s being as tactful as possible.

Listeners, do you talk to your mothers in this way? Perhaps you do? I just thought this scene was very interesting.

Something else to consider is it’s not entire clear if 丽嫔 went to chat with 太后 on her own, or if 丽嫔 did this at the behest of 华妃。 Remember 丽嫔 is allied with 华妃 and i’m sure 皇上 knows this. He can’t punish 华妃 necessarily because he needs her happy, but he doesn’t have the same reservations towards 丽嫔 who doesn’t have a powerful brother. So he’s fine with passive aggressively punishing 丽嫔.

 

[Cathy]
雍正 decides to go to 齐妃’s palace. She’s the mother of the 3rd prince. She’s so cute, she doesn’t know what to do! Once she hears the news, she hurriedly tells her maid to get her dressed in pink and change her hairstyle. She wants to give her son a chance to talk to his father but even the Eunuchs are like…that’s not a good idea. [Karen – reminder – this woman has a son and she’s nearing middle age at this point. She’s no where near as young and pretty as our main character and 华妃)

华妃 on the other hand, decides it’s time to “teach” 沈眉庄 a lesson after finding out that 皇上 is not staying at 甄嬛’s palace that night. (Karen – again the movements and whereabouts of the emperor is known by literally everyone in the palace). She summons 沈眉庄 to copy some of the accounting books but she orders her maid 颂芝 to blow out some of the candles. We see 沈眉庄 struggling since she’s straining her eyes to write. When she’s finished, 华妃 makes a snarky comment on how poorly the penmanship is.

Here I need to say, 沈眉庄 really isn’t adept at this. She says that it’s too dark so it’s a bit tough. Girl, WHY would you say that? You don’t ever want to say it’s something else’s fault. Sure enough, 华妃 says well you know that I need to reduce costs in the palace. I’ve heard that if you’re actually really good, you can write beautifully even in the dark. We were just congratulating her earlier in the episode! But now, without 甄嬛, she’s back to her old self. 沈眉庄 offers to re-write it. Ok yes, that might be the easiest way to mollify 华妃, but she definitely shouldn’t have said anything earlier about the lack of candles! And what does 华妃 do? She orders her maid to dim another two candles. 

 

[Karen]
Back at 齐妃’s palace, she changed into a pink Manchu gown and she’s all flustered with the emperor being there. She starts going on and on about how her son is trying to learn and be like his father. 雍正 gradually gets annoyed to the point where he points out for her to stop wearing pink because it’s not suitable for her age. She’s betting off wearing sapphire blue or green colors. Ouch….he’s had enough and leaves. Poor 齐妃. She’s waited months and months for him to visit and she blows it.

 

[Cathy]
甄嬛 is in her palace sort of sulking. She’s decided to play a piece on her instrument 古琴. The piece plays is called 湘妃怨 which basically translates to the Sorrow of Consort Xiang. The poem is from a Song Dynasty poet but the music for the instrument 古琴 I think is from the Ming Dynasty. The poem is based off the legend of the mythical Emperor Shun. He died and his two wives or concubines are mournful for their husband. 

 

[Karen]
This is I think the first time we’re introduced to the 古琴. Let me take a second to explain it. It’s not entirely relevant to the rest of the plot, but I still think it’ll be fun to explain this instrument as it is significant in Chinese history and pops up everyone in Chinese historical dramas. 

古琴, using pin yin is spelled G-U, Q-I-N, is one of the oldest Chinese instruments. It has over 3000 years of history and was even a favored instrument of Confucius. This instrument is of the zither family. Not sure that means anything to most people. It is a wooden instrument that is about a meter in length, about a foot wide with a number of strings attached. The strings were historically made of silk but nowadays can be made of nylon or even steel.  Currently, the number of strings is 7 but this has changed throughout history. You sit and put the instrument on a table and music is produced by plucking and pressing on the strings. The right hand is used for plucking the strings and the left hand is used for the vibrato or changing the key/notes. 

The sound that is produced, in my opinion evokes a more somber tone even though the piece can be cheery. This instrument is beautiful to listen to and is generally a solo instrument since its sound is generally softer. People play this instrument while singing or else reciting poetry. Even in this drama, 甄嬛 is playing this piece and reciting the poem Cathy mentioned earlier to better evoke her emotions. If it IS to be paired with another instrument, the 琴 is generally paired with the 箫。 Which is the other instrument that 甄嬛 plays. Isn’t that interesting? I actually never realized this but the book or at least the director of this show clearly wants to paint 甄嬛 to be as much of an educated person as possible.

古琴 is a favored instrument of scholars so a lot of the time when I think of this music, I think some scholar playing it while drinking tea and trying to think of some poem to write. The idiom that someone who is talented should know 琴棋书画。It means, they should know how to play this 古琴,play Chinese Go(or Chess) which is what 棋 stands for, Read or 书 and also Paint 画. Learning the 古琴 is a high class and elegant activity. I mentioned that scholars play this instrument, but emperors play it and even some military generals! People who are master 古琴 players are generally thought of as calm, elegant, and light. When you listen to the music it is incredibly calming and stirs up very subtle emotions.

There are over 3300 pieces written for 古琴 through the ages. Something that is interesting is that there are well known pieces that have been passed down through time but the names of these pieces are more well known than the specific composer because a lot of the time the music is compiled together, passed down and improved upon through time. What we have today in archives may not be the original scores. This is distinctly different from western classical music. You have your Mozart, Beethoven, Hadyn that are very well known for their various pieces of music. But you don’t really have a whole lot of that in China. It’s mostly, yes I know this piece it’s very famous and perhaps originated from this dynasty, or this piece is describing a story about this love story in this specific dynasty. Chinese music isn’t named as Symphony no. 40 or Sonatina in G. These concepts do not apply. It’s primarily – I want this piece to be called Flowing Water, or Plum Blossoms and that’s what it’s called. 

Fun fact, this 古琴 instrument I feel like pops up a lot in video games or even in dramas as a quest item – “Go fetch this 古琴 from this very famous god or lord or mythical being”.

 

[Cathy]
Ok, also, yes 孙俪 the actress that is playing 甄嬛 is doing her hardest, but that’s not how you play 古琴. I just watched a video on YouTube and nope sorry. The hand placement is wrong, haha. She gets a lot of right so I’ll give her points for that.

That was a long explanation. Let’s get back to the story.

Well who decides to pop up? The Emperor. They get all lovey dovey again and he stays. He gives 甄嬛 a nickname 嬛嬛, which is just the last character in her name said twice. Blegh…still not used to it.

Back at 华妃’s palace, 沈眉庄 finishes up and she said she even did double the work because she knows her work is probably not good enough! 华妃 who has been taking a nap finally dismisses her. 

I feel like 沈眉庄 is just making one terrible decision after another. She’s exiting 华妃’s palace and they walk by a nearby pond. She tells her servant that well I’m now awake so let’s go check out the coy fish the pond. It’s at night, it’s dark. Like WHAT? Sure enough, all of her servants get summoned away and she’s just by herself, happily looking and enjoying the evening view. Can we guess what happens? Yep, someone pushes her into the water…

 

[Karen]
Fortunately, we see that she has been rescued and the next scene is of her being looked after by a number of imperial doctors and the emperor is even personally making a visit to check on her. 甄嬛 and also 敬嫔 are there to see what happened. The doctors say that she’s going to be fine but is currently still unconscious. Who shows up not long after? None other than 华妃 herself. She is nicely dressed with full face of make-up.

She comes in to basically say that she can’t believe something like this happened. And turns on the servants of 沈眉庄。 She chastises them for negligence and is proposing to have them sent to the 后宫 harem’s version of prison. On one hand, it’s to punish these servants for not protecting their master, but on the other, you can see it as further punishment towards ShenMeiZhuang as she is hoping to remove any and all support she has. Luckily, 甄嬛 steps in and is able to save the servants from being sent away. Her, being 甄嬛is able to turn the tables quickly and actually tells the emperor that part of the reason that 沈眉庄 is unconscious is because the palace guards at 华妃’s palace, 翊坤宫, weren’t able to save her quickly. It’s probably good to switch a batch of palace guards to guard 华妃’s palace who are better at their jobs in order to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. 华妃 doesn’t want this to happen but the emperor agrees that something like this cannot happen again so asks the guards to be switched immediately.

 

[Cathy]
There’s not much 华妃 can do so she invites the emperor back to her palace for some soup to soothe the strain of the day. They leave while 甄嬛 stays to watch over her friend. Everyone in the palace is trying to figure out who or what caused 沈眉庄 to fall into the water. They don’t know that someone pushed her so it’s all conjecture as to what happened. 甄嬛,皇后,the empress, and also 敬嫔, the ruling concubine of the palace that 沈眉庄 lives all in their separate palaces think that it’s 华妃. But they can’t understand how or why she should would commit this type of crime so close to her own palace. Wouldn’t she want to avoid suspicion? But then a reasoning is that for someone to have the gall and guts commit this type of crime so close to 华妃’s palace means that it really can only be 华妃 herself. Otherwise, 华妃 would be furious that something like this happened so close to her palace. However, 皇后 is correctly in theorizing that even though everyone in their hearts knows exactly who did it, as long as 皇上 doesn’t know who did it, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. At this point, 皇上 does not believe 华妃 is the culprit so not much can be done.

华妃 the next day is seething that 甄嬛 has been able to change her palace guards. This means that it will be much less convenient for 华妃 to go in and out with these new guards. She turns her attention to 甄嬛 in order to enact some type of revenge. We’ll discuss that more in the next episode.

The episode ends with 沈眉庄 waking up and furious at what happened. She tells 甄嬛 that she didn’t just “fall into” the water. Someone pushed her. She knows in her heart that it has to be 华妃 but because she has no evidence and there’s not much she can do to fight 华妃, all she’ll say to 皇上, the emperor, Is that she was clumsy and fell into the water herself.

 

[Karen]
In the next episode, 甄嬛 turns into a detective to see who or what is trying to sabotage her in the palace. Until next time!