Freshwomen’s English Class 11: Reviewing The Story of the Yanxi Palace

Nimen Hao,

this is the last of our content-based classes designed to help us practice reviewing different kinds of cultural texts.

Remember a text is any cultural object that we can review, so could be a building, concert, song, web platform, advert, book, movie, holiday place, etc.

Today we are going to review the tv series The Story of the Yanxi Palace. First you need to have watched an episode (the one I gave you for homework last week).

Then we will read a couple of articles written about the series and then have some group and class discussions.

Let’s have a quick look at a plot summary

Let’s watch an episode. Pay attention to the features you think are interesting so we can discuss them afterwards.

Let’s try to summarise the plot for that episode.

Now, have a look at this online plot summary. Can we fix their Chinglish?

These are the 1-2th episodes of Story of Yanxi Palace Chinese Drama Recap, Wei Yingluo enters palace, and discloses imperial concubine poisoned Yu concubine. But the maid Yi Bing died because of it. Wei Yingluo hits emperor’s favorite’s tree Ling Bai.

Story of Yanxi Palace Chinese Drama Recap: Episode 1

Wei Yingluo is chose to enter palace with other girls. The girl Ji Xiang wets Wuya Qindai’s skirt by mistake, Wuya Qindai wants to tread Ji Xiang’s hand. But Wei Yingluo stops her, and thinks her mood shouldn’t be influenced by blood. Wuya Qindai mentions she is unhappy because her shoes are dirty by Ji Xiang. So Wei Yingluo puts rose pollens in her shoes, and wishes her to be promoted. Wuya Qindai forgives Ji Xiang.

Aunt Fang claims Miss should have true strength instead of talks when Jing Xiu blames Ji Xiang. Ji Xiang asks Wei Yingluo why she helped Wuya Qindai, Wei Yingluo says that the fortunate usually is with bad luck.

The maid Ming Yu tells empress Fu Cha to prepare for the palace picking, but Fu Cha claims it isn’t her business. Ming Yu thinks she gives the Chu Xiu palace chance, but Er Qing interrupt them saying palace picking is a big deal otherwise Queen will scolds Fu Cha.

The senior concubine doesn’t respect Fu Cha, but Fu Cha doesn’t care. She hates her most when emperor only cares Fu Cha. Wuya Qindai is proud when emperor asks her about the shoes. But he gets angry, and asks his followers to kill her and her family.

Jin Xiu mocks at Ji Xiang because she hurts her hand while embroidery, Wei Yingluo gives her embroidery to Ji Xiang. But she is reported to help Ji Xiang to cheat. Steward Wu fires the informant, and keeps them at the embroidery workshop.

Story of Yanxi Palace Chinese Drama Recap: Episode 2

Jin Xiu pours water in Wei Yingluo’s bed because Steward Wu praised her. Wei Yingluo gives her a lesson, and claims she doesn’t come there to make friends. She warns Ji Xiang not to be kind, and learn to protect herself.

She lies in bed, and remembers the looks of her sister Wei Yingning lay in casket. She wants to find out the reason why her sister was dead.

Concubine Yu doesn’t want to sleep with emperor, and claims she is ill. The Senior Concubine suspects her, and sends a doctor to see her giving her loquat medicine.

Yi Bing asks Fu Cha a favor, and claims imperial concubine poisoned in the medicine. But they get nothing. The imperial concubine blames Concubine Yu that she didn’t respect her. Yi Bing has to take the responsibility.

Aunt Fang finds powders in Wei Yingluo’s bag, and scolds her. But Wei Yingluo claims it’s just dirt. She asks Madam Zhang about her sister. But Madam Zhang warns her that the maid shouldn’t call concubine’s name.

Concubine Yu feels shamed because Yi Bing is slapped. Madam Zhang says that the status of concubine is lower than maid. Concubine Yu grumbles why she couldn’t detect the toxic of loquat, Wei Yingluo points out that the stone is poisonous. Concubine Yu wants to take her to see Fu Cha, but Madam Zhang refuses it.

Madam Zhang punishes Wei Yingluo to kneel, and thinks about her mistakes. Wei Yingluo claims she did nothing wrong, so Madam Zhang takes her to see the scene of Yi Bing’s suicide. Wei Yingluo is shocked.

Concubine Yu is mad because of Yi Bing’s death, and asks Wei Yingluo to tell the truth. But Madam Zhang tells her she will be death if the imperial concubine knows it. Wei Yingluo reminds her sister, and thinks Yi Bing should fight with them.

She gets angery, and hits the tree Ling Bai. The emperor passes by, and gives her the punishment, but she explains that she knows nothing about Ling Bai.

Story of Yanxi Palace Chinese Drama Recap: Episode 3

The emperor thinks Wei Yingluo didn’t respect Ling Bai, and wants to hit her 30 times with stick. But she claims the tree visited her dream, and asked her to scratch him. So the emperor forgives her. Madam Zhang tells Wei Yingluo about the tree’s story, but she thinks the emperor just wanted to people he is a dragon. She takes Madam Zhang away, and fears figure out her lies. The emperor visits his mother, and remebers Wei Yingluo’s words, and is interested in her. Queen asks him to see Concubine Shu, but he claims he is busy, and leaves.

He realizes the maid cheated him, and goes to look for her. But she fled. The servant thinks she won’t stay there to wait for his punishment. Emperor is furious, and kicks him. He blames him for telling his matters to Queen, and asks him to find the maid. Empress is furious after knowing Ming Yu blocked Imperial Concubine Yu. But Ming Yu thinks she shouldn’t be against Imperial Concubine Gao for Imperial Concubine Yu. Just then emperor shows up.

Empress tells emperor about Imperial Concubine Yu’s pregnancy. But he doesn’t care it, and wishes she can say some warm words. She claims she has nothing to say, and only cares Imperial Concubine Yu. He is disappointed, and asks Imperial Concubine to write books as punishment.

Wei Yingluo is interested in Empress’s brother Fu Heng after talking with imperial bodyguards. Ying Ning’s ex Qing Xi sees her, and asks her to give up investigating her sister’s death reason. Ling Long sees Wei Yingluo talking with imperial bodyguards, and reports it to Aunt Fang. She wants to punish Wei Yingluo with the sin of seducing bodyguard. But Qing Xi fled, and Wei Yingluo beats up Aunt Fang.

Wei Yingluo picks up a knot, and remembers it’s the one Ying Ning gave her. Yu Jie tells her the knot is related to A Man, but she reports it to Aunt Fang soon. Aunt Fang asks Ling Long to watch on Wei Yingluo for her. Ling Long is jealous of Wei Yingluo, so she accepts Aunt Fang’s offer.

Steward Li lets maids line up, and scratchs in front of him to catch the maid cheated emperor. Madam Zhang sends Wei Yingluo to deliver clothes avoiding the check. Ling Long wants to catch Fu Heng’s attention, but he doesn’t look at her. So she pretends to trip, Wei Yingluo tells her not to flirt with him otherwise she will lose her life. But Ling Long doesn’t listen to her, and hates Wei Yingluo more. Fu Heng is interested in Wei Yingluo, but she ignores him. He tells her not to look down on him.

Story of Yanxi Palace Chinese Drama Recap: Episode 4

Emperor loves Empress, and allows Fu Heng to see his sister. Fu Heng argues with Empress, and throws off her long life lock since she misses her dead child, and eats nothing. He reminds her not to forget her status. But she loses her temper, and thinks emperor forgot the child after their child Yong Lian died.

Empress finds the long life lock at the garden. Fu Heng is disappointed with his sister, and tells her that their family is bullied. He hopes his sister can cheer herself up, and leaves an box to her. But she ignores him. He runs into Imperial Concubine Chun, and asks her to persuade his sister.

Empress sees maid Hong Long just cried out, and asks about it. Imperial Concubine Chun reveals Hong Long is delay to go out of palace because of nobody takes the duty, and reminds Empress to go back to work. Empress realizes her neglect of duty. She opens the box finding the letter emperor wrote that giving the title of crown prince to Young Lian, and realizes he is sad as well. She thinks she is a sinner.

The next, she accepts the greeting of other imperial concubines, and dresses up. She blames Imperial Concubine Gao for didn’t respect her, and announces that she will go back to work. She arranges someone else to take care Imperial Concubine Yu, and lets her talk to her if she is bullied. Imperial Concubine Gao talks back to Empress for Yi Bing’s case, but everybody are on Empress’s side. Imperial Concubine Gao thinks she cannot defeat her since Empress didn’t do her job too long.

Ling Long tells Imperial Concubine Gao that Wei Yingluo mentioned the loquat was poisonous, and wants to get rid of Wei Yingluo with her hand. Imperial Concubine Gao sends her followers to arrest Wei Yingluo, but Wei Yingluo pretends she is silly. But Imperial Concubine Gao doesn’t believe it, and gives her tons of foods to her. She doesn’t allow her to leave until she eats it up.

Class Discussion

What did you think was interesting in that episode?

Discuss in terms of the following reviewing categories:

  • Story, plot, genre, style.
  • Social and historical  themes and their significance.
  • Creative craft elements including, for example, quality of script, direction and performances, visual design and cinematography,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.

OK, now let’s read a review article that focuses on gender issues (first a quick question: gender = sex? shi bu shi?)

Sex and the (Forbidden) City: Concubine Drama “Yanxi Palace” Becomes Smash Hit in the #MeToo Era by Sizhuo Huang Aug 27 2018 @

The Yanxi Palace was originally constructed in the year of 1420 in the Forbidden City, during the Ming Dynasty. From the Ming to the end of the Qing Dynasty, many forgotten concubines lived and died there. Shortly thereafter, a Chinese plane dropped a bomb on the Palace, dooming the residence to oblivion.

Yet now Yanxi Palace is on the lips of millions of Chinese across the country and the site where it once stood has become the most popular area to visit in the Forbidden City. It’s all because of The Story of Yanxi Palace (????), a 70 hour-long episodic drama set during Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1711-1799). The final episode was released this past weekend on iQIYI, the so-called “Netflix of China”, and the show has broken a world record for garnering more than 500 million views in a single day (on August 12).

In total, it’s topped 10 billion views and iQIYI has inked deals to sell the drama to 70 countries worldwide.

So why has this historic drama replaced The Rap of China as the biggest hit of the summer? Primarily, the plot — and its tackling of some very modern day storylines.

The Story of Yanxi Palace is adapted from historical texts and emphasizes the personal goals of concubines aside from simply sleeping with the Emperor. Since this drama is teeming with pretty contemporary conversations, much of the audience can see parallels with modern day office politics, as the concubines strive for promotions while sabotaging their rivals’ prospects.

Wei Yingluo, the heroine of the show, was born in a low-class Han family and is expected to be humble and obedient. However, she is just the opposite. She entered the Manchu-dominated Forbidden City as an intelligent seamstress, sharpening her skills and fighting against backstabbers head-on. Through myriad palace intrigues, she cleverly exposes the scheming of the show’s villainous characters amid a powerful narrative of revenge, as Wei looks to find the man who raped and murdered her sister in the City.

Meanwhile, unlike other servants in the Forbidden City, she never sees herself as simply a meek slave of the royal family, and attempts to fight her way to a position of power in the harem, even tangling with the Empress herself.

“Yingluo is like a young woman in contemporary society who relishes challenges,” says Tiffany Li, a graduate student at Peking University. “She shows how women at the time were able to use whatever means at their disposal to take advantage of men’s weaknesses – namely, their obsession with beautiful faces.”

The way the show tackles traditional gender roles has not gone unnoticed in media commentaries either. “Yanxi indicates the popularity and evolution of feminism in China,” comments a recent article from DWNews. “Women don’t have to grin and bear it as they used to be but are able to think critically and independently.”

Hence, Yanxi Palace’s Yingluo Wei has become a symbol of getting rid of traditional hierarchy and challenging the patriarchy, which aligns with its main audience – young women with passion and courage to fight for their own dreams independent of men. The show echoes some of the social currents of the day, with an increasing number of Chinese women bravely disclosing their adversities in the workplace. Despite government attempts to censor it, the #MeToo movement in China is now gaining traction.

After intermittent accusations and some sustained censorship as Hollywood and subsequently broader society in the West were rocked by #MeToo scandals, China’s own movement has seen a resurgence since accusations made by Luo Qianqian at the start of this year. Beginning in academia, the movement has spread to other areas of society, with more and more women speaking publicly about their harassment.

In July, one alleged victim published an article on the internet about workplace harassment by Zhang Wen, a celebrity in the philanthropic circles. His wrongdoing was corroborated by female intellectuals such as Jiang Fangzhou and Yi Xiaohe. Yet in his response, Zhang stigmatized the girl by arguing that she is not a “good girl” and what happened was only a one-night stand.

Yanxi Palace‘s run has therefore coincided with misogynistic attitudes and traditional gender stereotypes being thrust into the public spotlight with some very real-life consequences. These discussions are also giving women the power to realize that they do not have to regard themselves as a taciturn and vulnerable second sex. And now, they’re seeing this perspective echoed on a smash hit TV drama.

OK, now for the second article.

Why China is Getting Worse for Women

By Teng Jing Xuan, Caixin, 2018-12-19

China is becoming a more unequal place for women, a new report says.

The nation ranks 103rd out of 149 countries for gender equality, slipping from last year’s 100 out of 144, according to an annual report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Friday.

That puts China behind Myanmar, Romania and Russia.

This marks the fifth year in a row that China’s Gender Gap Index score has fallen. The index measures women’s opportunities in politics, education, health and the economy.

A major driver of the growing gender gap has been a widening disparity between men’s and women’s economic participation. While nearly 70% of countries have narrowed the economic gender gap in the past 10 years, China’s gap actually widened over the same period, a WEF spokesperson told Caixin.

China’s economic participation score has been falling steadily since a high of 0.696 in 2009, WEF figures show. This year it is 0.653. A figure of 1.0 means perfect equality, while zero means complete inequality.

“This is a worrying sign as it means China’s talent pipeline isn’t being optimized, which will have an impact on future economic competitiveness, particularly when China does have high levels of women’s education,” the spokesperson said.

Narrowing the economic gender gap is especially important in “high-growth areas such as AI and computing,” as “these will become ever more prevalent in all industries in the future. Thus, gender inequalities here have the potential to reinforce inequalities in the future if they are not tackled urgently,” the spokesperson said.

Chinese women lag the furthest behind men in the political arena, where the vanishing number of women in the National People’s Congress and State Council — the Chinese parliament and cabinet respectively — put the country’s political empowerment gap at 83.6%.

Women remain drastically underrepresented in politics all around the world. Given current trends, it will take 107 years to close the global political empowerment gap, according to the report.

And while China, like most other countries, has nearly perfect equality in terms of health care, far more boys than girls are born each year. This serious gender imbalance at birth puts it at the bottom of the WEF’s rankings in terms of women’s health and survival.

Because of the similar chances of males and females being born, a low recorded female population at birth suggests that large numbers of women may be “missing” in a country due to factors like sex-selective abortion, or parents’ unwillingness to register or report their daughters’ births — a known issue in China under its now-defunct one-child rule.

China is one of only four countries in the world where the share of girls at birth is below 91%. The others are India, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The natural ratio is 94.4%, which is also the ratio in 113 countries.

The government and businesses “both have a clear role to play in accelerating progress,” the WEF spokesperson said.

“One thing that is clear is that proactive action — in the form of clear and achievable policy prescriptions — is needed to address the gender gap. Otherwise, history has shown that inertia will set in.”

OK now lets discuss The Story of the Yanxi Palace in light of the two articles. The first links it to a particular moment in Chinese gender relations, and the second briefly summarizes the current state of gender equality in China.

Class Discussion

So, in your small groups, discuss the following.

  • What sorts of representations of women does the tv series involve?
  • Why/how are these kinds of historical women’s stories interesting for talking about contemporary gender relations?
  • What is your perspective on the points raised in the first article in relation to The Story of the Yanxi Palace?
  • What do you think of gender relations today? Equitable? Inequitable? A problem that needs to be addressed? If so, in what ways? What are the challenges to achieving equality?



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