The Legend of Zhen Huan
||This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the Chinese Wikipedia. (July 2013)|
|The Legend of Zhen Huan|
|Also known as||Empresses in the Palace
Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan
|Genre||Romance, historical fiction|
|Written by||Liu Lianzi, Wang Xiaoping|
|Directed by||Zheng Xiaolong|
Li Dong Xue
Tao Xin Ran
Zhang Xiao Long
Li Tian Zhu
|Country of origin||China|
|No. of episodes||76|
|Running time||45 minutes per episode|
|Production company(s)||Beijing TV Art Center|
|Original channel||Dragon Television|
|Original run||26 March 2012 – 2 May 2012|
The Legend of Zhen Huan, also known as Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan (simplified Chinese: 后宫甄嬛传; traditional Chinese: 後宮甄嬛傳), is a Chinese television series based on the Internet novel of the same name. It first aired in China on 17 November 2011.
It was announced in 2013 that the drama will be exported to the U.S and re-edited into six TV movies and broadcast on mainstream TV channels in the U.S.
In the first year of Emperor Yongzheng's (Chen Jianbin) rule, in order to balance different powers in both the royal harem and the Imperial court, the Empress Dowager Xiaogongren (Leanne Liu) orders a selection of all daughters of government officials for the royal harem.
Zhen Huan (Sun Li), born into a family of government officials, is intelligent, beautiful, and wise. The 17-year-old Zhen Huan is shortlisted for the palace selection. Zhen Huan is reluctant to become an imperial concubine. Nevertheless, her resemblance to the Emperor's deceased primary spouse (posthumously granted the title of Empress Chun Yuan), her poise, intelligence and eloquence attract the Emperor's attention. Zhen Huan is selected as a concubine and the Emperor wishes to grant her the Third Class rank of 贵人 （guiren, lit. Noble Lady). However, the Empress demurs on the grounds that Zhen Huan's father is of a lower official rank than Shen Meizhuang's father. Shen Meizhuang, Zhen Huan's childhood friend, has also been selected as an imperial concubine and has been conferred the title of 贵人（pinyin: guiren, lit. Noble Lady.) In deference to court protocol, the Emperor confers Zhen Huan the rank of Second Class rank of 常在 (pinyin: changzai, lit. First Class Female Attendant). As a mark of his favour, he grants her the honorific name Wan (莞, an allusion to her beauty) to her title, thus making Zhen Huan 莞常在 (pinyin: wan changzai, lit. First Class Female Attendant Wan). In addition to Zhen Huan, several notable characters have also been selected to be imperial concubines. They are:
(1) Shen Meizhuang, Zhen Huan's childhood best friend. Since Meizhuang has caught the Emperor's attention for her poise and comportment, and since her father (the Governor of Jizhou) outranks Zhen Huan's father (a law officer at the Supreme Court, 大理寺少卿), Meizhuang is conferred the Third Class rank of 贵人（pinyin: guiren, lit.Noble Lady). Upon her entry into the Palace, she is known at court as Noble Lady Shen (沈贵人 pinyin:shen guiren）
(2) An Lingrong, who Zhen Huan saves from being publicly humiliated at the Imperial Garden reception held prior to the selection of the concubines. Lingrong's father is a low ranking official from a small province. In accordance to court protocol, Lingrong is granted the First Class title of 答应 （pinyin: daying, lit. Second Class Female Attendant)，making her Second Class Female Attendant An (安答应, pinyin:an daying), the lowest title granted to concubines descended from court officials' families.
Zhen Huan is accompanied by two of her servants from her family home, Huanbi and Liu Zhu. She grew up with her servants and treats them like her family. Zhen Yuandao had earlier on revealed to Zhen Huan that she and Huanbi are half-sisters. He was unable to marry Huanbi's mother as she came from a disgraced family. In order to care for his illegitimate child without causing any suspicion, he had Huanbi taken in as a servant girl for Zhen Huan so that they could grow up together. Zhen Yuandao makes her promise to arrange suitable marriages for both girls when they are of marriageable age. Zhen Huan's friendship with her servants, as well as Meizhuang and Lingrong, allow her to adjust to the strict confines of the imperial court.
Zhen Huan is favoured and loved by the Emperor, and is quickly promoted to Noble Lady Wan (莞贵人,pinyin: wan guiren). This contravenes court protocol, since a promotion in a concubine's rank usually comes after the birth of an imperial child. The Emperor also contravenes court protocol by consulting the astute Zhen Huan on matters of governance.The Emperor's respect and favour towards Zhen Huan causes jealousy among the other concubines in the imperial harem. Zhen Huan finds herself caught between the long-standing conflict between the Empress, and the highest ranking imperial concubine Consort Hua (华妃,pinyin: hua fei). The simmering conflicts in the imperial harem are complicated by their families' standing and influence in the Imperial Court. The Empress hails from the influential Ulanara noble clan, while Consort Hua (Nian Shilan) is the sister of the prominent general Nian Gengyao. The malicious Consort Hua is determined to eliminate any rival claimant on the Emperor's love, and by implication, any threat to her family's standing at court, which spells trouble for Zhen Huan and Shen Meizhuang, who have both won the Emperor's love and respect.Consort Hua attempts to have Meizhuang assassinated. When this fails, Consort Hua frames Meizhuang by making it seem as if Meizhuang has staged a fake pregnancy in order to gain more influence in the harem. Meizhuang is placed under house arrest and is demoted to the low rank of Second Class Female Attendant Shen (沈答应 , pinyin: shen daying). A eunuch in Consort Hua's attendance contracts smallpox. Consort Hua has his utensils collected and sent to an unknowing Meizhuang for her to use. Meizhuang contracts smallpox, but due to a concurrent outbreak of smallpox in the palace, Consort Hua's tracks are erased. Meizhuang totters on the brink of death until Zhen Huan's childhood friend, Imperial Physician Wen, finally succeeds in developing a cure.
Despite Zhen Huan's precautions, Consort Hua also causes Zhen Huan to miscarry during her first pregnancy. With each passing trial and tribulation,the altruistic Zhen Huan grows increasingly aware of the dynamics of realpolitik in the harem.However, she does not realise that Lingrong has also played a part in causing Zhen Huan's miscarriage. When the Emperor realizes the insidious plot by Nian Gengyao to usurp the throne, he orders Zhen Huan's father, Zhen Yuandao, to bring the Nian clan to justice. Zhen Yuandao and his colleagues at the Supreme Court (大理寺) discover the depths of Nian Gengyao's corruption.Nian Shilan/Consort Hua's numerous nefarious deeds against the concubines are exposed, which include several murders and sabotaged pregnancies.A bribery scheme she and her brother had set up are also exposed. This incurs the ire of the Emperor on two counts, since he only has a few children, and he is keen to stamp out graft during his reign. Nian Shilan is stripped of her honorific name Hua (华), and her prestigious title of Consort (妃).However, she retains her arrogance and behaves with impunity, refusing to greet concubines of higher rank. Despite her misdeeds, the Emperor spares her life because of their long and loving marriage.She continues to orchestrate attempts on Zhen Huan's life. After one such attempt, Zhen Huan finally decides to retaliate.Zhen Huan, colluding with Meizhuang, finally discovers a way to eliminate Nian Shilan (the former Consort Hua, who has now been demoted to Second Class Female Attendant Nian, 年答应) for good.
With her most powerful and ruthless rival out of the way, the seemingly benevolent Empress reveals her true colours and seeks to eliminate Zhen Huan, to whom she has consistently shown care and concern. The Emperor chooses to honour a Manchu official, Guwalgiya E'min, who had taken a key role in the investigations against Nian Gengyao, by marrying his daughter and instating her as an imperial concubine. E'min's daughter, Guwalgiya Wenyuan(瓜尔佳 文鸯, pinyin: guaerjia wenyuan), is granted the title of Noble Lady Qi (祺贵人, pinyin: qi guiren).With Noble Lady Qi's assistance, the Empress orchestrates an elaborate plot by which to remove Zhen Yuandao from court and Zhen Huan from the harem. Zhen Huan becomes pregnant with her second child and is to be granted the title of Consort Wan (莞妃,pinyin: wan fei). However, Zhen Huan is framed and accused of disrespecting the late Empress Chun Yuan, who had been the Emperor's favourite spouse until her death. In one fell swoop, Zhen Huan and her family fall from grace. Zhen Huan loses hope and love in her marriage. She bears out her pregnancy under house arrest. Having given birth to her daughter, Princess Long Yue (胧月公主), Zhen Huan is deposed and asks to be sent into exile as a nun. Out of anger and spite, the Emperor agrees to send her into exile as a nun. Zhen Huan is to reside at Ganlu Temple (甘露寺, pinyin:ganlusi), which receives imperial patronage.
Due to her status as an outcast, Zhen Huan is bullied and humiliated in the nunnery. Zhen Huan develops a friendship with a Taoist nun from a neighbouring abbey. The nun comports herself with courtly protocol, and Zhen Huan eventually discovers that she is Dowager Consort Shu (舒太妃 shutaifei), mother of the 17th Prince Yunli, and a former concubine of the late Emperor Kangxi. After Emperor Kangxi's death, Dowager Consort Shu chose to leave the palace for a life of monastic seclusion and mourning for her departed husband. Zhen Huan grows frail as she has not received adequate postpartum care, and she is not used to the arduous physical labour assigned to her at the nunnery. Out of affection for Zhen Huan, the Empress Dowager sidesteps court protocol and discreetly sends one of her trusted servants to visit Zhen Huan occasionally and enquire about her welfare. Imperial Physician Wen, Zhen Huan's childhood friend and former suitor, remains steadfast in his love and visits her to ensure her well-being.However, when the aged Empress Dowager falls chronically ill, the visits stop. Zhen Huan develops a chronic cough, which the nuns fear to be tuberculosis. The nuns send Zhen Huan and her two servants into exile once again. Zhen Huan is sent to Lingyun Peak (凌云峰, pinyin: lingyunfeng), a secluded monastic retreat in the mountains. Zhen Huan collapses on the journey. Fearing for Zhen Huan's life, her servant Jinxi frantically seeks the help of Zhen Huan's admirer, Yunli. The 17th Prince, Yunli, has long admired and loved her upon their first meeting at an imperial banquet.
Zhen Huan is cared for by her loyal servants and Yunli. Zhen Huan resists Yunli's displays of love. However, Zhen Huan gradually grows convinced of his love for her. Coupled with the fact that the Emperor has deposed her and sent her into exile (a de facto divorce), Zhen Huan realises she is unlikely to be summoned back to the palace, and is thus a woman free to love whomever she wishes. Zhen Huan and Yunli fall deeply in love, due to their similarities in personality and temperament, and their interest in the literary arts. They spend their days walking in the countryside and composing poetry. On one of their walks, they save a man who has been bitten by a snake. The man's servants reappear in search of their master. It appears the man is a foreign dignitary from the Dzungar Khanate, with whom the Qing Empire is at war.He expresses his attraction to Zhen Huan. Zhen Huan and Yunli reproach him for his advances.
To demonstrate his sincerity and to keep Zhen Huan's honour, Yunli proposes that they sign a marriage contract, formalising their relationship and cementing his promise that he would take no other spouse but Zhen Huan (an unusual practice in that era, and doubly so for a man of his privileged status). Deeply in love, they sign a matrimonial contract.They hope to lead simple lives as commoners. Their plans are foiled when Yunli, in his capacity as an imperial prince, is sent to the restive outskirts near Tibet on a surveying mission. They arrange to reunite after 40 days, by which Yunli expects to have completed his mission. In his absence, Zhen Huan discovers that she is pregnant. News breaks out that his entourage has been ambushed by rebel forces, and that Yunli has died in the skirmish. Zhen Huan mourns his death. Imperial Physician Wen concocts an abortifacient,which he offers to Zhen Huan. He also offers to take her as his wife and raise the child as his own. She refuses both offers and reiterates that she has always only seen him as her brother. Zhen Huan is resolved to avenge Yunli and preserve his child, thus also preserving his princely bloodline.Zhen Huan's resolve is further strengthened when Meizhuang sends her news of her father's dire condition in prison. She realizes that the only way to avenge Yunli and her family is to become an imperial concubine once more. Zhen Huan asks Imperial Physician Wen to keep her secret and to attend to her pregnancy, to which he agrees. Thanks to Zhen Huan's benevolence when she was in a position of power, Zhen Huan retains contact with influential servants in the palace, including the Emperor's right-hand man, the Chief Eunuch Su Peisheng. Imperial Physician Wen becomes an emissary between Zhen Huan and Meizhuang.Believing Zhen Huan desirous of a reconciliation with the Emperor, and knowing the Emperor to retain some affection for his former favourite, Meizhuang and Su Peisheng orchestrate an encounter between the Emperor and Zhen Huan. While the Emperor, in keeping with imperial custom, had taken new concubines in Zhen Huan's absence, he continued to long for Zhen Huan. Subsequently, the Emperor and Zhen Huan reconcile, recalling the depth of their affection for each other before. After several meetings, Zhen Huan divulges her pregnancy to the Emperor. To formalise their reconciliation and to ensure the safe delivery of the child, the Emperor decides to reinstate Zhen Huan as an imperial concubine.
Despite the Empress Dowager's regard for Zhen Huan, she is doubtful of the unborn child's paternity. Nevertheless, to avoid scandal and to counterbalance the Empress' despotic rule over the harem, the Empress Dowager grants permission for Zhen Huan's return. The Empress makes an attempt on the life of Hongli, the 4th Prince, to pave the way for her adopted son, the 3rd Prince Hongshi. The Empress Dowager, long aware of the Empress' manipulative nature, is aware that it is the Empress who has attempted to kill her grandson.Since both the Empress Dowager and the Empress are descended from the noble Manchu Ulanara clan, the Empress Dowager chooses not to pursue the matter in order to keep the Empress on the throne. Instead, the Empress Dowager decides that it is better for Hongli, who is motherless, to be adopted by another concubine to guarantee his safety. The Emperor wishes to make Zhen Huan Hongli's adoptive mother. Officially, he wants to declare her Hongli's birth mother, and her absence from the palace is to be explained thus: "after his birth, she left the palace to become a nun and to pray for the welfare of the empire". However, since they are less than a decade apart in age, the Emperor adds ten years to her age, making her official age 32 years old.
The Emperor is anxious to restore Zhen Huan to her former honoured status as an imperial concubine, and to redress the humiliation she endured in exile. Since Zhen Yuandao remains in prison, the Emperor wishes Zhen Huan to avoid the taint of her disgraced family name. In an unprecedented move, Zhen Huan has her status raised from a Han Chinese Bannerwoman to a Manchu Bannerwoman. In addition, the Emperor grants Zhen Huan the exalted Manchu clan name of Niuhuru (钮祜禄氏). The Empress, who belongs to the noble Manchu clan of Ulanara (乌拉那拉氏), and Noble Lady Qi, who belongs to the powerful Manchu clan of Guwalgiya(瓜尔佳氏), disapprove to no avail.The Emperor also grants Zhen Huan the new honorific name and Fifth-Class title of Consort Xi (熹妃, pinyin: xifei). The Emperor specially picks the character 熹 (xi, lit. 'brightness'/'dawn') to denote her bright future as a Consort.
Prior to her Zhen Huan's reinstatement in the palace, Yunli returns unscathed. Zhen Huan realises the implications of resuming their relationship. In order to safeguard Yunli's life, their unborn child and her family, Zhen Huan distances herself from him. To spare him further heartache, she feigns callousness and tells him that she prefers the material comfort of life as an imperial concubine, rather than life as a simple commoner. Dowager Consort Shu, to whom Zhen Huan has confided her worries, tells Yunli that he would eventually understand Zhen Huan's struggles. The Emperor, in his attempts to restore Zhen Huan to her privileged status, decides to send a high-ranking official to deliver the imperial edict summoning Zhen Huan back to the palace. The Emperor decides that no less than an imperial prince should deliver the edict, and charges Yunli with delivering the edict to Zhen Huan. Before she leaves for the palace, Zhen Huan thanks the abbess Jing An（静安) for the kindness she showed Zhen Huan and presents her with two Buddhist texts Zhen Huan personally copied by hand. She orders the leader of the abusive nuns, Jingbai (静白) to be punished. Abbess Jing An requests that Zhen Huan spare Jingbai's life. Zhen Huan accedes to her request and spares Jingbai's life. However, she points out that Jing An is too kind hearted to run the abbey, and appoints the brusque but kind-hearted nun Moyan（莫言) as abbess. Zhen Huan departs from the nunnery. She arrives back at the palace with a grand entourage granted to her by the Emperor, accompanied by the 17th Prince as the Emperor's emissary. She is received warmly by the Emperor and the concubines, who have assembled to welcome her. Zhen Huan returns to find that she has been granted sole use of Yongshou Palace as her living quarters. The Emperor has also presented her with the gift of perfumed walls, an honour no other concubine has ever received.
Zhen Huan's return to the palace is fraught with the same challenges as before. Noble Lady Qi attempts to cause a miscarriage by causing Zhen Huan's sedan attendants to slip. Rumours of the unborn child's paternity spread like wildfire. Noble Lady Ye, who has been in love with the 17th Prince for years, overhears a confrontation between Zhen Huan and Yunli. She attempts to kill Zhen Huan for her betrayal of Yunli. Zhen Huan's life is spared when Noble Lady Ye spots a coral bracelet on Zhen Huan's arm, which Noble Lady Ye recognizes as a prized object belonging to Yunli. Realizing the love Yunli has for Zhen Huan, Noble Lady Ye spares her life. Nevertheless, she subsequently sets her cats on Zhen Huan's sedan. Zhen Huan's sedan-bearers drop the sedan, causing Zhen Huan to fall, and induces Zhen Huan's premature delivery. Zhen Huan gives safely birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy is named Hongyan, 6th Prince. The girl is named Lingxi and is conferred the title of Princess. The Emperor and Empress Dowager are delighted, their joy at the babies' arrival heightened by the auspicious symbolism of fraternal twins (龙凤胎，pinyin:longfengtai, lit. Dragon-Phoenix twins). Zhen Huan is conferred the Sixth Class title of Noble Consort Xi (熹贵妃，pinyin: xiguifei).
Rumours of the twins' paternity persist. Noble Lady Qi attempts to frame Imperial Physician Wen as Zhen Huan's illicit lover, even though he has silently fallen in love with Meizhuang. Noble Lady Qi summons the nun Jingbai as witness. Jingbai testifies that Imperial Physician Wen often visited Zhen Huan while she lived in seclusion as a nun. Noble Lady Qi summons a second witness, Bin'er, who had been a servant in the Zhen household. She testifies that prior to the imperial concubine selection, Imperial Physician Wen had proposed marriage to Zhen Huan.The Emperor orders a paternity test to be done.A pinprick of blood from the 6th Prince's toe was collected in a bowl of water. However, since the law prohibited inflicting any injury upon the Emperor, it was decided that only Imperial Physician Wen's blood would be tested with the 6th prince's blood. A drop of Imperial Physician Wen's blood was sprinkled into the bowl. The two droplets of blood combined, seemingly confirming Imperial Physician Wen's paternity. The Empress seizes her chance and orders Zhen Huan to be dragged away into the torture chamber along with her "illegitimate son". Zhen Huan resists arrest, asserts that Imperial Physician Wen could not have been the father, and declares that the water must have been tainted. She frantically pricks a drop of Chief Eunuch Su's blood. The blood combined with that of the 6th Prince's and Imperial Physician Wen's within the water bowl. Zhen Huan's servant Jinxi also pricks her finger, letting the blood fall into the bowl. The blood combines once more. Eunuch Su informs the Emperor that the water must be tainted, since the test results would indicate that he was Jinxi and Imperial Physician Wen's father, a physiological impossibility since he had been castrated. Imperial Physician Wen tastes the water and identifies the addition of potassium aluminium sulphate. He argues that the addition of the compound would allow any two drops of blood to mix and allow a positive result for the paternity test. He also argues that the addition of oil to the water would separate any two drops of blood, even if the blood came from a biological father/son pair. The Emperor recalls that the Empress is well-versed in medicine and suspects her of contaminating the water. The Empress pleads innocence and one of her servants comes forward to take the fall. The Emperor orders Eunuch Su to fetch a new bowl of pure water. The blood of the 6th Prince and Imperial Physician Wen are tested once more and the test results are negative. However, due to Jingbai's and Bin'er's testimony, Zhen Huan's relationship with Imperial Physician Wen is still doubted by the Emperor. Zhen Huan's name is only cleared when Moyan, the current abbess, arrives to testify. She recounts the physical hardship Zhen Huan underwent as a nun, and how Zhen Huan could have simply eloped with Imperial Physician Wen if they were indeed together.
The Emperor is moved by her account. Jingbai is also exposed as a biased witness, having colluded with Noble Lady Qi to sabotage Zhen Huan for their own personal interests. Bin'er begs for mercy, revealing that she had been forced to testify by Noble Lady Qi. She reveals the bruises and wounds she has received from Noble Lady Qi's beatings. She tells the Emperor that Imperial Physician Wen did indeed propose to Zhen Huan, but Zhen Huan did not accept his offer and had always only treated him as a friend. The Emperor apologises to Zhen Huan for having doubted her and allows her to dispense punishment as she saw fit. She sends Bin'er and Moyan back. Zhen Huan has Jingbai's tongue cut out for telling lies. Noble Lady Qi refuses to reveal who put her up to sabotaging Zhen Huan. The Emperor orders Noble Lady Qi to be exiled to the Cold Palace. It is later revealed that to prove his innocence, Imperial Physician Wen castrates himself and nearly dies in the process. Lingrong sends a maid to inform Meizhuang of the situation. The pregnant Meizhuang is agitated when she receives news of the turmoil, inducing premature labour. Meizhuang undergoes a difficult delivery, but ultimately gives birth to a girl, naming her Jinghe. She entrusts the child to Zhen Huan and the child's father, Imperial Physician Wen. Meizhuang dies of childbirth complications. Zhen Huan cares for the child like her own. Zhen Huan urges the Emperor to investigate Noble Lady Qi's family, professing her father's innocence. The Emperor accedes to her request. Fresh investigations reveal that Zhen Yuandao was framed by his colleague and erstwhile friend Guwalgiya E'min, the father of Noble Lady Qi. In accordance with imperial law, the Guwalgiya clan was put to death for deceiving the Emperor. Noble Lady Qi/Guwalgiya Wenyuan is deposed and stripped of her titles. She escaped from the Cold Palace to beg for her family's life to be spared. The Emperor refused, but spared her life on account of their marriage. He chose to merely demote her to a commoner. Guwalgiya Wenyuan is beaten to death by the palace guards at the order of Chief Eunuch Su, who she had always humiliated for being a castrated man.
Yunli becomes drunk at an imperial banquet and drops a pouch he carries by his side at all times. The Emperor picks it up and sees a paper cutting of Zhen Huan's likeness. Zhen Huan's devoted servant, Huanbi, proclaims herself to be the girl in the paper cutting. She does so to prevent an expose of Zhen Huan and Yunli's relationship, and to allow her to marry the 17th Prince, whom she loved. Due to their resemblance, the Emperor comes to believe that Huanbi is the girl in the paper cutting. The Emperor's suspicion of Zhen Huan and Yunli is diminished when Huanbi correctly guesses the other contents of the pouch. The Emperor recalls how Huanbi had gone to Yunli's manor to care for him when he was ill. Zhen Huan and Huanbi give the Emperor the impression that Yunli and Huanbi have secretly been in love for a long time. Since Yunli and Huanbi's social statuses are far too disparate, Zhen Huan requests for Huanbi to be included in the Niuhuru family register, listing her as Zhen Huan's adoptive sister.The Emperor grants Zhen Huan's request and decides to arrange a marriage between Huanbi and Yunli. Yunli declines on the grounds that he was unable to marry the lady he truly loved (妻子,pinyin: qizi, lit. 'wife'), the only lady he would ever grant the status of primary spouse/princess consort (福晋, pinyin: fujin). The Emperor dismisses this as an excuse and says he can make Huanbi a secondary spouse/secondary princess consort (侧福晋, pinyin: cefujin）or a concubine (妾, pinyin: qie)，as long as Yunli does not let Huanbi down. The Emperor decides that Huanbi will be married to Yunli. For her long years of service to Zhen Huan and as an adopted member of the noble Niuhuru clan, Huanbi will be conferred the name of Yuying (玉隐) and upon her marriage to Yunli, the status of Yunli's secondary spouse/secondary princess consort (侧福晋). Deferring to the wishes of the aged courtier,Imperial Duke Pei, the Emperor also arranges another marriage for Yunli, this time to the Grand Duke's daughter, Meng Jingxian. Meng Jingxian, like many ladies at court, had wished to be married to the eligible Yunli, only to be turned down for many years, since Yunli only wanted to marry for love. Yunli is made to comply with the arranged marriage, but before doing so, he asks for the Emperor's guarantee that no more marriages will be arranged for him. Yunli marries two secondary spouses, Yuying (玉福晋，Secondary Princess Consort Yu) and Jingxian (贤福晋, Secondary Princess Consort Xian). Noble Lady Ye, who has loved him for a long time and is aware of his feelings for Zhen Huan, laments that while he has to marry two spouses, he would not be happy as he does not love either of them.
The Emperor's brother Yunxi, the 21st Prince/Prince Shen of the Third Rank (慎贝勒, pinyin: shen beile), falls in love with Zhen Huan's sister, Yurao. The feisty and independent Yurao announces that she will only marry for love, and only to a monogamous man. Yunxi is enamoured of her beauty, character and their common interests in the arts. He professes his love for her and promises to contradict social convention for a man of his rank by only marrying the woman he loves. The Emperor and Zhen Huan quickly arrange a marriage for the both of them, since the Empress Dowager is on her deathbed. If she died before they were married, they would have had to observe a 3-year mourning period before they would be allowed to marry. Yurao marries Yunxi and is conferred the title of princess consort (福晋, pinyin: fujin). The Empress Dowager passes away soon after. Prior to her death, she foresees that the Empress' many crimes would be uncovered one day. In anticipation, she leaves behind a posthumous decree, in which she states that under no circumstances is the reigning Empress to be deposed. She entrusts it to her devoted servant Zhuxi, who promises to deliver the decree if the need ever arises.
An Lingrong's father is implicated in a corruption scandal. The Emperor, who pushed anti-corruption reforms, sentences him to death. An Lingrong pleads for his life, to no avail. She begs for the Empress' help. The Empress suggests that Lingrong become pregnant in order to win the Emperor's favour, which would likely make him extend clemency to Lingrong's father. Lingrong flouts imperial household laws. She uses aphrodisiacs to attract the Emperor and increase her chances of conception. Lingrong conceives but has an unstable pregnancy. This is due to her prolonged use of contraceptives, which the Empress ordered to ensure that the imperial succession would fall in her adopted son's (the 3rd Prince's) favour. As a result of her pregnancy, Lingrong is conferred the title Consort Li (鹂妃, pinyin: lifei). Zhen Huan recalls Lingrong's role in her father's downfall and how Lingrong triggered Meizhuang's premature labour by breaking the news of Zhen Huan's trial to her. Zhen Huan exposes Lingrong's use of aphrodisiacs after Lingrong suffers a miscarriage. Zhen Huan subsequently realizes that like Consort Hua, Lingrong might have caused her first miscarriage. Imperial Physician Wen discovers that a salve that Lingrong has been giving Zhen Huan for years contains musk, a contraceptive and an abortifacient if used during pregnancy. Her role in Meizhuang's death, her attempts at sabotaging Zhen Huan, her use of aphrodisiacs and her father's criminal acts cause her to be deposed as Consort Li. The Emperor spares her life in favour of a harsher punishment. He places her under house arrest and orders her to be slapped by her servants every day in retribution for the innocent lives she harmed.
During her imprisonment, Lingrong requests for a meeting with Zhen Huan and explains why she chose to harm Zhen Huan all these years. Lingrong requests for (toxic) bitter almonds, and Zhen Huan tells Chief Eunuch Su that Lingrong is to want for nothing. Lingrong consumes the bitter almonds while explaining herself to Zhen Huan, asking Zhen Huan for her understanding. Zhen Huan replies that she will neither hate nor forgive Lingrong for her actions, because Lingrong is not worth either emotion. Before Lingrong dies, she gasps "Empress! Kill the Empress!" (皇后！杀了皇后!）Zhen Huan believes that Lingrong wants her to kill the Empress to avenge the wrongs the Empress did to the both of them. The line takes on new significance when she overhears her children playing and a child utters: "Elder sister is chasing elder sister!" (姐姐追着姐姐!) Since Zhen Huan has 2 daughters, both who could be referred to by the other imperial children as "elder sister", Zhen Huan realises that Lingrong's statement could refer to 2 empresses. Instead of "Empress!Kill the Empress!", the line could mean "the empress killed the empress". (This is because Mandarin does not have any tenses in its grammar). Zhen Huan confers with the most senior consorts, Imperial Noble Consort Duan（端皇贵妃, pinyin: duan huangguifei) and Noble Consort Jing (敬贵妃, pinyin: jingguifei), who knew Empress Chun Yuan personally. Both consorts agree that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding Empress Chun Yuan's death. Empress Chun Yuan died in childbirth and had given birth to a stillborn child marked with green bruises. These had originally been thought to be a result of stressful events during her pregnancy. All the three consorts agree that there is a lack of evidence beyond what they know, and cease to speculate. However,they remain suspicious of the Empress due to three factors. First, the Empress had extensive medical knowledge and thus assisted the presiding Imperial Physicians during her sister Chun Yuan's pregnancy. Second, the Empress was known to be merciless. Third, Lingrong had been the Empress' confidante against Zhen Huan for many years and thus her statement could not be easily dismissed.
The Empress continues to pave the way for her adoptive son, the 3rd Prince Hongshi, to be the future emperor. She attempts to discredit and humiliate Zhen Huan's adoptive son, Hongli, the 4th Prince, who she sees as the likeliest rival for the throne. The Empress does so in order to ensure that in the event of her son's succession, the Empress would be the only reigning Empress Dowager. If Hongli became Emperor, the Empress would become the Empress Dowager (母后皇太后）while Zhen Huan would become the Sacred Mother Empress Dowager (圣母皇太后).
The Empress' plans fail when Hongshi attempts to court one of the imperial concubines, Noble Lady Ying. He is caught writing her a love letter. Despite the Emperor's favour towards her, Noble Lady Ying is sentenced to death in order to preserve the reputation of the 3rd Prince and the imperial family. The Empress pins the blame on Noble Lady Ying for seducing the Prince, even though Noble Lady Ying is innocent. Noble Lady Ying had been a servant girl from the 17th Prince's household, so the 17th Prince Yunli and his family are suspected of sabotaging Hongshi's path to the throne. The Emperor punishes his son by slapping him twice, the first for daring to covet the sovereign's concubine and the second for coveting his father's concubine.
Zhen Huan discovers she is pregnant once more, but she is told by her personal physician,Imperial Physician Wei,that she will not be able to carry the baby to term, and she would miscarry the child by her fifth month. She seeks a second opinion from her old friend Imperial Physician Wen, who confirms Imperial Physician Wei's original diagnosis. She asks Imperial Physician Wen to concoct an abortifacient for her. She tells Imperial Physician Wen that if she is to lose the baby, she would use the loss of her advantage. Zhen Huan feigns that the pregnancy is smooth-sailing. At her fifth gestational month, Zhen Huan consumes the brew Imperial Physician Wen has prepared for her. The Emperor, believing her pregnancy to be proceeding as normal, believes the brew to be the usual prenatal tonic soup prescribed to pregnant imperial concubines. Zhen Huan proceeds to confront the Empress about her past misdeeds. The two women get into a heated argument and the Empress pushes Zhen Huan when Zhen Huan seizes her hand. Zhen Huan crashes into the altar of Buddha in her room and passes out. When she awakes, she is surrounded by the Emperor and the other concubines. She is told that she has lost the baby. The Empress tells her that she is young and she will have more children in the future. Zhen Huan weeps at the Empress' callousness and recounts their physical struggle. The Empress accuses her of deliberate sabotage. Imperial Physician Wen points out that Zhen Huan's stomach showed deep red marks, an indication that she had been pushed violently towards a hard surface.The Emperor and the concubines, who had been in an adjoining room during their struggle, argue that only the Empress could have pushed Zhen Huan since only the two of them were in Zhen Huan's chamber. The Empress' guilt is further ascertained when the six-year-old Princess Longyue starts to cry in fear and recounts how the Empress had pushed Zhen Huan. The Empress is placed under house arrest in Jingren Palace.
Her adoptive son, the 3rd Prince Hongshi, complicates their fall from grace by pleading for her release and pleading mercy for his uncles, the former 8th and 14th Princes, who had previously been imprisoned for their conspiracy to seize the throne. The succession dispute over the throne was especially vicious between the Emperor and his two brothers, who maligned him and spread unfounded rumours of his illegitimate succession. Hongshi's pleas angers the Emperor and the Emperor disowns him, stating that if he wanted to plead for the former 8th Prince so badly, he ought to be the former 8th Prince's son. Since the former 8th Prince had been stripped of his imperial titles, his new adoptive son Hongshi accordingly no longer held any imperial titles. The news reaches the Empress, who despairs. She becomes even more determined to kill Zhen Huan so that she could adopt Hongli, the 4th Prince. This is because Hongli is now the Emperor's eldest son and the likeliest candidate to be the next emperor, considering that Zhen Huan's son, the 6th Prince Hongyan, is only a little boy. The Empress' loyal servant, Jianqiu, decides to avenge her mistress and obtains red arsenic (鹤顶红). Jianqiu poisons the food that is to be served to Zhen Huan at an imperial banquet. At the banquet, the young 6th Prince Hongyan wanders around the banquet room and is fascinated by his aunt, Secondary Princess Consort Xian's pregnant belly. He asks to be fed by Secondary Princess Consort Xian, instead of his mother, Zhen Huan. Zhen Huan ladles his portion from her soup bowl and passes it to her servant, who in turn passes it to Secondary Princess Consort Xian. Secondary Princess Consort Xian sips the soup to see if it is cool enough to let the boy drink. She vomits blood almost immediately. The entire imperial family is startled and it is initially believed to be an assassination attempt on the Emperor. Yunli carries Secondary Princess Consort Xian into an adjacent chamber and frantically summons the imperial physicians. The Emperor refuses to retreat to his quarters at Yangxin Hall, insisting that he will stay until the perpetrator is found. The Imperial Physicians arrive and administer medical aid to Secondary Princess Consort Xian. The poison has caused her to vomit blood and sent her into premature labour. The imperial family recalls that the last item Secondary Princess Consort Xian ate consumed was soup from Hongyan's bowl.Imperial Physician Wei inserts silver cutlery into the soup. The silver turns black, indicating the presence of poison. Zhen Huan realises that the soup in Hongyan's bowl was ladled from her bowl. She asks Imperial Physician Wei to test her soup bowl. The silver turns black once more, confirming the presence of poison. The Emperor is outraged at the attempt on Zhen Huan/Noble Consort Xi's life, and the harm done to Secondary Princess Consort Xian. The Emperor asks for the perpetrator to be found. Questioning of the Imperial Kitchen maids reveal that Jianqiu was the only one to come into contact with Zhen Huan's food. Jianqiu is hauled in for interrogation in the presence of the imperial family. She does not deny her guilt and says she did it of her own volition to avenge her mistress. Jianqiu is sent away to the torture chamber for further question. The Emperor also orders the Empress' right-hand man, Eunuch Jiang, to be tortured and interrogated. Secondary Princess Consort Xian gives birth to a son, but dies of haemorrhage and the effects of the poison. The boy is named Yuanche.
Jianqiu and Eunuch Jiang are unable to withstand the torture they receive at the hands of their interrogators. They reveal a comprehensive list of crimes the Empress has committed, including the sabotaging of concubines' pregnancies, attempting to assassinate the 4th Prince, and murdering her own sister, Empress Chun Yuan. The Emperor is crestfallen, since Chun Yuan had been his one true love. He summons the Empress to hear her confession personally. The Empress readily confesses to her crimes, blaming her sister for usurping the Emperor's attention and love away from her. The Empress (Ulanara Yixiu) had married the Emperor (Yinzhen, 4th Prince) before he was crowned. She was born of a secondary spouse and thus conferred the title of Secondary Princess Consort. She would only be conferred the title of Princess Consort after giving birth to her first son. During her pregnancy, her sister Chun Yuan, born of their father's primary spouse, arrived at their manor to accompany her. Yinzhen, the 4th Prince fell in love with her intelligence, beauty, comportment, elegance, kindness and artistic talent. He married Chun Yuan and made her his primary spouse. Yixiu and her son were inadvertently neglected. He died of an undiagnosed illness as an infant just as Chun Yuan fell pregnant. Yixiu resolved to kill Chun Yuan and her baby for what she saw as an exchange for her son's life. Yixiu also wanted to establish herself as the primary spouse after Chun Yuan's death. Yixiu slowly poisoned Chun Yuan over the course of her pregnancy, thus leading to Chun Yuan dying in childbirth and giving birth to a stillborn child. The Emperor flies into a rage as he tells her how Chun Yuan, on her deathbed, made him promise to always be kind to her sister. The Emperor decides to depose the Empress. Zhuxi, the late Empress Dowager's servant, arrives with the Empress Dowager's posthumous decree. The decree reads: "under no circumstances is the Empress to be deposed." The Emperor refuses to obey the decree and says he must get rid of the villainess Lady Ulanara. Zhuxi, as instructed by the Empress Dowager prior to her death, reminds the Emperor that Ulanara blood flows through his veins since his mother had also belonged to the Ulanara clan, that Chun Yuan herself had belonged to the Ulanara clan, and that he had promised Chun Yuan to always treat her sister well. The Emperor relents and allows Yixiu to remain Empress. However, he strips her of her royal regalia, and rescinds the decree proclaiming her as Empress. He orders her to be held under house arrest for life, and that in life and in death, they are never to see each other again.
The Emperor is beset by challenges over the lacklustre campaign against the invading Dzungar forces. The Emperor discovers that the Dzungar army is currently facing an outbreak of smallpox. The Emperor recalls that Imperial Physician Wen developed a cure for smallpox some years back after the outbreak in the palace. The Khan of Dzungar is invited for a state banquet in order to negotiate a potential truce. The Khan sees Noble Consort Xi and remembers her as the lady who saved his life. He threatens to expose her former relationship with Yunli. Noble Consort Xi retains her composure and denies his allegations. They are overheard by the Emperor's personal spy, Xia Yi, who has been tasked to trail the Khan.
The Khan of Dzungar asks for Zhen Huan's hand in marriage in exchange for 2 provinces controlled by Dzungar. The Emperor refuses to trade Zhen Huan and instead offers the Khan the cure for smallpox instead. The Khan agrees to these terms. The Emperor keeps the result of the negotiations secret. He uses the opportunity to test Zhen Huan's loyalty to him, and her relationship with Yunli. He summons Zhen Huan and Yunli. The Emperor tells Chief Eunuch Su that Yunli is not to be allowed into the chambers until the Emperor asks for him. The Emperor tells Zhen Huan that the Khan has asked for her hand in marriage in order to sign a peace treaty with the Qing dynasty. Zhen Huan removes a hair ornament and points the sharp end towards her face, telling the Emperor she would rather disfigure herself and lose the Khan's favour than undergo such humiliation. Yunli arrives at the outer courtyard and is distressed at what he hears. Zhen Huan, grateful for the Emperor's favour and love, agrees to sacrifice herself for the sake of the Emperor's peace of mind and the truce between the warring states.Yunli is unable to control himself and barges into the Emperor's chambers. He objects to her remarriage on the grounds that his brother would become a laughingstock. The Emperor, testing how Yunli would react, insists on the benefits the empire would reap if Zhen Huan were to marry the Khan. Yunli argues that Zhen Huan is the mother of three imperial children, and is therefore of a dignified status, worthy of better treatment than being married off to the Khan. Yunli also asks how the Emperor would reply if Zhen Huan's children were to look for their mother in future. Yunli reminds the Emperor that Dzungar is thousands of miles away; if he were to miss her or regret marrying Zhen Huan off to the Khan, there would be no chance of seeing her ever again. The Emperor remains insistent on marrying Zhen Huan off. Yunli continues to object to her remarriage, arguing that this would set a bad precedent for future political negotiations with Dzungar. Yunli argues that the Qing dynasty would lose its dignity, especially if Dzungar starts to demand trading Qing imperial brides in exchange for political benefits. The Emperor retorts that he is reluctant to marry Zhen Huan off. However, his hand has been forced because the Qing army cannot continue fighting given the rates of wartime attrition. Yunli offers to set off with a battalion of his men, vowing never to return until Dzungar has been subdued. The Emperor asks if his offer is for the sake of the Qing dynasty, or for the sake of Zhen Huan. The Emperor notes that Yunli has never been an impulsive or emotional man, but upon hearing the possibility of Zhen Huan's remarriage, Yunli barged into the royal presence. The Emperor also notes that Yunli has never been interested in politics or governance, but now he has offered to fight battles on her behalf. The Emperor reproaches himself for having been blind to their romance and for turning a deaf ear to rumours of their relationship. Yunli denies any romantic involvement and exclaims that he has spoken in the capacity of a patriotic Qing subject unwilling to see the empire humiliated by Dzungar. Zhen Huan tells the Emperor that she does not fear humiliation on behalf of the empire, but she fears her husband doubting her fidelity. The Emperor says he cannot help but be cautious, since rumours of Yunli's loveless marriage to Yuying have persisted at court. He recalls that the paper cutout resembled Yuying, but it also resembled Zhen Huan. The Emperor says he is hesitant to probe further. The Emperor declares that his final decision is to marry Zhen Huan off to the Khan of Dzungar. Yunli begs him to reconsider. Zhen Huan, not wishing to aggravate the Emperor and to protect Yunli, agrees to the marriage.She expresses her gratitude to the emperor for restoring her to the status of Consort after she had been deposed, and affirms that marrying the Khan is the least she can do to repay the Emperor's grace. The Emperor dismisses Yunli. The Emperor asks Zhen Huan what she intends to do after the marriage ceremony. Zhen Huan says that she is unwilling to be humiliated and to besmirch the Emperor's reputation, implying that she will commit suicide after the marriage ceremony. The Emperor reveals that even if Yunli did fall in love with Zhen Huan, he would not be angry, since it is easy to fall in love with the beautiful Zhen Huan. Zhen Huan is placed in seclusion with a retinue of her servants. To continue the ruse of Zhen Huan's remarriage to test Yunli, the Emperor announces that to the Court that Noble Consort Xi has taken ill and has been placed under quarantine. Yunli foresees that to preserve her dignity and the dignity of the imperial family, she would be announced as dead while a secret entourage conveyed her to Dzungar as the new wife of the Khan. In order to prevent Zhen Huan's remarriage, Yunli assembles his private forces.
When news of an imperial bridal carriage emerging from the Forbidden City breaks in the dead of night, Yunli and his forces give chase. Unbeknownst to Yunli, the carriage only bears the prescription for the cure to smallpox. The Emperor thus ascertains that Yunli is in love with Zhen Huan. The Emperor summons Zhen Huan and informs her of the news. Zhen Huan surmises that Yunli must have done what he did to preserve the dignity of the Qing. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that his reasons for doing so may have arisen for her sake. She asks the Emperor to dole out any punishment he deems fit. The Emperor says he wishes to punish her, but he has no specific reason for doing so. He sees that she has become frail as a result of her house arrest, and believes that she has spent many hours brooding over the issue. To her surprise, the Emperor releases her from her house arrest without any other consequence. He tells her that her children have missed her, and tells her to visit her children. The Emperor wonders if he has let her off too easily. Chief Eunuch Su opines that fundamentally, the issue has nothing to do with Noble Consort Xi. The Emperor agrees, stating that it is Yunli's fault for coveting his sister-in-law. He also reveals that Yunli has pleaded guilty to leading his forces beyond the city gates in pursuit of the bridal carriage, and in atonement for his offence, he has offered to lead his men to the frontline and guard the borders for 3 years.To avoid speculation over why Yunli has chosen to set off for the borders, the Emperor declares Yunli's act one of patriotism and Emperor promotes Yunli to Prince Guo of the First Rank (果亲王) for his military service. The Emperor orders that Yunli is not to return to the capital without an imperial decree. Throughout Yunli's military service at the border, the Emperor receives reports of Yunli's successful military expeditions and his popularity among the soldiers. The Emperor is wary of the military threat his brother can pose to him if Yunli ever decides to seize the throne. The Emperor also recalls how Yunli was their late father's favourite son, and that he very well could have been the reigning Emperor.The Emperor orders Yunli back to the capital after 3 years to better keep an eye on him.
At a banquet he holds in honour of Yunli, both brothers become drunk and the Emperor asks Yunli who he missed the most in his absence. Yunli replies, "my mother". Unbeknownst to Yunli, the Emperor has intercepted letters between Yuying and Yunli. Every letter ends with Yunli enquiring after Noble Consort Xi's welfare. The Emperor realizes that Yunli has not ceased loving Zhen Huan. He arranges to have Yunli poisoned by Zhen Huan. Zhen Huan refuses, but the Emperor manipulates Zhen Huan into complying. The Emperor promises Zhen Huan that upon successful completion of the task, he would invest the 6th Prince, Hongyan, as Crown Prince and the undisputed successor to the throne. The Emperor arranges for Zhen Huan to have dinner with Yunli, where she would serve him poisoned wine from a special flask with two compartments (one with poisoned wine, one without). Yunli and Zhen Huan profess their love for each other. Zhen Huan serves Yunli wine from the compartment without poison. She pours wine for herself from the poisoned compartment. Yunli distracts Zhen Huan and switches the wine glasses.They drink to each other's health and long for their simple life in the countryside. Yunli starts to succumb to the poison and vomits blood. He tells Zhen Huan that he has seen such contraptions before, and that her decision to serve herself the poisoned wine just confirms his choice to save her life. He tells her that even if she had decided to serve him the poisoned wine, he would have willingly drunken it because she made the choice to protect herself. He tells her that he will no longer be around to protect her, and she must learn to protect herself. Yunli dies after letting her know she always will be his only wife. Zhen Huan weeps and laments that she never got the chance to tell him that Lingxi and Hongyan are his children.
Zhen Huan eventually emerges from the chamber. She is received by Xia Yi, who informs her of the Emperor's secret decree: that if anyone other than Noble Consort Xi emerged from the chamber, both Noble Consort Xi and the individual were to be killed without question; and that if only Noble Consort Xi emerged from the chamber, Noble Consort Xi is to be conferred the title of Vice-Empress, with the power to rule the Inner Palaces. Zhen Huan receives the decree and listlessly makes her way from the pavilion. She falls from a flight of steps and shatters her kneecap. Yuying commits suicide at her husband's funeral, wishing to follow him in death. Yuanche is now an orphan and is adopted by his uncle, the 21st Prince and his aunt Yurao. Zhen Huan and the Emperor drift apart after Yunli's death; this is due to the Emperor realizing that Zhen Huan can be brutal, and Zhen Huan's cynicism at the Emperor's ruthlessness.
The Emperor, long noted to be a workaholic, becomes sickly and frail in the years since the death of Yunli, who had been his closest brother. Zhen Huan is informed by Imperial Physician Wei that Noble Lady Ye has consistently requested for cinnabar(朱砂). The Imperial Physicians have not agreed to her request because it is a toxic substance. Zhen Huan, knowing that Noble Lady Ye is slowly poisoning the Emperor, tells Imperial Physician Wei to agree to her request. Noble Lady Ye mixes the cinnabar into the Emperor's tonic pills, which he takes to rejuvenate his health. The Emperor grows weaker and sicker despite his consumption of tonics. The Emperor faints when he observes that Yuanche and Hongyan bear an uncanny resemblance, a resemblance far too similar for boys who were supposed to be cousins. He is confined to bed rest.The Emperor orders Xia Yi to obtain a blood sample from Hongyan once more. Noble Lady Ye is in the vicinity of the princes' chambers when she notices something amiss. She enters Hongyan's chambers to find everyone slumped on the floor. Fearing everyone dead, she goes to Hongyan to check his body for signs of life. She notices a drop of blood from his toe and conveys the children from their chambers to Yongshou Palace. Zhen Huan returns with her trusted servants and has them send the children back to their beds. Zhen Huan thanks Noble Lady Ye for saving "Yunli's children". Noble Lady Ye is overjoyed to find out that she has saved Yunli's children, since she has long carried a torch for Yunli. However, she quickly realises that Zhen Huan must be under investigation and Hongyan is undergoing a paternity test once more. Noble Lady Ye tells Zhen Huan to give her a wide berth as she does not wish to be implicated in Zhen Huan's downfall. Zhen Huan has Xia Yi murdered. The Emperor's condition deteriorates upon a series of discoveries: a low-ranking concubine is discovered to be having an affair with one of her guards, Zhen Huan informs the Emperor that she has had Xia Yi murdered, and that she has only loved Yunli ever since she was exiled. The Emperor confronts her about Hongyan's paternity; Zhen Huan sidesteps the question. The Emperor asks why he and Zhen Huan have grown distant, considering their affectionate marriage in the beginning. Zhen Huan answers that Zhen Huan is no more, having been murdered by the Emperor's cruelty, and in her place is Niuhuru Zhen Huan. Zhen Huan reveals that Jinghe (Meizhuang's daughter) was fathered by Imperial Physician Wen, and Zhen Huan has helped to raise the child all these years. The Emperor dies in a fit of rage. Zhen Huan mourns him privately, remembering the start of their marriage. She announces his death. Her adopted son, the 4th Prince Hongli, ascends the throne as per the Emperor's secret decree proclaiming him the successor to the throne.
Zhen Huan is crowned Sacred Mother Empress Dowager (圣母皇太后), while Empress Chun Yuan is posthumously crowned the Empress Dowager (母后皇太后). Hongli/Emperor Qianlong completely sidesteps the titular Empress Yixiu, who he despises for her schemes against his adoptive mother. Empress Yixiu discovers that she has not been crowned Empress Dowager, as the principal consort of the deceased Emperor, and realises that upon her death, she will not be granted the privilege of being entombed with the deceased Emperor in the Imperial Mausoleum. She will not be buried with the burial honours due an Empress, but only that of a concubine. She discovers that Empress Chun Yuan has been exhumed and buried alongside the Emperor, honouring the Emperor's everlasting love for Chun Yuan. Empress Yixiu loses the only hope she has clung to and commits suicide.
Yuanche is formally listed in the 21st Prince's (Yunxi's) family register, making him his heir, and thus formally ending Yunli's bloodline. The Emperor Qianlong wonders if his adoptive mother (Zhen Huan) will have him deposed once her biological son, the 6th Prince, comes of age. Zhen Huan has no desire for her son to be Emperor. To put the Emperor at ease, and to legitimately continue Yunli's bloodline, she has her son listed in the 17th Prince's family register, making him Yunli's legal heir.
- "Will Americans be fans of Chinese TV drama?". peopledaily.com.cn. Retrieved 16 July 2013.