Before even getting to the start of the show, you are greeted by a very lovely instrumental opening theme song that is most likely played by some traditional Chinese instruments.
You first see a babe in casket while the parent is carrying goods to their destination. The casket is somehow balancing on this rack that is tethered to two other baskets full of goods.
Another adult holds the hand of another child as they carry tools for their job. Then we see a little girl in an alleyway with a basket backpack on her back.
She’s crying and her mentor asks her what’s wrong. It turns out she went to the kitchen to get some charcoal for her mistress but the workers there refused and harassed her to leave.
Her mentor decides to take matters into her own hands and heads towards the kitchens to try again, getting into a fight with them. We still don’t know her name yet.
While this young lady struggles with the other kitchen workers, another person comes onto the premises introduced as Sister Zhou. The boss lady in charge of the kitchen rushes to greet her and it’s obvious that there’s some internal politics going on here.
Sister Zhou is apparently regarded in a high position (probably due to the Madam Lin lady she serves?). Oh and it’s revealed in the conversation between Miss Gan and Xiaodie (who’s the servant trying to get the charcoal) that Madam Lin is currently the one in charge of the household matters.
Xiaodie recites the allotment her Lady is suppose to get each day and Sister Zhou who seems like a good person lectures Miss Gan (kitchen lady boss) about her improper behavior.
And of course, Miss Gan counter argues back saying that Xiaodie received some charcoal ahead of time and now they have to balance it out by deducting what they overtook.
Some more back and forth arguments and then Xiaodie aggressively makes a scene which earns her some charcoal.
We can see Xiaodie is an honest person when she grabs just enough to fill her basket and leaves the rest of the charcoal untouched.
“Whatever belongs to me, I will take them all. What doesn’t belong to me, I won’t even take a cent.”Xiaodie
Next, we get introduced to a husband and wife. The husband addressed his wife as “niang-zi” so this is the main wife while the others are concubines.
The wife is very strong-willed?
She slammed the table in anger when she was discussing her daughter’s marriage to a Ducal house (the Yuan’s). Oh boy, this wife has a temper and the husband knows (that’s probably why he has another wife as a favorite? The one mentioned as Madam Lin?)
The husband convinces the wife that the marriage gifts already arrived at the house so they can’t refuse the marriage between their eldest daughter (Hualan) and the Yuan’s second son.
This husband is so clever, telling the servant to deliver the marriage gifts now (after convincing the wife).
Now we get back to another courtyard where Xiaodie from earlier is coughing from all the burning smoke. It turns out the charcoal they got from the kitchen was stove charcoal and not the type for warming up the rooms.
Her mistress tells her to wear more clothing if they are cold instead of getting back at the kitchen workers. But the concern is for the two little girls who are cold: Xiaotao (the little servant her) and the 6th daughter, Minglan.
Minglan’s mother gives Xiaodie a bracelet to sell so they can get some decent charcoal.
Minglan refuses saying that this bracelet was given to her mother by her granny. She continues on saying that if they told their situation to her father he would reprimand the kitchen workers and give them their allotted charcoal.
Her mother smiles at her child’s naviety knowing that it’s not that simple.
Minglan’s mother brings up her mother-in-law, Minglan’s paternal grandmother and says that if Minglan starts living over there, she wouldn’t be cold at all. Minglan refuses this as well, saying that she cannot leave her mother alone and states that she isn’t cold.
Her mother then tells her to not bring up the matter about charcoal again.
We now get to the highlight of this episode which is Hualan (the oldest daughter of the Sheng family) and her marriage to the Yuan Ducal house. The relatives proposing the marriage on behalf of the Yuan’s come bearing gifts and wait outside of the Sheng family’s home while a servant announces her proposal to the husband and wife of the Sheng family. When they agreed, a messenger sent back the reply to allow these relatives in to celebrate.
Everyone is celebrating, eating the feast and grabbing drinks. We see Minglan and her little servant sneaking around to get some food too and then we hear that ChangFeng (aka “third brother”) is losing in a competition that involves the Eldest daughter’s proposal gifts.
ChangFeng is losing badly against his opponent, who is the young and arrogant Gu Ting Ye in a game where you toss arrows in a jar. Depending on whether the arrow lands in the jar, you get a certain amount of points.
Hualan and the grandmother are notified as well and the grandmother takes this as an opportunity to allow Hualan to learn how to take care of matters such as these. The grandmother asks her what would she do in this situation as when she is married she will have to make the decision herself.
The main wife is pissed off of course because these gifts are for her eldest daughter’s wedding and the son of a concubine is essentially ruining everything. Evident by her calling him “the little bastard”.
The main wife rushes to the scene but wonders where her husband could possibly be. Her first initial thought was that he went to visit his favored concubine, Madam Lin and rushes over to her courtyard when the audience can see the husband is actually discussing how to resolve this issue with the relatives who brought over the gifts.
Minglan’s father, Sheng Hong thinks it’s better that the relatives stop the competition because the boy winning (aka Gu Ting Ye) is the someone they brought with them to the wedding while the relatives argue differently.
They think because the gifts were delivered to the Sheng family, the gifts are now the Sheng’s so if one of the household sons wants to use them in a competition then they should be the ones stopping the competition.
Sheng Hong of course is furious and thinks they are causing trouble deliberately. Madam Lin gets notified of her son’s troubles and thinks of ways to get him out of his predicament. She suggests her servant girl to tell her son to admit his wrongdoings (so he could get a lesser punishment).
Then also tells her servant to reach out to her husband’s servant (who usually performs the beatings – Dongrong) so they could plan how her son could get away with lighter beatings. She’s very clever and also the one heavily favored upon by Sheng Hong.
Meanwhile, Minglan steps up to the plate and competes with Gu Ting Ye and we see a little showcase of her cleverness and talent. She thinks about the direction of the wind? and carefully throws the arrow into the jar that wins her the game. Before a massive gust of wind ends the competition since everyone feels like they should go inside.
Then afterwards Gu Ting Ye acquaints himself with Changbai because he’s interested in one of military maps that Changbai is studying and here is where they become friends. They swap their nicknames with each other.
We then move into some intimate moments with Minglan and her mother where her mother lectures her about not standing out since this attention will harm her in the long run. Her mother knows about the dynamics of the current family and doesn’t want Minglan to get hurt.
She tells her daughter that the eldest daughter has the backing of her mother’s powerful family and her fourth sister has the backing of her mother’s favored status while she has none of that. Her mother explains her situation and how she got marriage here.
She was sold for in exchange for medicine and comes from a poor background. The way Minglan’s mother explains the comparison highlights the difference very well.
When it gets dark, Madam Lin is seen hitting her son with one of those punishment batons? shouting “bastard, bastard” to which her son responds that he knows his wrongdoings.
The main wife comes in and glares at Madam Lin who ducks her head in submission. She brings forth her younger daughter, Rulan, in front of her father to admonish her concubine-born brother.
The main wife brings up another point, saying that in other families, concubine born children are usually raised by the main wife. However, this family is odd in the sense that Sheng Hong favors Madam Lin so much that she raises her own children. Madam Lin admits her son’s wrongdoings, blaming on him being “drunk” and seeks forgiveness.
She knows the main wife won’t let her son off without some beatings so pleads with her to make it no more than 30 beatings and have Dongrong, her husband’s trusted servant to perform the beatings.
Sheng Hong glances at Dongrong with a certain look and Dongrong gives a faint nod. The main wife’s anger is appeased and everyone else is happy. Especially Madam Lin since her scheme worked.
Afterwards it’s revealed that the main wife wanted to use this as an opportunity to get the household management back in her hands but she lost the opportunity.
Madam Lin: 1, Main Wife: 0
Who shall win in the end?
The first impressions I get at the start of the show are the working class of the common people. In the first couple of scenes you can see how the adults have to work while carrying their children with them.
You can already tell that these people have no choice but to bring their children along when they go to work. They don’t have the luxury of babysitters to watch their children while they earn their living for themselves and their families.
I wonder if they started with these scenes because it kinda draws a parallel between these working class and Minglan’s family in her mother’s courtyard.
Her mother is not favored by her father as we could tell by the servants’ attitudes. It’s quite sad to see how the current family dynamics are. Minglan and her mother have to struggle to get anything while Madam Lin and the main wife don’t appear to have the same struggles.
I can already the personalities of the characters so far.
The main wife is arrogant and strong-willed. Madam Lin is clever and beautiful. Minglan’s mother is also clever but she knows not to stand out. Sheng Hong, the father is average I guess?
He has multiple wives which is common for this era but I feel like the other characters outshine him for now. He feels like a scum bag but we shall see?
The grandmother, Sheng Hong’s adopted mother is presented to be a wise older woman.
She’s one of my favorite characters and you’ll see why later on!
Minglan is clever from a young age as evident of her winning back the competition for her elder sister.
So in case people are confused about the Sheng family children: the main wife bore 3 children, Madam Lin has 2 children and Minglan’s mother just has her.
Main wife’s children: Hualan (the oldest sister), Rulan (the younger sister), and Changbai (the middle brother)
Madam Lin’s children: Changfeng (the younger brother) and Molan (the younger sister – may be around the same age as Rulan)
Her mother is so pitiful, trying to teach Minglan how to survive in this household but Minglan is too young to understand. I get the feeling something bad is going to happen soon. T_T
Can you also tell that Madam Lin is an ultimate white lotus? She’s so two-faced but that’s how she survived this long in this family as a concubine.
She puts out tears whenever she wants and acts all fragile. No wonder the main wife has been in a power struggle with her all these years.
Thoughts on this episode? Comment below!