Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) is a Chinese period drama series created by Yu Zheng. It is an original screenplay written by Zhou Mo, and later developed into a novel by Xiao Lian Mao. Starring Wu Jinyan, Charmaine Sheh, Qin Lan, Nie Yuan, Tan Zhuo and Xu Kai, the series premiered on iQiyi from July 19, 2018 to August 26, 2018. During its run it was streamed more than 15 billion times.

Plot introduction

In the sixth year of Qianlong’s reign, a young girl Wei Yingluo entered the Forbidden City as a palace girl/lady-in-waiting in order to seek the truth of her elder sister’s death. After investigation, she found that the Duke “Absurd”, personal name Hongzhou had something to do with her sister’s death, and she was determined to seek justice.

The Fuca Empress who was virtuous – worried that Yingluo would go astray, strived to give her comfort and help. Under the careful guidance of the Empress, Wei Yingluo gradually grew into an honest and courteous palace lady, putting aside resentment and working hard in her life. The unfortunate death of the Fuca Empress caused a series of misunderstandings between Yingluo and the Qianlong Emperor, but eventually they went from being mutually hostile to being supportive of each other. With her courage, an astute and flexible mind, as well as a generous heart, Yingluo resolved the disputes in the court many a time, and finally arose to be the Noble Consort Ling who contributed to prosperity during the Qianlong period.

It was not until before Yingluo’s death that she told the Qianlong Emperor about the Fuca Empress’s last wish before passing which was for her to assist HongLi (the Qianlong Emperor’s personal name) in his reign and to be a bright monarch, and only till then the Qianlong Emperor came to appreciate Empress Fuca’s effort.

In the 60th year of Qianlong’s reign, the Qianlong Emperor declared that the son of Yingluo, the Jiaqing Emperor, personal name Yongyan, as the Crown Prince, and at the same time, promoted the mother, now the Imperial Noble Consort Ling as the Xiaoyichun Empress. Yingluo kept her promise to the Fuca Emperess and finally realised her commitment with her own life.

Synopsis

In 18th century Beijing (18 March 1741), Wei Yingluo enters the court of the Qianlong Emperor, Aisin Gioro Hongli, as one of the palace embroiderers to secretly investigate her beloved sister’s mysterious death. At first believing the imperial guard Fuca Fuheng to be the prime suspect, Yingluo schemes to approach his sister, the Empress Fuca Rongyin, and succeeds in getting transferred from her embroidery unit to the Empress’s Changchun Palace as her maid. Over time, she learns that the Fuca siblings are honest and kindhearted people, innocent of the crime, and develops romantic affections for Fuheng, who is admired by many around the Palace, including Qianlong’s Consort Chun who allies herself to Empress Fuca because of her crush on her brother.

Though Yingluo is not noble by birth and is illiterate, the kindhearted Empress Fuca teaches her how to read and write, along with all the proper etiquette and mannerisms for noblewomen at the time. Yingluo also helps Empress Fuca survive a series of maneuvers by her chief rivals, becoming a trusted friend and confidant while never forgetting her own agenda of avenging her sister’s murder. In time, Yingluo discovers that the actual murderer is a Consort of the late Emperor Yongzheng and mother of Qianlong’s half brother, and hatches a plot to drive the culprit to her untimely death. Empress Fuca, for fear of Qianlong’s fury over Yingluo’s actions, banishes her to the palace sanitation unit to escape his decree of punishment. There, Yingluo befriends a conniving eunuch, Yuan Chunwang, who is subsequently revealed to be a bastard son of Emperor Yongzheng.

Without Yingluo, Empress Fuca falls victim to the machinations of Noble Consort Gao that puts her in a coma. News reaches Yingluo who secretly visits Empress Fuca’s chamber to sit by her mistress’s side and care for her. Yingluo’s devotion to Empress Fuca convinces Qianlong to relent on his tough stance towards her and allow her to return as maid. Empress Fuca is able to wake from her coma, and becomes pregnant again. She goes through almost life-ending labor to give birth to another son, who is immediately the target of assassination by the duplicitous Consort Chun, devastated for having been rejected by Fuheng. Empress Fuca is driven to suicide when she is not able to save her newborn in a bizarre fire that rose overnight. After Empress Fuca’s death, Yingluo is sent to live and guard over her mistress’s grave at the Old Summer Palace. She stays there with Yuan Chunwang until one year (1750), during an imperial visit by Qianlong and his consorts to Fuca’s grave, Yingluo learns that Consort Chun was responsible for her late mistress’s suicide. She decides once again to enter the Forbidden City and exact retribution on the evildoers.

In order to achieve the goal, Yingluo skillfully charms Qianlong, becoming part of his harem, and is bestowed a title, Consort Ling. With meticulous planning, she topples her rivals one after another, including the villainess, now Noble Consort Chun, even insofar as exposing her role in Empress Fuca’s death, which leads to her fall in the hands of Yingluo’s archrival, the newly named Empress Hoifa-Nara (1751). Yingluo’s captivation of Qianlong brings her numerous threats, such as from newcomer Concubine Shun, a beautiful and cunning woman dead set to even the score with Qianlong and Fuheng for having been forced into political marriage in the Forbidden City. Framing Yingluo for attempted assassination, Concubine Shun deftly teams up with Empress Hoifa-Nara to put Yingluo under house arrest and pull strings to starve her nearly to death. Nevertheless, Yingluo is able to reverse her situation, reveal Shun’s treachery, and restore Qianlong’s affections for her. Having reached stalemate at this point, Yingluo negotiates for a truce with Hoifa-Nara on the condition that they both not harm any children of the palace in spite of the rivalry.

A decade later (1765), however, the nihilistic Yuan Chunwang betrays Yingluo and joins Hoifa-Nara, causing a series of mishaps in the palace that even force the Empress Dowager’s hand and break her hold on power. Hongzhou, the Emperor’s brother, also plots to sabotage Qianlong’s Southern river tour. On a chosen night, a band of rebels suddenly storms onto the royal vessel just as a fire engulfs the Empress Dowager’s cabin, prompting Qianlong to charge into the flaming cabin to save his mother, seemingly perishing himself in the process.

The next morning, as Hongzhou gallantly appears to restore order from the overnight coup, Qianlong and the Empress Dowager emerge safely from a secret passageway designed by Fuheng and expose Hongzhou’s plan of treachery. After Qianlong sentences Hongzhou to death, Yuan Chunwang gets on his knees in front of the Emperor and claims he is a long-lost son of the Yongzheng Emperor. The Empress Dowager denies this, which drives Yuan Chunwang into madness, leaving others unable to determine whether or not it is to protect Qianlong. At this time, Consort Ling comes out of hiding under the protection of the Emperor’s guards, prompting Hoifa-Nara to protest once and for all the Emperor’s lavished attention for Yingluo alone. In a fit of rage and jealousy, she cuts off her own hair, a taboo in Manchu tradition analogous to an outcry for divorce, effectively cursing the entire Aisin Gioro clan.

In the end, Empress Hoifa-Nara is permitted to keep her title, but loses all of the Emperor’s affections. Wei Yingluo is elevated to the most powerful title: ‘Imperial Noble Consort”. Remembering Empress Fuca’s teachings, she embodies all the qualities of a virtuous consort, and supports the Emperor until death.

Reception

The series has generated buzz online for its engaging plot of a “Cinderella” tale with Chinese characteristics. It set the single-day online viewership record in China with a total of 530 million views, and has attracted a cumulative over 13 billion views since August 2018. The drama is the most viewed Chinese language drama of 2018.

It was also the most Googled show on earth in 2018, despite Google being blocked in the mainland.

Many viewers praised the story, because unlike the usual amicable heroines, the main character Wei Yingluo fights fire with fire and outmaneuvers her opponents. It also received praise for its well-developed cast of characters and exciting interpretation by the actors; beautiful cinematography and intricate costume design; as well as its accurate portrayal of history and Qing-dynasty settings. Owing to its success, there has been an increased number of visitors to the Palace Museum in Beijing, which is where all the main characters in the show used to live in times gone by.

There was uproar in China after a Vietnamese website managed to acquire episodes not yet shown in China and asked visitors to the website to answer questions confirming their Vietnamese identity before the website loads. “This service is for Vietnamese people only. Please answer the following questions: To which country do the Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands) belong? Vietnam, China, Philippines or Japan?”. The only correct answer to the question is Vietnam. Copies of the episodes were later removed from the platform.

Edited by staff

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