The novel Bu Bu Jing Xin was published on the internet by author Tong Hua in 2006. It was only later that she got a publisher and it was released on paperback. With the success of the drama, the novel has naturally been re-issued. For the 2011 edition, which was just released in a nifty box set above last month, Tong Hua wrote an additional 30,000 word epilogue, none of which was incorporated into the drama at all. The epilogue, continuing in the vein of Tong Hua’s lyrical writing, is utterly lovely and gives a glimpse into what happened after Ruo Xi passed. Between my tears and sobbing, I managed to summarize the epilogue below.
The majority of the epilogue concerns Princess Chenghuan’s story (the daughter of 13th Prince and Lu Wu), growing up in the palace and becoming best friends with Yongzheng’s 5th son Prince Hongzhou. They get in trouble a lot with their spunky ways, but Yongzheng loves her so much he treats her better than any of his children. She was given to the Empress to raise, who lost her only son and remained childless until the end of her days. She died a few years before Yongzheng, but despite her childless status she retained the Empress title.
Before passing, she confessed to Chenghuan that she’s been treated with such respect by the Emperor and lived a good life. She is unafraid of death, but she is afraid of leaving him all alone. As she nears her end, she asks Yongzheng candidly if he would still make her his Empress if he could choose again. Yongzheng answers that she’s been by his side for 40 years since they were teenagers and has been nothing but a caring and dutiful wife. In his eyes, there is no one else who could be his Empress, and with that she passes peacefully.
A few years after Ruo Xi passes, a Mongolian prince pays a visit to the court of Emperor Yongzheng. It is Min Min’s youngest son, asking for the hand in marriage of one of the Qing princesses to one of the Mongolian princes. Yongzheng asks him if the request is from his father or mother? The Prince replies that it’s from his mother. His father was afraid of overreaching to ask for the hand of one of the Qing princesses, but Min Min persuaded her husband.
Hearing this, Yongzheng says that he doesn’t have a daughter at a marriageable age, but there is a princess he cherishes even more than if she were his blood daughter. Yongzheng gives Princess Chenghuan’s hand in marriage to the eldest son of Min Min. The day arrives where Chenghuan is to leave for Mongolia but no one can find her, and word comes out that Princes Hongli and Hongzhou are also missing.
The three return by late afternoon, propping up a drunken Chenghuang. Prince Hongli kneels to beg forgiveness, while Prince Hongzhou gives his dad a challenging look. At that moment, Yongzheng flashes back to a young 13th Prince bursting into his study to laugh about how he took a certain sister-in-law of the 8th Prince out drinking all night and caused chaos in that household. He remembers his beloved brother’s wild abandon, and lets this go.
Before leaving, Chenghuan grabs her Imperial Uncle’s legs and cries with abandon, begging not to be sent away. Yongzheng orders her shoved into the carriage. Chenghuan knows that those who loved her most wanted this marriage for her, wanted her to leave the Forbidden Palace. But she is sad to leave her life behind for an unknown future. She never learns the truth, that her mother was Lu Wu, but she knows she was loved by everyone around her and that truth of her birth is never to be discussed.
It is only after knowing the Chenghuan’s future is secure does 13th Prince succumb to his illness and dies. When Min Min learns about 13th Prince’s passing, she wails in pain and cries her sorrows publicly. She sets up a shrine to 13th Prince and tells her eldest son to perform the rituals of a son-in-law. Later in the night, her son finds her singing before the shrine, and then she breaks into the dance that she performed for 13th Prince years ago. When Min Min meets Chenghuan, she vows to love Chenghuan as her own daughter for the rest of her life.
When Yongzheng dies, he asks his faithful servant Gao Wu Yong to pass word to 14th Prince, who has been in palace arrest since Ruo Xi’s death. Yongzheng’s parting words to his younger brother are “I’m taking the golden hair pin with me under the ground, and giving you back your freedom.” The hair pin in question is the one 14th Prince kept that belonged to Ruo Xi, which she used to prick the horse during that horse race with Min Min in order to protect 14th Prince’s secret trip to Mongolia. This shows how much 4th Prince loved Ruo Xi, taking everything that was hers with him, not even allowing 14th Prince to keep his final memento of hers. And also shows how much 14th Prince loved her, that he kept the hair pin all these years.
After Yongzheng passes, 14th Prince has a dream one night about his brother. In it, he’s 4 years old and his mother is feeding him goat’s milk. 15 year old 4th Prince comes to visit their mother bearing a calligraphy page he’s beautifully written. Their mother reaches for it to read, which is when young 14th Prince knocks over the milk. Their mother immediately fusses over 14th Prince, and absentmindedly grabs the 4th Prince’s paper and uses it to sop up the spilt milk. 4th Prince quietly watches, and then puts the wet paper in his sleeve pocket.
When their mother goes to change, 4th Prince smiles at his younger brother and says they have very similar names. Yinzheng and Yinti, and 4th Prince uses some tea water and writes the word Yin on the table to show 14th Prince. Perhaps 14th Prince was jealous that his older brother could already write, but he acted all petulant and erased the word, telling his older brother that his calligraphy is just average and the teacher must always be complimenting his writing to gain their mother’s approval.
14th Prince wakes up from this dream with tears in his eyes. He doesn’t know whether he’s crying for the 15 year old 4th Prince sitting in their mother’s chamber that day, or for his own life which went to waste the day their father passed away. When he was released by his nephew, now Emperor Qianlong, he asked for just a horse. He walks out of the palace and sees Beijing is pretty much unchanged since Yongzheng did not do major construction in the city. He walks around and sees all the same places he went with his brothers. What he wants to do is go see the country like his 13th brother dreamt of, but he’ll likely not be allowed to travel far. He doesn’t mind, because in every nook and cranny of Beijing is a memory he can revisit of his brothers and Ruo Xi and their time growing up together.
Princess Chenghuan learned how to draw from the royal painter, and years after Ruo Xi passed, she drew a portrait of her beloved Aunt Ruo Xi. Yongzheng saw the painting and quietly viewed it for some time. Chenghuang offered to give it to her Imperial Uncle, but he did not accept it. Chenghuan cried thinking even her Imperial Uncle has forgotten about her. But one night as Chenghuan is walking the Imperial gardens with her cousin Prince Hongzhou, she sees Yongzheng sitting in Ruo Xi’s old chambers, with one flickering candle burning, reading the old calligraphy papers she left when she practiced her writing. It is then Chenghuan realizes that her uncle has never forgotten Ruo Xi.
Tong Hua uses Prince Hongli’s worries about his father to show how Yongzheng lived in the years after Ruo Xi passed. Hongli remarks that his father has not visited any of his wives in many years, which leaves no further princes to vie for the throne except for him and Hongzhou. But Hongzhou is a free-spirit who is uninterested in learning, so Hongli knows that he is all his father can rely on to govern the country when the time comes. It’s clear that Ruo Xi’s name is verboten in the palace, never to be spoken of. Hongzhou only knows she’s someone who Chenghuan calls Aunt and loved dearly and is also one of the wives of their 14th uncle, but it’s Hongli who was old enough to have seen the truth, that she is someone of vital importance to his father.
If you know your Chinese history, Prince Hongli will go on to become the Emperor Qianlong, widely considered the best Emperor in Qing history. In fact, Emperor Qianlong had such filial piety that towards the end of his reign, he abdicated his throne for his son, in order to not go down in history as having a longer reign than his famous grandfather, the Emperor Kangxi. So his rule was just one year shorter than that of his grandfather, even though he continued to make ruling decisions behind the scenes until his passing many years later.
It’s really hard to let these characters go, possibly even more difficult than letting the drama go. The actors made them feel alive, living through such tumultuous times filled with excesses of love and happiness, pain and suffering. I loved how Tong Hua’s epilogue included Min Min, and having 13th Prince’s daughter marry into Min Min’s family was such a fitting conclusion for the Mongolian princess with a heart as wide as the plains, and the Qing Prince she loved like the moon she could never reach. Even though Min Min gave up her moon and married her sun, it made me cry knowing she never really forgot 13th Prince. I’m glad Chenghuan got out of the palace after her father passed, and found such a loving family with Min Min in the plains where she could live without constraints.
No one can possibly not love the character of 13th Prince, with his dislike of royal constraints and his wish to live with abandon. While 13th Prince had his life full of youthful promise cut short, it was hinted at that 14th Prince was the one who in the end lived out the rest of his life according to what his 13th brother longed for. After all the love and hate, all the fighting and suffering had passed him by, 14th Prince was the only one left, and he managed to find a measure of peace and happiness with what he had. The simplest of things, really. When he was released from the palace, he lived to a ripe old age. In the end, what 14th Prince wanted was the same as what 13th Prince once told Ruo Xi was his dream if only he wasn’t born into the royal family: riding horses in the wild, playing the flute, sword fighting, shooting condors on the plains, listen to the music of the South, traveling the country to experience life without worries.
The fansphere for BBJX is pretty evenly divided between those who hated the drama ending and preferred the novel ending, and those who found the drama ending open-ended enough to be hopeful. Director Lee revealed that the third ending shot involved Nicky being the driver that hit Zhang Xiao, and they end up meeting again after she wakes up. What happens after that remains a mystery the production hasn’t revealed.
I think the drama did such a great job of bringing the story to life that I appreciated their attempt to create a modern day closure to the story. But after reading Tong Hua’s new epilogue, it added even greater depth to the lives of those left behind after Ruo Xi’s passing. Yongzheng literally worked himself to death, being a good Emperor was all he had left, and his contribution the only thing he could do. Because his heart had already died with Ruo Xi, and he was just waiting to join her when his time came and he could leave the country in the hands of his capable son Prince Hongli.