Qianlong’s 6th year February 2, 1741 Stop looking around! This is the Forbidden City. It’s really big! This is the world’s most honorable place How tolerable is it for you all to indiscriminately look at it? Sister Wuya is really pretty today. Sister Wuya your hairpin is really beautiful. This hairpin is also beautiful. Look over there! Who are they? They are the women who have passed the second-round selection and are preparing for the hall selection. Their clothes are so beautiful! If I can put on such beautiful clothes, I will certainly be very pretty. These are all noble women from prestigious families. They become masters right away after entering the palace. This kind of family background like ours, even if we passed the talent selection and the training, we still can only serve as a palace maid. You are daydreaming! You despicable servant! This fragrant cloud gauze robe of mine is specially purchased from Jiangnan. It is prepared just for today’s hall selection. Now that you dirtied it, what do you want me to wear to go meet the emperor? It’s all my fault. I… I will wipe it clean for you. Get off! Xiaozhu, please spare my life! Xiaozhu, please spare my life! (Xiaozhu, literally means ‘little mistress’, is a title for calling a low-rank concubine of the emperor during Qing Danasty) You tell me, should I spare her? Sister Wuya She wasn’t intentional. Just spare her. I didn’t ask you. (Aunt Fang, senior lady-in-waiting) Xiaozhu Wuya These girls all are palace maids who just entered the palace. Stupid like pigs You want to beat and want to scold them, both are feasible but must by all means not get angry and ruin your own body. Since you dirtied my clothes, then your hand will be the compensation. It hurts! Don’t! Don’t! Xiaozhu Wuya, please highly lift your foot. You, a measly palace maid, still dare to vainly hope that I show mercy? I am a lowly person whose words are unimportant. Naturally I do not have qualifications. But today you will take part in the hall selection. It is a very happy affair. It is unsuitable to be tainted, reeking of blood. It can hinder your good mood and good fortune. You actually are quite the talker. However, my current shoes are still dirtied. I am not happy. Xiaozhu has unique craftsmanship. Carved the sole of your shoe with a lotus flower, but still lacked one thing. I am so bold as to hope to help you with concerns on behalf of Xiaozhu. How are you to help me with concerns? Linglong! Give me your sachet. I… Hurry up! Please lift up your foot, my lady. This young palace maid is quite beautiful. So what? Still is she not from a bondservant family background? A natural slave girl A fate of lifting shoes for Sister Wuya Please try to walk a few steps, my lady. Sister Wuya The lotus flowers are all printed on the ground! So unique! So special! I seldom read books. I heard a storyteller say Concubine Pan of the Southern Qi Dynasty, golden lotus paste to the ground walking among them under her foot is just like lotus springs from her every step, so beautiful that all creation cannot be. Therefore, she fully experienced being doted on. Today, Yingluo’s insignificant skill is to embed rose cosmetic powder into the sole of your shoe. Wish Xiaozhu to rise steadily and to be able to fulfill your cherished desire. OK, just because of this sycophant manner of yours, I just spare her one life. Jixiang How are you so stupid? Just almost hurt us. You still have the nerve to criticize? A moment ago, if it weren’t for your words, then I would not have made a mistake at all. Look! All right, all right! Palace maids who continue to be employed all must pass both check points of holding a broom and embroidery. Cannot only talk glibly. Need real skills to do it. Let’s go. Quickly! Yingluo, that Wuya was so mean why did you help her to pass the audution? I have heard many things about the palace, both good and bad. Whether what I did was good or bad, I cannot be sure yet. Your majesty (wife of the emperor Qianlong), the palace audition will begin shortly. You should prepare. Your majesty (Empress Fucha) (Ming Yu) Today is their day. What do I need to prepare? I would rather stay here and tend to the flowers. If you dont go, it will give that woman in Chuxiu Palace a chance. Mingyu Your majesty, the audition is important, you should at least be present. Otherwise, your mother-in-law will blame you for not doing your duty. You younger girls. Each more nagging than the last. Very well. Let’s go. Good. We will help you get ready. (Noble Consort Gao) Peace to your majesty. There is no need to stand on ceremony. Your majesty, some of the girls chosen this time are quite pretty, several remarkably so. Auditions in the Qing dynasty are different from before. Girls chosen should be from a noble family Only those who are both well-mannered and moral may stay around the emperor. It has nothing to do with appearance. Even so, we can’t choose ugly girls in case the Emperor cannot stand to look at them, and it may also affect the appearances of the imperial descendants. Who could ever compete with Noble Consort Gao in terms of beauty? Your majesty, you flatter me. However even the peony, superior of all flowers, is not admired by all. His Majesty has arrived! Peace be upon you, your majesty. Don’t be so ceremonious. (Emperor Qianlong) The selection may now commence. Daughter of Socoro Daojin, Minister of the Court of Judicature, Socoro Yuli Fifteen years of age. Today was very windy. She must be exhausted from standing up too long. Your majesty Your Highness, this one is too skinny. It seems like a single gust of wind could blow her away. Remove her name. Give her a flower. Daughter of Gan Tangling, Minister of the Imperial Stables, Gan Ruyu Age: 16 years Have you eaten five meals today? Remove her name. Give her a flower. Daughter of Zhangjia Sixian, Deputy Governor of Suncheon, Zhangjia Ruhong Age:16 years Does this one cover herself in soy sauce and sunbathe every day? His Majesty said you were dark Such a young age, and so many tan lines. Remove her name. Give her a flower. Daughter of Wuya Xiongshan, minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices, Wuya Qingdai Age: 17 years What is that on the ground? What is going on with your shoe? Replying to Your Majesty, I call it “lotus steps.” Take her shoes off so I can see them. Yes Sir. I see you have carved lotuses on the bottom of your shoes. And she has added powder to the bottom of her shoes. How thoughtful. Take her away Your Majesty Your Majesty I I’m just pretending, I thought it would help me do well in the audition Your Majesty please forgive me Your Majesty I am innocent, I am innocent Your Majesty She only wanted to do well in the audition, If you don’t like her, give her a flower and have done with it. We’ll dismiss her from the palace, and she may still have some degree of dignity. I am desperate to be selected for the imperial harem, If I am expelled from the palace in this way, I will bring shame on my family. I don’t know how I would live with myself. I have already given the order. Daughters of Han Bannermen are forbidden from binding their feet. In today’s imperial auditions, there are many girls with bound feet. And not only is it girls from Han Bannermen families who indulge in such decadence, even the Wuya family (they are Manchu) has picked it up. Pan Yunu is wanton seductress Xiao Baojuan is an incompetent muddle-headed Emperor In imitating her, are you deliberately trying to disturb imperial court? If we allow such girls into the harem, it will doubtless cause trouble. Not only am I expelling her from the palace, I will also punish her father. As a warning to others. Take her away. Your majesty! Your majesty! I admit my mistake, it was all that evil servant’s fault! Your majesty! Your majesty! It was all that servant! Spare me your majesty! Spare me! How frightful Your majesty I admit my mistake! It was all that servant’s fault! What did she do wrong? Note: Han Chinese practiced footbinding of women’s feet Manchu women do not bind feet Qing emperor banned Han Bannermen families from footbinding as well Because intermarrige between Manchu, Mongol and Han Bannermen is allowed But Bannermen not allowed to marry Han outside of the Banner System Manager Wu, welcome. I have come to have a look at this year’s intake of ladies-in-waiting Manager Wu, there is still some time before the examination ends, why don’t you go have some tea? Please show me the to the office. Of course. This way, please. In order to become a lady-in-waiting, one must be intelligent and dexterous. And a fool like you will be kicked out of the palace as soon as you enter. If you ask me, you don’t need to waste your energy. What a shame. Linglong the two of us, we grew up together hurry, help me think of something. Please? What do you want me to do? I haven’t finished my embroidery either. Dry your eyes. Don’t let Auntie Zhang see. Are you crazy?! We have to embroider a golden koi, she’s stained it with blood, there’s nothing you can do to save it now. There’s only a short amount of time left, you won’t be able to start over. I have two stitches left can you help me finish it off? What a suck up. No, I can’t get you involved, give me back mine. Time is up. Please put down your embroidery. Manager Wu, Your embroidery is delicate and elegant. Not bad. This is..? Replying to Manager Wu, this is double-sided embroidery. Good. Very good. Not bad. Sloppy. What is this supposed to be? This peony looks so lifelike, in both shape and spirit. This embroidery is extraordinary. I think she is the best. Yes, sir. Manager Wu Why don’t you look at Wei Yingluo’s embroidery next? She took the longest, so hers should be the best. Let me see. Auntie Zhang, So delicate, the needlework is not bad either. Manager Wu, these girls really are something special. Manager Wei Yingluo cheated! What? Daughter of Shilang Nalanyongshou, Nalan Chunxue Age: 16 years What happened to your ears? Replying to your majesty, My grandmother says, wearing three earrings and wearing flowers on the shoes, is a long-standing tradition in my family. It is to remind us that even though we may no longer be in our native lands, we should not forget out roots. Well said. The Qing dynasty has existed for many years now, this old Manchu habit has gradually been forgotten. I have made them study Mandarin, and learn our ways but I haven’t told them to forget who they are Keep her name. Thank you, your majesty! Daughter of Minister of the Court of Imperial Entertainments, Lu Shilong, Lu Wanwan Age: 16 years I have many things to do. I’m leaving. Your majesty, then, what shall we do about the audition? Empress you can take it from here. I trust your judgement. Since his majesty has left, there is nothing left to see. I’m leaving too. I saw it with my own eyes! There was blood on the cloth. And Wei Yingluo swapped them and helped her finish it. The palace has rules, if two people cheat, both must be dismissed. Is that true? I.. What? Manager Wu asked you a question, spit it out! Auntie Zhang it was just bad luck Who says we cheated? If you don’t believe me, look. Look This was an embroidered peony, but since that takes a long time, it required both myself and Jixiang to complete it together But you – If I may ask, When I gave it to Jixiang, was the peony not completely embroidered? Also, When Jixiang gave me her embroidery, it was only missing a few stitches. Isn’t that so? Since both were incomplete, how can it be said that we cheated? I’ve never seen anything like it. Manager Wu, look Very well. That’s certainly a good idea. You must all remember, when you work in the palace, you must speak little, work a lot. the concubines detest tale telling. Take her away. Strike her off. Manager Wu, I would never dare – Manager Wu I was wrong. Forgive me! Frogive me! Manager Wu! Jixiang, get up. These two are excellent embroiderers, they will become seamstresses. Yes, sir. Your majesty, you are too forgiving. Watching Noble Consort Gao today, she was full of it. She really overstepped the mark, with her snide comments. Are you not angry with her? You have been in the palace for many years, do you still not know what kind of person she is? Today was the day of the imperial audition. We cannot afford to irritate each other because of such trifles. What trifle? I’m not used to seeing such arrogance. You are the mother of the nation, mother of all under heaven. And what is she? She wants to be queen of the Changchun palace, Mingyu, My lady, I am uneasy for you. Take a step back, and examine the great blue sky. We must control ourselves. In the palace, if we squabble over everything, how can we live? But the person his majesty most values is you, my lady. The favour he shows you is deepest in the palace, why should you have to put up with this? Mingyu, our lady is tired. Your majesty, His majesty has instructed us to bring this board, along with a painting of “Lady Taisi instructing her Son” Does her majesty wish to see them now? Okay. Please take them away. But the board, and the painting… You may hang up the board. As for the painting, choose an auspicious day to hang it. Please get to it. Yes. You may also leave. I wish to rest on my own for a while. What are you doing? Can you not see that our mistress is unhappy? What are you playing at? His majesty only gave her a painting. Why should that make her unhappy? Do you know what “Lady Taisi instructing her Son” signifies? Taisi, was King Wen’s concubine King Wu’s mother. She was intelligent and virtuous, moral and noble. So much so that she was loved by both the king and the people, Isn’t that a good thing? It means that his majesty wants our lady to become like Taisi. The second prince died three years ago, her majesty has been depressed ever since. Nothing makes her happy any more. Today, his majesty is reminding the empress to not forget her duty to the country. No. His majesty is telling her that no matter what happens, she fully deserves her position as head of the imperial harem. You shouldn’t forget his majesty worries about the Changchun Palace Because of what happened with the second prince, her majesty has distanced herself from the emperor. “Lady Xiling and the silkworms”!? Why are you so angry, my lady? Is his majesty trying to remind me to be a diligent little concubine? My lady, Since entering the palace she’s been such a high and mighty Qing empress Her annual gifts include a thousand ounces of silver, four hundred more than me! The Changchun palace uses golden plates, whereas the Chuxun palace only has silver plates. She uses an Yijia sedan chair, I have to use an Yizhang. And at the new year festival she was much better rewarded than I. I have put up with all of this, but his majesty, what am I to him? His majesty doesn’t even look at me There is only room for her in his eyes and his heart. How am I to stand this? Giving me that stupid painting, is him telling me that I’m going too far, and bullying his precious empress. My lady, why are you so upset? You have misunderstood. Misunderstood? What have I misunderstood? My lady, his majesty has given gifts to all of the palaces, and has instructed the imperial artists to create these twelve paintings depicting historical concubines so that we may hang them in the palace. The Zhongcui palace has been given the “Xuhoufeng’an” painting. The Qixiang palace has been given the “Jianghoutuozan” painting. Does this not tell you that the emperor values the two of you above the empress? If you ask me his majesty is excited. He wants everbody to imitate the pious concubines of history. My lady, you need not be upset. You are gifted with a smooth tongue. Sit down. I have no gift. I merely reflect my lady’s brilliance. Then, what do you think his majesty means by this? If I had to guess, I would say that the twelve paintings taken together, represent the ideal concubine in his majesty’s eyes. For example, “Lady Xu’s Complaint” means we should emulate Lady Xu who was brave and outspoken when the Taizong emperor made mistakes Then does “Lady Cao in the fields” mean he wants us all to go and plant rice in a field? My lady, His majesty wants the concubines to be like the Renzong emperor’s empress. Modest and thrifty, with respect for the importance of agriculture. In “Jieyu and the bear” he hopes that someone will protect him in times of distress, like Feng Jieyu did for Emperor Yuan. In “The Case of Lady Xu” well, it goes without saying, it means we should be filial to the empress dowager. So you mean to say that his majesty wants us to be virtuous and moral, beautiful and elegant, hardworking and filial, as well as brave and outspoken? Exactly, my lady. My lady is truly wise. Does he want a woman or a goddess? Give it a rest, mother. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t want to hear it? Then what do you want to hear? You’ve been by his majesty’s side for many years, and you are still only a consort. His majesty never comes to the Chengqian palace, so there is no difference between here and the cold palace. The Gao family are rising through the ranks, and you’re not fighting for his affections. And you’re not fighting for the glory of your family. What is the point of you even being here then? Mother Woe is me I’ve been working hard for all these years, twenty years! Can’t you ask the emperor for a favour for your poor mother? Ask him to promote you, won’t you? Mother, we cannot interfere with the workings of the imperial harem And I will not make his majesty feel akward. Zhen’er! Awkward? Very well. You stay here and be bitter then. I’ll see if the emperor will take pity on you. And pay more attention to you. Why did I have to have such a gutless daughter as you? My lady, why didn’t you try to mollify her? What is your aim in all this? I wish a long life for my husband I wish him health I wish for a long and happy marriage, like the legendary swallow. Your majesty, if I may be so bold, Are these twelve paintings meant to show your hopes for the concubines? Your majesty, I am but half a man, but I have been observing the women in the Forbidden City for some time. These women are truly enchanting. Their figures are alluring They can compose poetry and songs, they can play instruments and sing which is really quite extraordinary. If you are seeking thousands of virtues within one person, where can you expect to find them? I think they’re idle. But Idle. They have no concerns. So I gave them the paintings, that they may reflect on them for a while. Reflect on them? What’s the point of that? Because they are nearly as foolish as you are. I am just reminding them that they have to be virtuous. And if they are to live up to my imagination, they will need to take a few days, to figure out how to please me. Which should give us a few days of peace and quiet. Your majesty, have you gone to all this effort, just to play a trick on them? Hand out the provisions! Shut the gates! Be careful of the torches! Kneel down, quickly! Avert your eyes! So that’s the Yijia sedan chair? You idiot. The sedan chair of the empress is called “Yijia” That was Noble Consort Gao. Hers is called “Yizhang” What about the other concubines? What they use is called “Caizhang” But only one palace may use it. Lingluo, aren’t you curious? Auntie, where is Noble Consort Gao going? You needn’t worry where the concubines go. Put your eyeballs back in. You don’t need to know. Let’s go. Your majesty Everyone is here. My lady, Consort Chun has a cold and has not yet recovered. She is ill for half the days of the year. She truly is a sickly beast. My lady is correct. Consort Chun is ill every few days. Her constitution is weak Yesterday we discussed it, and we want to go and visit her. The empress looks after Consort Chun when she’s ill, there’s no need for you. Yes. You are so often inseparable, why are you a lonely shadow today? Lady Yi, Noble Consort Gao is speaking to you. Where is Lady Yu? Replying to Noble Consort Gao, Lady Yu is not well. So is absent. She’s unwell again? I don’t know what evil wind is blowing through the Forbidden City. Everyone is ill. Should we invite an imperial doctor? I also said the same thing. But Lady Yu does not like taking medicine. She just has a light cough. It isn’t that serious. Are you sure we don’t need to call a doctor? She will be better in a few days Noble Consort needn’t worry We needn’t cause a fuss Everyone, today’s imperial audition has finished. The new concubines will enter the palace in a few days. If you are ill, I suggest you get better. If you are not ill, I sugest you buck your ideas up. Don’t let the new girls surpass you. Yes Break it up.