Like many folks, I watched Story of Yanxi Palace and followed immediately with Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace. Due to the proximity in airing time, as well as the historic background, the two dramas are bound to invite comparison. As with most Chinese palace dramas, both focus on the ladies of the inner court, but what makes Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace stand out from Story of Yanxi Palace and other dramas in this genre is the attention it paid to the development of Emperor Qianlong, played by Nie Yuan and Wallace Huo respectively.
|Nie Yuan in Story of Yanxi Palace|
Emperor Qianlong was a relatively young emperor – only 24 years of age when he took the throne. His mother, the Dowager Empress, was of the powerful Niuguru clan and sought to plant different people around him in order to keep tabs and feed her back with news. This included three of his consorts – Concubine Mei (玫嬪), Consort Shu (舒妃) and Concubine Qing (慶嬪) – as well as the Imperial Doctor.
Out of filial piety, he was unable to directly confront his mother. Instead, Emperor Qianlong secretly had these women take birth control medicine after spending the night with him in order to prevent them from having children of royal descent.
There were also a lot of older statesmen in the council who had been there since the time of his father and grandfather. The Emperor married female relatives (e.g., daughters, sisters, cousins) to these statesmen to solidify his power base, which meant that a lot of times he turned a blind eye to some of the schemes that took place. This included his first queen, Empress Fucha (富察皇后), Noble Consort Gao (高晞月) and Ah Ruo (阿箬).
|Wallace Huo in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace|
In his later years, Emperor Qianlong was equally paranoid towards those around him (which ultimately caused the demise of his relationship with Ruyi). However, he was a lot more secured in his reign, having brought the nation into a golden age, and could afford to be more unrestrained. This led to him forcing Consort Rong (寒香見) into the inner court and cavorting with prostitutes on one of his trips to the South. There is a scene where Imperial Noble Consort Ling (炩皇貴妃), the main antagonist on the show, is described as the manifestation of the Emperor’s vices. She alone indulges his debauchery, which partly explains why the Emperor keeps her around for many years. I think her description sums up the change in the Emperor perfectly.
Finally, he sought alliances with other Mongolian rulers and consistently married the daughters of noble clansmen and elevated them to high positions within the inner palace. Their backgrounds secured the positions of these women, even without bearing the Emperor any children. This included Consort Ying (穎妃) and Consort Yu (豫妃). The Emperor, in return, also married his sister and his daughter to Mongolian rulers.
Thus, the story of Ruyi is as much about the Emperor as it is about her because ultimately their fates are intertwined and like all of the women in the Forbidden City, her fate is dependent on the Emperor’s whims and fancies. As a result, his character is more development and multi-dimensional. I don’t think we ever fully understand him (i.e., I wonder if he truly ever loved Ruyi) and that’s probably how everybody else in the palace feels.
Let me know if you agree/disagree or if you would like me to discuss another character!