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 66 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.
In this episode, there are 2 main threads as we head into the end game. On one hand, 甄嬛’s sister is getting unwanted attention from the Emperor so they need to deal with that and on the other, 甄嬛’s enemies are imploding. Overall, 甄嬛’s life is moving into the right direction so let’s see how things play out.
This episode starts with the Emperor chatting with 甄嬛 and her youngest sister 玉娆 at 甄嬛’s residence. They’re discussing the funeral activities for 甄嬛’s best friend, 沈眉庄 who died giving birth to her daughter. As they;re discussing how terrible 祺贵人 was for instigating the drama that caused her death, the emperor turns to 玉娆 and starts discussing her name. He thinks her name doesn’t match with her rather resolute temperament. He suggests the word 婉 instead. We’ll talk about the significance of poem he recites here but this suggestion immediately sets off alarm bells for 甄嬛. He initially says this word is better for her because it’s praising beauties but the word comes from a poem that is discussing a wife who died. Both 玉娆 and 甄嬛 immediately pounce on the word and it’s quite funny actually. 玉娆 doesn’t like it because the word comes from a poem about someone who died whereas she is still alive and 甄嬛 says the poem is about a late wife。Does the emperor have the expectation of making 玉娆 his wife?
Ding ding ding – we have a winner.
You have to commend 甄嬛 for being quick to pick up on the emperor’s real motives. She can tell exactly what the emperor is thinking at this point. The emperor with his beady eyes, doesn’t outright deny it. Instead, he waffles about how there are clear rules between wife and concubine. He has a wife, the Empress. He has no inclination of changing that but… And before he can say anything further, 甄嬛 cuts him off and basically chastizes him for expecting that all of her sisters should become concubines instead of wives. As we’ve discussed before, the title of wife or 妻子 is the highest one can be or the best position a woman can achieve in this society. The Emperor recognizes that this was not a good subject to bring up so he decides to drop the new name conversation.
After he leaves, 玉娆 tells her older sister that the emperor gave her a jade pendant. 甄嬛 looks at this and tells us and 玉娆 this crucial piece of information. She thinks 玉娆 probably looks too much like the Emperor’s first wife, 纯元。 Once again, the Emperor is enamored by the young 玉娆 not because of her, necessarily, but because she looks like his first wife. Another really important point to highlight about the word 婉 that the Emperor tried to give to 玉娆 is that it sounds exactly like the nickname for his first wife. The characters are different but the sounds are the same.
Now, let’s shift to the first of 甄嬛’s enemies that implodes. 甄嬛 and 敬妃 are playing a round of Chinese Go. 敬妃 languidly smiles and remarks the downfall of the 瓜尔佳 clan. Members of the family, including the father of the now demoted 祺贵人, have been tried for corruption, bribery, and several other counts. 甄嬛 responds with a smirk – oh yes, the Emperor has been busy this past month. He’s rounded up the entire faction. The whole lot of them have been imprisoned, sentenced to exile, or executed. The father of 祺贵人 has even committed suicide in prison.
In the next scene, rain is pouring from the sky and a distraught woman is running in the palace trying to plead to the Empress. This woman is none other than the nasty 祺贵人, or rather her full name is 瓜尔佳文鸢， who’s been banished to the cold palace for her role in the accusation against 甄嬛. No longer wearing her usual luxurious clothes, she’s dressed in well-worn clothes, shoeless, and running around in the palace desperately trying to find someone to help her clan’s plight with guards at her heels. The Empress’s doors remain coldly shut so she runs to the Emperor’s study. She’s not allowed in the door so she begs for an audience in the rain. It’s a pitiful scene. Unbeknownst to her, 甄嬛 is with the Emperor grinding ink for him as he declares his sentence. All men over the age of 14 are to be executed, those under will be exiled, women will all be sold as slaves. As for the despicable 瓜尔佳文鸢，she will be spared from death but reduced to a commoner. The Emperor motions for his eunuch 苏培盛 to deal with her outside. 甄嬛 makes no remarks and just continues to grind.
Unfortunately for 瓜尔佳文鸢, this idiotic woman begins hurling insults to 甄嬛 as she’s begging for leniency for her family. She says, I’ll become a ghost to haunt you. 甄嬛 you’re a bitch. Well…that doesn’t go over nicely with 苏培盛. The god-send, the best person to have on your side. He orders the guards to “take care” of 瓜尔佳文鸢。The woman could have been spared her life if she kept her mouth shut but with the end of her story and her life is for her to be mercilessly beaten to death by the palace guards and unceremoniously tossed into a mass grave. 苏培盛 even spits at her direction which is probably one of the most derogatory things we’ve seen from the eunuch. Another example of why you don’t piss off eunuchs or servants overall.
The Emperor tells 甄嬛 that he’ll restore her father’s position at court but she doesn’t want it for him. He’s too old. He’ll be happy with a secure job. She got her revenge but cannot seem too vindictive. The Empress and 安陵容 watch 瓜尔佳文鸢‘s body pass by them. The Empress doesn’t so much as blink – the woman was of no use to her anymore. A useless woman is the same as a dead woman. There’s no difference – the Empress doesn’t care.
The other huge blow to the Empress’s team is on 安陵容’s side. 甄嬛’s expanded network, and by network I mean 欣贵人, comes to tell her that 安陵容”s father has been imprisoned for corruption. 安陵容 is distraught and has been kneeling outside of the Emperor’s palace in an effort to try to get him to reduce any sentence he’s been thinking of placing on her father.
甄嬛 is invited to dine with the Emperor and she walks by the kneeling 安陵容。 The conversation between them is quite a highlight. On the surface, they are cordial, but you can hear the sarcasm and the underlying derision from 甄嬛’s side. 甄嬛 address’s 安陵容 as her sister and warns her of possible mice running around the palace. 安陵容 says how is it possible for there to be mice outside the Emperor’s palace. 甄嬛 says, you’re right. Mice is found in prisons.
In front of the Emperor, 甄嬛 is nothing but complimentary and caring for 安陵容。 She requests that the Emperor not punish 安陵容 and such. While, again, on the surface, this sounds like she’s being a kind sister, this is pushing the Emperor to be more disgusted by both 安陵容 and her father’s behavior. He comes out with 甄嬛 to see the kneeling 安陵容 and orders her to return to the palace. If she stays any longer, he will kill her father.
安陵容 has no choice but to leave. She begs the Empress for help and the Empress actually gives her a solution: Become pregnant. Once she becomes pregnant, the Emperor will surely reduce her father’s sentence. The Empress even gives 安陵容 a prescription that will ensure she becomes pregnant. 安陵容 is very skeptical because as we know, she ingested medicine that has caused her to become infertile but the Empress says that all she needs to do is become pregnant. Who cares if she actually gives birth？ 安陵容 doesn’t have any other option than to accept this.
The rest of the episode is another victory for 甄嬛 in that she is able to successfully marry her sister to the one she loves, rather than be another unfulfilled soul in the imperial harem. 玉隐 or, formerly known as 浣碧, comes to visit 甄嬛。 Now that she’s no longer a maid but rather a rather powerful concubine of a Prince, she visits with a changed attire. Her hair is different and her outfit is that befitting of someone her station. As the 2 are talking, their youngest sister 玉娆 comes in and 玉隐 teases 玉娆 for liking the 19th prince. 甄嬛 is surprised to hear this but it’s clear that 玉娆 and the 19th prince have feelings for each other. 玉隐 and 甄嬛 think that this is actually the best solution because otherwise, the emperor order a marriage. But if 玉娆 is matched to his brother, he can’t say no or do much to stop the wedding.
With that plan in place, the other idea is to provide another distraction to the emperor. So 玉隐, now totally comfortable in her role as manager of the 17th prince’s household, decides to gift one of her maids to the emperor. This maid is 采蘋 played by the beautiful 毛晓彤. 毛晓彤 has been in many dramas now and I’m pretty sure she got her start here. But can we all get a collective sigh. The fate of women, particularly maids. They are being traded like commodities. And another sigh for the emperor being so predictable in taking these so called “gifts”
By now it’s clear that the 19th prince and 玉娆 are in love with each other so the 甄 sisters do their best to make this happen.
In the imperial garden, 甄嬛 is walking with the Emperor and they happen upon the 19th prince and 玉娆 enjoying the scenery as well and being very cute. The emperor is annoyed at this scene, as he says to 甄嬛， she must tell how he feels about 玉娆. 甄嬛 rather calmly responds that the Emperor should also be intelligent enough to see that 玉娆 has no interest. What good would this do? The emperor walks away in a huff and decides to spend time with 安陵容 instead. This at least gives her the opportunity that she’s been looking for to get pregnant.
The next scene we see 玉娆 playing the 古琴, an instrument we discussed earlier on in this drama, by herself at her sister’s residence. Who happens to walk in? It’s the Emperor.
The two of them have a rather unguarded discussion. THe emperor frankly shares that he likes 玉娆 but 玉娆 asks why he likes her. His main reason is that she reminds him of his wife. 玉娆 thinks she does not look like the Empress at all and the Emperor quickly corrects her by saying that the Empress is not his wife. His wife already passed away. 玉娆 explains that her childhood dream has been to be her beloved’s wife. Not a concubine, not the most important woman at his side, but his wife. Since the Emperor already has a wife, he cannot fulfill her dream. She kneels and requests that the Emperor helps her fulfill her dream by decreeing her marriage to the 19th prince. The two of them love each other and she will not care what her title is. As long as they are together, she will always be the 19th prince’s wife in her heart. Just like how the emperor’s first wife is his wife in his heart, even though he has a wife in the Emperor. The emperor doesn’t say much after hearing her speech and accepts the jade pendant she returns to him. The jade pendant was a gift by his beloved wife. After hearing 玉娆’s impassioned speech, he decides to formally gift the jade pendant to her and walks away.
That night, the emperor is in a mood at his residence and the god-send and most helpful person in the entire palace comes to see him. Who is this? I’m of course talking about 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch. The emperor asks 苏培盛 what should he do if he’s interested in a woman who isn’t willing. The god-send 苏培盛 simply says that no matter who this woman is, she will not be better than his first wife. Any woman worthy enough to be with the emperor is simply helping his first wife take care of him. What wonderful words. Those are the exact words that the emperor wanted to hear because right after that, the Emperor decides to plan the wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th prince.
The episode ends with the wonderful wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th prince. This time, 玉娆 is to be his wife and so it’s a really big deal. If we take a step back, 甄嬛’s family has also produced an incredibly powerful group of daughters. The eldest is the favored concubine of the emperor, the second daughter is a valued concubine of the 17th prince and the 3rd daughter is the wife of the 19th prince. That is quite impressive wouldn’t you say so? You can’t get any more powerful than that can you? I’d also say that 玉娆 is probably the luckiest and happiest woman of the entire drama. She married the one she loves and her love is reciprocated. No other woman has such fortune in their marriages and this was done by the help of many people. She certainly has many people to thank for her luck.
The other main thread in this episode is the deteriorating health of the Empress Dowager. She has been bedridden for some time now but her time has come. As she is struggling and coughing up blood, she tells her maid that she has to do something to protect her clan and the Empress. She knows full well how manipulative and deadly the Empress is but because they are from the same clan, the Empress dowager must do something to prevent her clan from losing power. She instructs her maid to keep a will she writes for this purpose and to bring it out when it is necessary.
The next episode will show her last breath.
Let’s discuss the fate of the two women from the Empress’s faction.
First up, 瓜尔佳文鸢, the once haughty 祺贵人. Let’s go all the way back to episode 40(?) when she first entered the palace. She bumped into the then disgraced 华妃 and instead of showing any kindness towards the woman, belittled her. 华妃 warned her that she might have the same fate as her but the then arrogant 祺贵人 dismissed this warning.
Throughout her time in this series, she played her part to perfection, as the loyal pawn for the Empress and performed her duties required of her. Her only “powers” was the backing of a powerful family. She was obedient which is why the Empress kept her around. I doubt 文鸢 ever knew about the truth about the musk necklace the Empress gifted her. She must have wondered why she never got pregnant but she probably never thought to suspect the Empress. This woman showed us time and again why having money and status could get you far but won’t save you. She could barely keep up with 安陵容, whom she despised. She was going to be no match for 甄嬛. Well I guess 华妃 showed us that too.
The funny thing is, when 文鸢 accused 甄嬛 of adultery only a few episodes ago, the oath she made was that her story was true or else her entire clan will cease to exist. She lost that battle and the oath came back to bite her. She and her entire clan died due to their misdeeds. The writing was probably on the wall long before 文鸢 made her oath but it still came true.
Now look at her, a faceless body in a mask grave.
I won’t spend too much time on 安陵容 today. Her story is far from over but let’s discuss both her and 文鸢’s actions this episode. They both came to plead for their family’s case, at great risk to themselves. 文鸢 was a spoiled child so it made sense based on her connection to her family but 安陵容 has expressed dislike for her father several times throughout the series. Her mother was treated poorly in her family and she herself was not favored by her father. Despite that, she still pleaded for her father. Throughout the series, we’ve seen these concubines, whether it’s the two in this episode to 沈眉庄 to 华妃 to of course 甄嬛, plead for their father and their family. It struck a chord with me that even though in this world, women are viewed little better than accessories and discarded as such, they still nonetheless were willing to try to beg the Emperor. 文鸢 could have survived but she took the gamble to plead for an audience with the Emperor. Regardless of my other feelings for her and other women in the series, I will commend them for their bravery and the loyalty for their families.
One of 甄嬛’s main motivations to return to the palace was to seek revenge against those who wronged her in the first place. This includes the 瓜尔佳 clan for what they did to her father and her own clan and of course 安陵容 for what she did to her father in prison, specifically letting plague infested rats into his cell. She got her wish with the former and she’s waiting patiently for the latter. I read comments that the only reason that the Emperor decided to act was to please 玉娆, which might be somewhat true, but I don’t think 甄嬛 cared about the motivation, she just wanted the results.
A short snippet about the fate of the 瓜尔佳 clan. The character of 文鸢 and 鄂敏 are fictional and this entire decimation of the clan is fictionalized. The 瓜尔佳 clan is one of the 8 largest and oldest manchu clans and is actually often named as the top manchu clan. The power of influence of this clan continued throughout the Qing dynasty. I didn’t research too deeply but the Emperor 康熙 and many of his sons had consorts from this clan but not entirely sure about Emperor 雍正. The mother of the last emperor of china 溥仪 is actually from the 瓜尔佳 clan. Many descendents sinicized the last name to 关.
Alrighty – next lets actually get to some history.
First is 永怀赋 by 张华. This is the poem that the Emperor references when trying to give a new name to 玉娆 at the very beginning of the episode. 张华 was born in 232AD and died 300. He was a poet and politician during the Three Kingdoms era. He served primarily in the court of Western Jin. He gained literary recognition with his 鹪鹩赋 jiao1 liao2 (Eurasian wren) which is a collection of poems that are on the surface about birds but really an avenue for him to voice his own political commentary of the time.
The piece 永怀赋 or Rhapsody of remembrance was written as an ode to his deceased wife.
The two lines 扬绰约之丽姿，怀婉娩之柔情 – which are quoted in the drama have been used since it’s inception to praise the beauty and virtue of women.
In this show, I’m glad 玉娆 called the Emperor out for this. He’s never getting over his wife 纯元 so stop trying to bed every single woman who looks even slightly like her.
甄嬛 mentions this anecdote during her rather pointed discussion with the Emperor about 玉娆. The story comes from 神女赋 or Ode to the Goddess (that’s my translation anyway). It was written by the poet 宋玉 during the warring states period some time during the 3rd century BC.
宋玉 was a poet for the kingdom of 楚 and most famous for his verses of 楚。
The story is about the xiang king of chu. He recounted the dream he had of the goddess. In this dream, he pursued the goddess and wanted to ahem bed her. The majority of the poem or fu actually describes the beauty of the goddess. At the end though, the goddess departs, leaving the king distraught and saddened.
This is a very famous poem and this story is often used as an anecdote to describe a man pining for a woman. This poem actually also has many descriptions of the beauty of women that are still widely used today.
玉娆 performs a piece on the 古琴 or the zither called 淇奥. 淇奥 the text comes from 诗经 or the Book of Songs, which we’ve mentioned before. It’s one of the classic texts in Chinese culture. Well the song of 淇奥 praises the ideal man. He is genteel, he is learned, and courteous. Bamboo is used often in this song to describe the elegance of a man.
When the Emperor walks in, he recognizes this piece and immediately asks 玉娆 if she loves another, leading to that whole conversation.