China has a long and rich history that is often the backdrop for numerous popular period dramas. Although often romanticized and exaggerated to keep viewers interested, these dramas provide a glimpse of life in ancient China. In 2004, Hong Kong’s palace scheming drama War and Beauty became an international hit, sparking a revolution on TV. More and more dramas emerged with the theme of palace schemes — Ruyi is no exception.
What are palace schemes?
In ancient China, emperors had multiple wives/consorts. That custom stayed true for many dynasties. Consorts would often use tactics to gain the emperor’s love and favor. As sons were favored over daughters in order to carry on each family’s lineage, bearing a son supported a consort’s fate to live a good life in the palace. If you had a son, he could have the chance to become the next emperor. Jealousy, greed and emotions ran high during these times. As depicted in dramas, such scheming often resulted in horrific tragedies.
Then, there is the male side of the story. Men’s scheming usually involves rank and politics. Who wouldn’t want to rule China? Because of the sheer amount of wives each emperor had, it was no surprise to have many sons. The war for the throne was very common. Exaggerated much? Not quite… There are historic records to prove it. Besides the throne, there are also court politics between court officials.
Of course, not everyone can be royalty. In the palace, there are many servants from guards and eunuchs to maids. Working with royalty was a matter of life or death. As their masters’ moods could change on a whim, their lives could easily go along with it. As depicted in dramas, servants were easy scapegoats for their masters. If you accidentally got caught up in someone’s scheme, goodbye to you. Exaggeration? It could be; it’s best to take it with a grain of salt.
Why are Story of Yanxi Palace and Ruyi so popular?
Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿傳) is the sequel to the hit palace drama Empresses in the Palace (後宮·甄嬛傳) which was a touching tale of love and betrayal between Zhen Huan and Emperor Yongzheng based on a novel. Ruyi continues from that and focuses on Yongzheng’s son, Emperor Qianlong and one of his wives, the Step-Empress Ulanara. However, it was delayed for two years due to a broadcasting controversy. As a result, a similar drama Story of Yanxi (延禧攻略) from the famed producer Yu Zheng broadcasted first. Also based on a novel, Yanxi is focused on the relationship between Consort Ling and Emperor Qianlong. The female lead character, Wei Yingluo, was a breath of fresh air for viewers of palace dramas. Usually the female lead is a damsel in distress, always getting bullied before she stands up for herself and rise up the ranks. However in Yanxi, Yingluo’s blunt and honest don’t-mess-with-me attitude was very fun to watch. She was able to counter other people’s schemes as well as scheme up something amazing herself!
Since the two stories are based on the same historical setting, the same historical figures appear. While the pivotal moments of each character was recorded in history, the private daily affairs were not which allows both authors creative freedom on character personality and plot.
Yanxi was an unexpected hit triggering many people to binge-watch. This week being the final week of broadcasting the drama, many fans are starting to take notice of Ruyi which was finally greenlit for broadcast. The 88-episode drama just started this week and already fans are drawing some interesting comparisons.
Differences in personality
The major differences are the different character personalities. Here are the important ones that I’ve noticed. Ruyi characters are on the left while Yanxi characters are on the right. Being mostly based on historic records, the fates of each character are already noted on Wikipedia. However I have masked those as possible spoilers below for your consideration.
Ulanara Ruyi (Consort Xian) / Hoifanara Shushen (Consort Xian)
The protagonist in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is Ulanara Ruyi (left). She was one of Qianlong’s secondary wives and had a loving relationship with her husband. After Qianlong took the throne, she became Consort Xian.
She put up a strong front and rose to eventually become the Empress.
Hoifanara Shushen (right) was one of the antagonists in Story of Yanxi Palace. She avoided forming liaisons with other consorts and steered clear of schemes. Unfortunate circumstances forced her to take control of her life.
She eventually became the Empress and exacted revenge on others without dirtying her hands using cruel and underhanded tactics.
Wei Yanwan (Consort Ling) / Wei Yingluo (Consort Ling)
While not exactly a main character, Wei Yanwan in Ruyi (left) was one of the antagonists. She was reduced to a palace maid due to her father’s treason but eventually became Consort Ling. She was responsible for many deaths within the palace.
Wei Yingluo (right) was the bold and just protagonist in Yanxi who stood up for others and talked bluntly. She entered the palace as a seamstress to get revenge for her sister’s mysterious death. The Empress took a liking for her personality and she became her loyal maid.
Through various circumstances, she deemed it was necessary to return to the palace to help her friend as well as get revenge for the Empress’s death. She became Consort Ling and earned Qianlong’s affection.
Fuca Langhua (Empress Fuca) / Fuca Rongyin (Empress Fuca)
Fuca Langhua in Ruyi (left) was the elegant Empress. Beneath her refined demeanor, she often collaborated with Noble Consort Huixian to scheme against and frame Ruyi. However, she was oblivious to the fact that Jin Yuyan was using her as a chess piece.
Fuca Rongyin in Yanxi (right) was the beloved main wife of Qianlong before he became Emperor. After taking the throne, she became the kind and elegant Empress. She strived to treat everyone with fairness and respect. Scheming was out of the question for her.
Keliyete Hailan (Consort Yu) / Keliyete Ayan (Consort Yu)
Originally a seamstress, Keliyete Hailan in Ruyi (left) was a timid girl who rose through the ranks with the help of close friend, Ruyi. She was often victimized for her weakness as well as her close relationship with Ruyi by Noble Consort Huixian and Jin Yuyan. She bore Qianlong’s favorite son, Yongqi, the 5th Prince.
Keliyete Ayan in Yanxi was also timid and often bullied by Noble Consort Gao and Concubine Jia. She also bore Qianlong’s son, the 5th Prince Yongqi. With the help of Yingluo, both mother and son survived through Noble Consort Gao’s schemes.
Gao Xiyue (Noble Consort Huixian) / Gao Ningxin (Noble Consort Gao)
Gao Xiyue in Ruyi was Noble Consort Huixian who would often plot against Ruyi under Empress Fuca’s orders. Just by her way of dress you could tell she’s very full of herself. She exhibits a spoiled princess attitude.
Before entering the palace, Gao Ningxin in Yanxi was a performer skilled in the traditional Chinese opera, xiqu. He caught the eye of the Emperor and became Noble Consort Gao. She was the first antagonist who would scheme against any consort who stood in her way. She victimized Consort Yu and her son as well as Empress Fuca. From her attitude and way of dress, it was obvious she was above all other consorts.
A few more that are sort of similar
What’s with the consorts and concubines?
In the Chinese inner court of women, each has her personal name which is usually not used in the palace. Instead, the Emperor appoints each wife with a unique title followed by rank. The higher the rank, the more well-off and/or favored by the Emperor you were. If you noticed, the personal names listed above are different between drama series. This is due to their personal names not being written down in history, therefore the authors took creative liberty. If that’s the case, why are some of the titles different, too? This is probably due to China’s censorship bureau requiring it be changed — they probably didn’t want the actual historical figures being affected negatively by the story’s inaccurate portrayal.
So long story short, is this real history?
Most dramas nowadays are usually works of fiction and loosely based on real figures or events unless otherwise stated and such is the case for Ruyi and Yanxi. Due to incomplete historical records, these stories are just the creators’ takes as entertainment for the masses and exaggeration is a given. As with all palace dramas, I believe the message is for us all to always treat each other with respect; scheming and infighting is not good for anybody and it will take its tow causing everyone much unhappiness.
English subs available
Did I pique your interest yet? While it’s no action drama, the relationships, tactics as well as history is rich in these dramas. Who knows, you might like it? Unlike Yanxi, Ruyi has been licensed by Viki so English subtitles are available!
This article is purely of my own thoughts and opinions. Your opinions may differ. Any offense caused by my rants and ramblings is unintentional. Thank you for understanding.