Welcome back to Chasing Dramas, the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 73+74 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan. Empresses in the Palace. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any comments or questions either at email@example.com or else on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.
We’re hurtling to the end of the drama. The last episode, we saw the defeat of the vile Empress. Her many terrible atrocities were finally revealed to the Emperor and she has been banished to her palace for life. Now, we’re wrapping up the rest of the loose ends in the palace. The only main person storyline that’s left is the 17th prince. While I think 果郡王, the 17th prince is great, these 2 episodes are another slap in the face to romance, if you will. He is such an intelligent man but for love, he…loses many IQ points. In the second half of the last episode, the new Dzungar Khan 摩格 came to visit the Qing Dynasty. But, he’s someone that 甄嬛 and the 17th prince have met before. The Khan accosts 甄嬛 after the banquet to speak which was overheard by the Emperor’s spy which makes the Emperor suspicious as to why they would have met. Episode 73 starts off with the Emperor setting a trap for 甄嬛 to try to figure out the truth.
The Emperor asked to see 甄嬛 in a palace and tells 苏培盛, his head eunuch, to call the 17th prince to wait outside. Inside, he tells 甄嬛 that 摩格 wants 甄嬛 to marry him. 甄嬛 is shocked as from a cultural perspective this is a huge humiliation for the Qing dynasty and the Imperial Family. However, there is a rather famous anecdote that the Khan recounts as a precedent for this type of marriage alliance. Of course, 甄嬛 doesn’t want to be married off and be away from her children but the Emperor says that in exchange for 甄嬛 and the cure for the plague that is currently devastating the Dzungar army, the Khan has agreed to retreat and stop further war. That’s a very powerful bargaining chip. He pressures her to make a decision.
Unfortunately, this conversation was largely a trap set by the Emperor because at this point, none other than the 17th prince bursts into the room and requests the Emperor to reconsider. We had our ranking of the top 25 most intelligent people in the palace, and here we see why the 17th prince ranks below the Emperor, 苏培盛 and 甄嬛。 After he bursts in both 苏培盛 and 甄嬛 try to cut him off to make him stop talking. The Emperor though demands him to continue speaking. The 17th prince doesn’t listen to 苏培盛 or 甄嬛 and boldly states that this marriage is not a good idea.
The 17th prince has a lot of good points – that this sets a terrible precedence for the Empire and it is a huge humiliation for the Qing Dynasty. I mean, all fair points. He even makes the statement that if needed, he will lead troops to push back the Dzungar army as general.
With this declaration, the Emperor asks the devastating question – Are you doing this for the Qing Dynasty? Or for her?
The Emperor learned from his spy that the 17th prince and 甄嬛 had met outside of the palace. With the 17th prince’s actions and words at this juncture, the Emperor cannot help but believe the 17th prince has inappropriate feelings towards his consort. The Emperor is furious while the 17th prince and 甄嬛 hurriedly tries to convince him that there is nothing between them. The Emperor is incredibly sharp and his suspicions are correct, but he doesn’t have exact proof that 甄嬛 has committed adultery, only that the 17th prince has feelings. As he views zhen huan now as a problem for the Empire, he decides to accept this marriage proposal and send Zhen Huan away.
Zhen Huan is tearful but resigned to her fate. This is something the Emperor decided which she cannot disobey. She says a solemn goodbye to the Emperor and the 17th prince. The 17th prince is told to leave and next we see him discussing his next move with his younger brother, the 19th prince and his wife, Zhen Huan’s youngest sister. The reality is that even though Zhen Huan accepts, she herself said that she won’t let the Qing Empire be humiliated which means she will commit suicide.
Of course the 17th prince can’t have that. On the evening that Zhen Huan’s marriage procession leaves the Palace, he, in full military gear, decides to chase after her. And this is where we say once and for all, STOP. LISTEN TO EVERYONE AROUND YOU. His remaining consort, Yu Yin, Zhen Huan’s half sister, tries to stop him. She pleads with him to stay and not rush after her sister but he just won’t listen. He, being rather heartless to her, just says he has to do this for her.
This though is once again another trap. While the Khan did ask for Zhen Huan, he was willing to accept just the cure to the plague. So, Zhen Huan was never in the marriage procession, instead just shut in her rooms in the Summer Palace. The 17th prince didn’t know that. This was of course reported to the Emperor by his spies. What’s interesting is that the Khan adamantly refuses to confirm that the 17th prince and Zhen Huan have personal relationships. Looks like the Khan is trying to protect Zhen Huan. So as of now, the Emperor only has his suspicions confirmed that the 17th prince is interested in her, but he has no proof they ever actually did anything. Still, 17th prince! You are usually sooo intelligent. But in love, you just can’t think straight. He literally barrels into every trap set for him. Everyone could see his actions were terrible ideas and he will pay for it.
The Emperor is furious to hear that the 17th prince did indeed chase after Zhen Huan.
Luckily for Zhen Huan, she has an incredibly bright and charismatic daughter. We didn’t include her in our intelligence countdown list but she’s gotta be high up there. She visits her father the Emperor in his study with her adoptive mother. She, at the tender age of 6, puts on a good show for her father that she’s sad she can’t take care of her sick birth mother, and that she cannot help her siblings who miss their mother. She recites a passage by Mencius recounting the 3 joys of life. This little monologue deeply touches her father and he ultimately just decides to bring Zhen Huan back.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t even punish her. When Zhen Huan comes to see him, he is a little choked up and simply tells her to see her children. They have missed her. To me, this reflects his feelings for Zhen Huan. Remember the poor Ying Gui Ren that his son was interested in? He killed her without a second thought. But here, he doesn’t even punish Zhen Huan. She’s allowed to go back to her palace.
And another supporting reason why 苏培盛 is a god send ally for 甄嬛， the Emperor asks him if he let Zhen Huan off too easy. 苏培盛 responds that this has nothing to do with 甄嬛。This certainly helps calm the Emperor down and he just puts the blame on his brother, the 17th prince. As he left without permission, he is sentenced to being stationed at the border and is not to return without decree by the Emperor. In a surprising move, the Emperor promotes both the 17th Prince and the 19th Prince. The 17th Prince is now a 亲王 or Prince of the First Rank and the 19th Prince is now a 郡王 or Prince of the Second Rank.
We now have a time skip of 3 years.
The 17th Prince is in his military regalia playing his bamboo flute. I will give kudos to prop master, the writings on his flute do indeed say 长相思.
The 17th Prince – continuing his idiotic streak – has been writing letters to 甄嬛 in his correspondence home. Unfortunately for him, the Emperor’s spies have stolen a few and reported them to the Emperor.
In a private meeting between the Emperor and his minister, the minister commends the 17th Prince’s capabilities at keeping the Dzhungars at bay. However, the Emperor expresses his displeasure at some of the 17th Prince’s recommendations to set up markets and begin trade again. I think these recommendations are quite innocuous and the minister thinks they are good ideas. Unfortunately the Emperor does not want any “help” from the 17th prince and summons him back to the capital. The eunuch 苏培盛 breathes a sigh of relief on the side but this does not bode well for the 17th prince.
When he comes back to the capital, he hurriedly heads to the Summer Palace where the Imperial Court is staying for the summer. He bumps into 甄嬛 and his daughter 灵犀. Well, these two, especially 甄嬛 cannot contain her tears. Girl, keep it together!
The eunuch 苏培盛 quickly comes to summon the 17th prince for an audience with the Emperor. At dinner, the two men are both drunk but the Emperor of course is here for one thing. At the end of the episode, he bluntly asks the 17th prince if he and 甄嬛 had an adulterous relationship.
Episode 74 starts right off at the same place.
For me though, the most important line isn’t when the Emperor asks about the adulterous relationship. It’s actually this next line – are you plotting for my throne because of her? This is what he truly cares about. His throne. He’s always suspicious that someone, anyone, is trying to conspire against him. That’s why he is so wary of the military prowess of his brothers.
In the next scene, 甄嬛 is summoned to see the Emperor. She picks up the fan from the eunuch to fan the Emperor. He, in his meditative pose, opens his eyes and SLAPS 甄嬛 in the face.
This is the first time he’s hit 甄嬛. He coldly begins his interrogation to 甄嬛. The topic is of course the 17th Prince. Again, the conversations revolves around the Imperial throne. The Emperor even admits his jealousy towards the 17th Prince. If it weren’t for dissenters at court, the 17th Prince would be the Emperor. Now that he has military merit, who’s to say that the 17th prince won’t be eyeing the throne?
He then says this line 君要臣死，臣不得不死. Which translates to, if the Emperor wants a subject dead, the subject must die. It’s clear to 甄嬛 – he intends to kill the 17th prince. In response to her disbelief, the Emperor finally reveals his true colors. He actually says – when I decided to fight for the throne, I even plotted against my own blood brother, the 14th prince. I’ve long forgotten that I have brothers.
Finally – you admit that you are a cold hearted bastard. He is such a hypocrite. In episode 72, he was railing against the Empress for killing her sister. What has he done? What will he do now? The exact same thing.
The Emperor grabs 甄嬛’s hands and heartlessly commands her to murder the 17th prince. Just as he told his mother to kill 隆科多. The Emperor hands 甄嬛 the poison and flatly tells her – to prove your innocence, you must kill him. In exchange, her son, the 6th prince will become the crown prince. He gives 甄嬛 absolutely no option and orders her to meet with the 17th prince immediately. He’s already waiting for the Emperor for a small dinner.
The 17th Prince and 甄嬛 meet for a final time. He is surprised when she walks in but is nonetheless happy about it. Wine is brought to the table and she pours two cups.
The two reminisce about the past including 夕颜 or the Japanese Morning Flower first mentioned in episode 17, to their marriage contract or 庚贴 in episode 51, to their time together.
The 17th prince eyes the wine in front of him. He notes the open window and asks 甄嬛 to close it. He comments on the paintings of 合欢花 or persian silk tree flowers on wall. He voices his regrets, especially to the 3 women in his life. They both pick up their cups of wine to conduct a 交杯合卺 or a custom to link arms and drink their wine during a marriage ceremony. They didn’t do it during their marriage.
They embrace for one last hug. 甄嬛 recounts for the 17th prince her children but the 17th prince finally falters. He spits out blood and confesses that he switched the wine cups. 甄嬛 originally wanted to drink the poison herself. He tells her that he knew that the Emperor wanted to kill him. Anything they do is futile. He hands 甄嬛 his beloved flute and pouch that he’s held on to for all of these years. With his dying breath, he tells her that she will forever be his only wife.
甄嬛, who is in utter shock, tries to tell him that her son and daughter are actually his, but it’s too late. The poor guy, to his death, never knew the truth.
甄嬛 barely holds it together as she stumbles outside. Waiting for her are eunuchs and the Emperor’s spy. Seeing that she’s alone, they confirm the 17th Prince’s death before reading an Imperial Edict. 甄嬛 now controls the Imperial Harem and will act as Empress in all but name. Her sister 玉隐 who was waiting for the 17th Prince rushes over to discover the truth. 甄嬛 finally faints from the heartbreaking events of the evening as she hears her sister scream out.
The Emperor receives the briefing from his spy. They will ship the body back out to the border so that everyone will believe the 17th prince died while on duty. He’s just sitting there – no emotion. Ugh – the Emperor claims that he originally wanted to have an extravagant funeral for the 17th prince but to keep the stability in the region, they’ll just have a low-key funeral instead. What a hypocrite.
When 甄嬛 fainted, she fell from the from the steps and injured her right knee. She can no longer dance but she doesn’t care. Her heart has finally died.
At the funeral, 玉隐 is there along with the 17th prince’s son. She coldly watches the proceedings but when the eunuchs begin to move the coffin. She rushes to the coffin, hits her head and kills herself.
甄嬛 hears the devastating news and she sheds even more tears. Man this episode is just of her crying, I mean I would too. But, in the midst of this, she finds the whole thing suspicious. Why did the Emperor suddenly want to kill the 17th prince. The Eunuch 苏培盛 helpfully confides that it was due to some letters.
Well, the 3 of them, 甄嬛, 槿汐, and 苏培盛 uncover the letters to find that each letter the 17th prince wrote included 熹贵妃安 or hope 甄嬛 is well. Here, i’ll say – COME ON. You are just waiting for someone to catch you.
The episode ends with the Emperor coming to visit 甄嬛. This is their first conversation since the 17th prince’s death. He has the gall to ask why she looks so fragile. He’s like – I at least had a relationship with my brother. Hold up – what? Even if there’s nothing between them, you just asked her to kill a royal prince! He then continues to say – you aren’t the same as before. 甄嬛 finally responds – do you treat me the same as before? The Emperor hopes they both are the same before leaving.
These 2 episodes were certainly heartbreaking. The events that transpired were triggered by the arrival of the Dzhungar khan, but while we think the 17th prince is a fantastic person, he caused a lot of this heartbreak on himself. Sure, he shouldn’t have burst into the room at the beginning of Ep 72 to stop 甄嬛 from leaving but as we mentioned earlier, the more crucial mistake is writing that 甄嬛 is well in his mail.
Something that bugged me for a long time is that I’m surprised no one told the 17th prince when he was alive that Zhen Huan’s 2 children are his. His mother and her maid knew, his consort, 玉隐 certainly knew, and the Imperial Doctor 温实初 of course knew. Perhaps they all knew that keeping this from him was best. I wonder if he would be less hot headed if he knew those children were his and would act less impulsively. This is certainly a regret in his life that he never formally acknowledged his twin children.
I do feel rather sorry for 玉隐, 甄嬛’s younger sister. She fell in love with the 17th prince and ran his household after getting married but he never treated her too well. I guess there would be mutual respect and a familial relationship because she is 甄嬛’s sister but he went off to the border without a second thought for 玉隐. When he returned, he didn’t even want to see his son or 玉隐 first. Sadly, 玉隐 never saw her husband alive after he returned. She is a fool for love, killing herself to be with him. This is a really blunt way to put it, but this whole situation is really, really sad.
There’s no wonder why 甄嬛 is now so full of hatred towards the Emperor. The Emperor, in his haste to protect his throne, did not care who he killed or hurt. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. With the 17th prince’s death, any remaining emotion 甄嬛 once had for the Emperor is completely eliminated. Anyone in her shoes would feel the same.
First let’s talk about 王昭君 – She is the woman that is referenced when the Emperor is deciding whether or not to send 甄嬛 to be married to the Khan. 王昭君 and her story is quite famous and is considered one of the 4 most beautiful women in Chinese history. We’ve discussed 2 of the other 3 women on our podcast before.
The story is relatively simple. 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, the 匈奴, a group of nomadic people requested a marriage alliance with the Han Empire. The Emperor at the time decided to send 王昭君 who was a palace maid. She was originally sent to the palace as part of a Court Selection but her painting was painted poorly by a corrupt palace artist so she never caught the eye of the Emperor. When she was selected to be married to the 匈奴, the Emperor was stunned at her beauty and intelligence for she was incredibly talented, bright and kind. But by this time, it was too late to change who was to be sent for this marriage.
王昭君 went to live with the 匈奴. The legend goes that she brought livestock, farming and water to her clan which made her a positive figure.
What we know from history, she helped end years of war, improved diplomatic relations between the Han and the 匈奴 people and helped other minority groups aspire to Han traditions.
This story has been passed down through generations. There have been several dramas depicted of this story as well as books, plays, dances you name it.
You can see the parallels here to 甄嬛’s predicament.
Next – the princess 胧月 quoted heavily from Mencius in her meeting with the Emperor. We’ve talked about Mencius before – a student of Confucius.
The piece is this 子有三乐，而王天下不与存焉。父母俱存，兄弟无故，一乐也；仰不愧于天，俯不怍于人，二乐也；得天下英才而教育之，三乐也. It comes from Jin Xin from Meng Zi.
The James Legge translation is as follows
Mencius said, ‘The superior man has three things in which he delights, and to be ruler over the kingdom is not one of them. That his father and mother are both alive, and that the condition of his brothers affords no cause for anxiety; this is one delight. That, when looking up, he has no occasion for shame before Heaven, and, below, he has no occasion to blush before men; this is a second delight. That he can get from the whole kingdom the most talented individuals, and teach and nourish them; this is the third delight. The superior man has three things in which he delights, and to be ruler over the kingdom is not one of them.’
The Princess wants to take care of her parents and her siblings. What a child! So young to be quoting Mencius – she’s way brighter than her older brother the 3rd prince. The Emperor releases 甄嬛 due to her words. I mean I would too – the Emperor wants to be the superior man. This appeals straight to his ego.
Alrighty let’s talk about the 17th Prince – 果亲王！
He was born in 1697, a full 19 years younger than the Emperor 雍正. As in the drama, he was intelligent and scholarly. There are several works by him that have survived. He had a close relationship with the Emperor 雍正 during his reign. He didn’t participate in the struggle for the throne which is why he was favored. He was given command of multiple banners during his life and appointed to the grand council which oversees military matters of the Qing Empire.. He actually managed 宗人府 or the imperial clan court and 刑部 or The Ministry of Penalty.
He was made prince of the first rank in 1728. When Emperor 雍正 died, he was entrusted to be an advisor to the new Emperor 乾隆。
He did indeed marry as his primary wife from the 钮祜禄 clan which is what 甄嬛 and 玉隐 were a part of when 甄嬛 returned to his palace. He also had a secondary wife with the last name of 孟. He had a son and a daughter but they both died young.
He died in 1738 at the age of 41 during the reign of Emperor 乾隆. So he outlived the Emperor in the drama and was definitely not poisoned. However, they needed to follow the thread from the original character from the book so he had to die here.