Thursday, July 5, 2012

Startling By Each Step/Scarlet Heart (步步驚心)(2011): Relationship between the Emperor and the Princes

Relationship Analysis/Review for Startling By Each Step
This is going to be another long review which may take several parts, as I will going into the main and also the interconnected relationships panned in the series.
Yes, I am addicted to this drama and it is obvious from my exceptionally detailed review which had been lasting for several posts! I do so love this drama so much and I just find it unjust to just do my normal one post review for this series as there is just so much to write about and to share on my opinions and I think most of the fans of this drama series share my sentiments.

However, be warned for the relationships between the characters can be rather complex as they are all interwoven and I have even read reviews which mentioned that they get a little too complicated. I personally think that it is quite realistic as in our real life, we do have relationships/friendships and connections which branched out everywhere as well, so therefore, it just takes a little time to delve deeper into their emotions and also the relevance of the connections to understand the whole drama and its plot.

I am not going to start with the main 4th Prince and Ruoxi/8th Prince with Ruoxi this time, but rather, the fundamental of the drama; which is the Imperial Family and the first part I want to draw focus to is the Emperor Kangxi himself and his relationships with his sons.

Emperor Kangxi and his sons
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The Emperor Kangxi is no stranger in the Chinese history; with his ascension to the throne at the tender age of 8 (he was just a child!) and facing the threats of Oboi. He was deemed as one of the greatest and probably longest reigning emperors in the Qing Dynasty and his popularity had piqued the interest of many filmmakers who have spun many dramas and movies based on his story. Perhaps one of the most famous is The Duke of the Mount Deer which was based on his relationship with an eunuch and also his efforts in battling Oboi. There are also many adaptations which focused on the rule of Kangxi, but in this drama, there is finally focus on his prime and older age and also his role in bringing up his sons and selecting the heir to his throne.
Kangxi probably had the most number of sons; and although there was a bunch who died young, he still had about 20 sons who survived into adulthood and I like it that this drama did show a few more princes besides the main characters such as the 4th, 8th, 13th and 14th, who were undoubtedly more significant in history due to their roles and battles for the throne.
The drama focused on the selection of the heir and also the actual will of Kangxi which had made it to become one of the "Four Greatest Mysteries of the Qing Dynasty".
It appeared that initially Kangxi had already made up his mind long ago, as he had already selected the heir who was Yinreng, the 2nd Prince born to his first spouse, Empress Xiaochengren. The Empress was said to have died during childbirth and thus Kangxi, who loved his first wife dearly, made it a point to bring this son up personally and showered with the extra attention and care as a way to compensate his son's misfortune in losing his mother at birth. Kangxi's love for his son (and also the Empress) was shown in his decision to make the 2nd Prince the Crown Prince at a young age of 2, which was also a sign of his devotion to his first wife, as he skipped the first prince and made Yinreng (who was born second) the Crown Prince.
(Technically, in Chinese/Han culture, the firstborn(son) is always the immediate successor but the definition of firstborn also follows a precedence of the child's background. For instance, the firstborn son to a concubine would definitely lack in status compared to the firstborn son of an Empress, who is perceived as the legitimate wife of the Emperor, even if her son is far behind the other sons of the concubines. In Yinreng's case, he was only the second and furthermore, his mother's favored position as Kangxi's beloved wife and also her noble status as the Empress definitely steered in his favor to be considered to succeed the throne).
Kangxi placed utmost importance on the upbringing and education of all his sons which he assigned to the best teachers and also nannies; but with Yinreng, Kangxi personally saw to his upbringing and education which he spent time with to ensure that Yinreng received nothing but the best which was an obvious sign of favouritism towards this particular son. Perhaps it was also this which contributed to Yinreng growing up being arrogant as he thought of himself higher above his other brothers due to his birthright and background and was bolder in making decisions based on his father's doting on him. At the same time, it was also the factor which stirred the jealousy and dissatisfaction among the other brothers towards Yinreng whom the princes did not consider as suitable for the Crown Prince as most of them surpassed him in their own achievements. The most dissatisfied, as depicted in this drama would be the first prince, Yinzhi, born to Consort Hui. It made perfect sense, didn't it, that the eldest brother would be unhappy when he was not even considered nor given an opportunity and yet was never really gained the trust/attention of his father.

Kangxi and Yinzhi 胤禔 (First Prince)
Though it was not really mentioned in history, it would not be wrong to make assumptions as in this story that Yinzhi was not really favored despite him being the first male born to Kangxi. Perhaps it was due to his mother's status as a consort, or because of Kangxi's obvious affections towards his first spouse. Either way, I just felt that Yinzhi was really pitiful and misjudged as he did not really ask to be born this way and yet, he was never really attended to no matter how good he was. It was obvious from the scene when Kangxi praised Yinreng who shot the arrow but when Yinzhi made a better shot, Kangxi just walked away without even a word to Yinzhi, and it was in front of all the other princes who were the younger brothers of Yinzhi. Imagine, being humiliated or neglected before your siblings especially when you are the elder one; and not just older but also the eldest brother of all. I could truly imagine the hurt and pain felt in Yinzhi's heart at that moment and also his anger and hatred must have been accumulated over the years towards Yinreng. He could not hate his father; after all, he is the emperor and he could only direct his anger at Yinreng. Can we blame him? He also mentioned that he was far more competent; and like all the other brothers as well, who could all be better candidates to be the Crown Prince or the successor to the throne which made him even more dissatisfied with Yinreng's position which he deemed was unjust and only based on favouritism.
Yinzhi was definitely just unlucky, and his whole life was probably spent on working hard to impress his father and to prove his own capabilities yet he was neglected again and again and was even blamed for Yinreng's wrongdoings as Kangxi ordered for a search and found him using voodoo against Yinreng. In this drama, it was mentioned that Kangxi was only looking for a reason to forgive Yinreng after his mistake in offending the allies and to restore Yinreng as the Crown Prince to appease the ministers and public. So Yinzhi ended up being the scapegoat and voodoo was used as the reason for the Crown Prince's misbehavior. The poor Yinzhi was stripped off all his titles and was even demoted to pheasant status and was ordered to be put under house arrest. However, his burial and funeral after his death was performed as what was deemed fit for a Beizi.
Of all the princes, I believe that the most pitiful is still Yinzhi, for I do understand his struggles and emotions with the question, "Why not me?" and "Why am I not loved/not good enough?"

Kangxi and Yinreng 胤礽 (2nd Prince/Crown Prince)
Obviously, as mentioned earlier, Kangxi definitely doted on this son whom he placed so much attention and care since he was born compared to all his other sons. It was due to his love and devotion to his first spouse and also the Empress who was the biological mother of Yinreng, but Kangxi had also favoured him so much that Yinreng was consumed with pride and arrogance and believed that he could anything he want and that Kangxi would allow him. Yinreng never showed much respect towards Yinzhi, who was his elder brother, or I guess, not even his other brothers. He was extremely complacent of his own birthright and constantly placed all his other brothers below him as he touted them to be of lowly backgrounds since they were all born of consorts and never at the same level as him. His position as the Crown Prince made him even more confident of the fact that he is their master and that they would always bow to him. Kangxi's affections for him probably led him to become bold in doing all sorts of things; including engaging their allies in pledging support for him, getting involved with the high ranking officers to attain the throne as soon as possible (even if it is through illegal ways), beating and killing his own reports, corruption and he even dared to seduce and engage in sexual misconduct with the emperor's concubine; which was deemed as highly disrespectful and also incest. Yes, he was just that bold and he thought that he was above the law and even when he was reported, Kangxi still tried to defend him and even covered up for him which made him even more confident that he could get away with anything at all, and he even had his own party; led by Songgotu who pledged their full support to him as the Crown Prince and aimed to help him ascend the throne as soon as possible. Yinreng was even said to be a paedophile in some of the history texts.
He had the support of his 4th and 13th brother; Yinzhen and Yinxiang whom he never really took any precaution against and perhaps, he only trusted them due to their loyalty towards him. However, he slowly realized that all his brothers were equally as unsatisfied with his behaviour and his incompetence and that they were plotting to dethrone him but yet, he was arrogant. Perhaps his complacence also caused his downfall and I do find Yinreng rather lacking in wit and intelligence, as depicted in this drama for all his misconducts and also being dethroned was all his own doing (and maybe Kangxi's).
I mean, come on, he is already the Crown Prince, why go to all that trouble to do so much things and throwing his weight around rather than just waiting to succeed to the throne? It is no wonder that he lost his favor and position and perhaps a good thing too, for he did not seem like a ruler's material.
I guessed from the drama, he did deserve his end for he had been given two chances; seriously, he was restored as the Crown Prince and he was still not remorseful. I guess he never learnt the meaning of the saying, "Once bitten, twice shy". Although this was also partly due to Kangxi's doing for his obvious favouritism, Yinreng should have also been wiser with the amount of education he received. So, too bad for Yinreng.

Kangxi and Yinzhi 胤祉 (3rd Prince)
Not much focus on this prince; although he seemed to be trusted by Kangxi in major assignments, or maybe it was due to his position as the next son in hierarchy? However, it was also mentioned that this prince also had his eyes on the throne, which I don't think is a surprising thing at all as most of the princes definitely harboured their own ambitions and seriously, who would not want to have ultimate power, wealth and authority? Furthermore, the Emperor was almost like God to the people back then and therefore, it is a position which is very much desired by almost everyone and what more, if you are born of royal birthright and were even more destined/qualified to fight for the throne.
The third prince is more subtle in his approach, and probably not as aggressive as the other princes. I think it was the same with the 5th Prince as well.

Kangxi and Yinzhen (4th Prince)
Yinzhen appears to be the most neutral prince and also rather calm and composed when it comes to political matters. It was probably his calm composure and his obedience towards his father and the Crown Prince that somehow made him a prince of a rather low profile and that no one ever suspect or even imagined that he would be the next heir to the throne (or even plotting to his own succession to the throne). Most of the princes were not wary of his ambitions except the 8th Prince, who seemed to a more alert and suspicious type and perhaps, he know that "Still water runs deep". In the drama, the 4th Prince definitely was portrayed as the wisest one; in my opinion, as he knew when to act and when to retreat and that to me, is the smartest move. He never posed himself as a threat to anyone and went with the flow most of the time. Yinzhen was also portrayed to be a thinker, and also an extremely cautious person besides being reserved and he makes every move with a calculated risk to avoid trouble. His only confidante and ally was Yinxiang, the 13th Prince, surprisingly, and not his own biological brother, Yinti, the 14th Prince. It also seemed that Yinzhen did place importance on his brotherly relationships as he tried to avoid conflict with them as much as possible; as can be seen in the drama where he showed his support for the Crown Prince (respect for 2nd Prince and also Kangxi) and when he was ordered to assist in the corruption cases in the court, he tried to help the Crown Prince and the Yintang, the 9th Prince as well although Yintang did not heed his warning. He planned his every step so carefully, and perhaps right from the start, he planned to be made the Crown Prince but he was just so subtle as he showed his support for the Crown Prince first to appease his father and probably also to reduce his father and brothers' suspicion towards him? When the Crown Prince was deposed, he still tried to help him as he was aware of his father's affections for Yinreng. Kangxi never really showed much favor towards Yinzhen until towards the middle of the series, but then again, Kangxi also never showed dislike for this son. It was obvious from Kangxi's move to assign Yinzhen in a lot of major tasks which showed his trust in this son. When Yinsi staged the misunderstanding to lead Yinzhen away from Kangxi's favor and also in deposing the Crown Prince, Kangxi was enraged and totally believed in the whole story that he started to suspect Yinzhen of harbouring intentions towards the throne. Although Yinzhen could not be proved as the culprit, Kangxi seemed to start to doubt Yinzhen's sincerity from then on. However, I believed that Kangxi still do like him for his calmness and at a point, he did care for this son whom he believed was more composed and he even blamed Consort De for Yinzhen's cold character as he was getting older. Kangxi did like Yinzhen for his capabilities, and also probably due to his biological mother, Consort De, who was one of Kangxi's favourite concubines and was to be the next Empress (Empress Xiaogongren). Yinzhen also constantly tried to please his father, and sometimes I do feel that he is also another sad character for no one really appreciated him besides Yinxiang. He is capable but his own mother never really loved him the same way she loved his younger brother, Yinti, and his father, despite knowing his style and character, still chose to believe rumours of his intentions to depose Yinreng. Perhaps he had wanted to ascend the throne using the way of convincing the Emperor, but when he realized that the Emperor had Yinti in mind, his plan came to work. His plan is not one that was made overnight, but I did not think it was to be put into action unless necessary which showed Yinzhen obvious intelligence and wisdom in ensuring that his ascension to the throne a success, leaving no room for mistake. Perhaps Kangxi's biggest mistake was not to have trusted this son, whom I believed could have done much more for the kingdom had he been given equal opportunity. However, whether he is Kangxi's real heir or not no longer matters, for I feel that Yinzhen had the right qualities to become a king and anyway, it is history and Yongzhen is one of the strongest and most hardworking emperors in the Qing Dynasty; maybe it was all meant to be?

Kangxi and Yinsi (8th Prince)
Like the eldest prince, Yinsi is probably another unfortunate prince who did not have the glorious birthright as he was born to Consort Liang, who was one of the lower status concubines of Kangxi and it was probably that fact which made Kangxi never really paying much attention to this son. Yinsi is another capable prince, with his intelligence and wit, and he had one more advantage compared to Yinzhen; which was his popularity with everyone. It seemed to me that Yinsi was quite good in his interpersonal relationships as he did not only managed to get support from the ministers but also he had the support of three brothers; as compared to Yinzhen who only had Yinxiang. Yinsi had the 9th, 10th and 14th Princes to support him in his ambition to ascend the throne, but I guess that was also the main revelation to his strong ambitions before Kangxi. The Emperor never really seemed to like this son; and believed that he was overly ambitious with all the support from the ministers and princes which Kangxi knew was his Yinsi's doing in the background. To me, Yinsi may have been competent and highly capable as well; as even Yinxiang and Yinti believed that he was the equal competitor to Yinzhen and that these two could have made a strong alliance if they were to work together for what Yinsi lacked in calm, Yinzhen surpassed in wit and vice versa. However, I did observe a few points which were what foiled Yinsi's attempts in ascending the throne. For one, Yinsi was much too aggressive and overly ambitious and the biggest mistake was that he made it too apparent and I believed he also acted too hastily before ensuring the actuality of the situation. Secondly, Yinsi also did not calculate his steps properly and like I said, he lacked the wit of Yinzhen who made a perfect plan to ensure a smooth transition but Yinsi, was just too busy trying to depose the favors of his other brothers that he overlooked the plans for his own succession. Furthermore, he made the biggest and should I say, the most vital and fatal mistake in not taking military support to ensure his succession. He may have depended on Yinti, but that, to me, is a mistake from the start, because has Yinsi forgotten that Yinti is also another prince and that he had equal rights to compete for the throne? Yinsi may have trusted too much sometimes. Another thing which stirred my curiosity was the fact that Yinsi seemed to have a rather positive image as he was also known as the 8th Virtuous Prince/Prince of Virtue (Ba Xian Wang) which meant that he was a caring and compassionate soul, but then, why would he not take compassion and brotherhood into consideration when he plotted and planned each step to depose first the Crown Prince then Yinzhen? Is that an act of virtue? Is Kangxi truly wrong in judging Yinsi? I don't think so, because an overly ambitious, aggressive and one who would resort to manipulating his brotherly relationship to achieve his ambitions cannot be respected as a king in the future.
That being said, I did feel that Yinsi became like that because of his dissatisfaction at not being regarded with importance despite his hard work and efforts and to be frank, that was really unjust in my opinion too, as Kangxi's favouritism did contribute to moulding all his princes to turn out the way they were.

Kangxi and Yintang (9th Prince)
Not much focus on the relationship here; as I think Kangxi just regarded them as merely his sons although he was well aware of their relationship with Yinsi, so he may have also be on guard with this son as well.

Kangxi and Yin'e (10th Prince)
Yin'e did appear to be liked by Kangxi, as shown in the earlier episodes where he was quite happy with the antics of the prince and maybe because Yin'e did know how to make his father happy. Yin'e's naivety was his biggest saviour I guess, as he was just too straightforward and simple that there was really nothing to suspect him of, despite his support for Yinsi. Yin'e is not one who understands things immediately like all his own brothers and even he himself realized that he lacked way behind his brothers; even his younger brothers and since he never really fought for the throne, Kangxi was probably neutral with him as well.

Kangxi and Yinxiang (13th Prince)
The Emperor perceived this son as the most carefree and happy-go-lucky son, and I think he did like him to certain extent for he never really gave him much trouble. However, I was a little sad to see the harsh punishment impeded to Yinxiang when he admitted that he stirred the rumors (staged by Yinsi) in his attempt to help Yinzhen clear his name off the allegations. I think Kangxi jumped too soon to believe the stories and not spend another minute to think of Yinxiang's character; or perhaps his affection for Yinreng just blinded his judgement. Kangxi just perceived him as a troublemaker then and just wanted him out of his sight; by sentencing him to house arrest for 10 years. However, had Kangxi totally not cared about Yinxiang, he would not have finally succumbed to Yinti's request to have Luwu accompany him during his house arrest as he did realize that he had been too harsh and that his punishment would only kill the carefree Yinxiang. Therefore, despite his initial protests that Luwu was not of decent background (she was an artistic courtesan), he still caved in and allowed her to accompany him. Maybe it was due to his affections for Yinti, but I believed that Kangxi still did care about Yinxiang as well.

Kangxi and Yinti (14th Prince)
Although it seemed that initially Kangxi was angered by Yinti's defiance when he defended Yinsi from Kangxi's decision to strip Yinsi off his title, Kangxi slowly grew to love and trust this younger son compared to the others after he deposed the Crown Prince. It could be due to Yinti's humility and also his care for his brothers (first Yinsi, then Yinzhen and Yinxiang) as he is often the one who spoke up to help those in trouble that attracted Kangxi towards him as he is seen as one who focuses on brotherhood and family relationships, which was exactly what Kangxi had wanted his sons to focus on.  After Yinreng lost the favour of Kangxi, it seemed that Kangxi slowly turned towards Yinti and it was obvious that he trusted and saw him capable when Kangxi placed Yinti in military campaigns. Yinti was then believed to be the next successor to the throne for most of the rulers would need to gain military support to attain the country's stability. Kangxi decided to select Yinti as his next successor; and surpassed all the other elder princes which showed his absolute favour for this son. Whether Yinti was the actual heir selected by Kangxi remains a mystery in history, but it appeared so in this drama.

Kangxi's overall behavior towards his sons
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It was said that of all the emperors and succession to the thrones, this was probably the one which raised the most ambiguities; Kangxi and his sons; as to who did Kangxi really wanted to succeed him.
Some said that Yinti was supposed to be the rightful heir, while there are also those who supported that Yinzhen was the successor, but I guess only Yinzhen, Kangxi and God knows the truth. However, did you ever wonder how come out of all the many successions (emperor after emperor), only this era (Kangxi's) raised so many questions?
There are some sources which said that perhaps Kangxi, was the main source of it all, and the one who created all these issues due to his treatment towards his own sons.
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Look at it this way, Kangxi, be it in history and in this drama, did tend to show obvious favouritism towards certain sons and I don't think that is really something a parent should do, although I will not comment on him as the Emperor (out of respect for this great ruler). From the parent's perspective, I remembered my parents used to say that a parent need to be equal and fair in their love and affections towards their children.
It is funny to me that Kangxi constantly emphasized on the importance of brotherhood and strong family ties but yet, he did not realize that his particular preferences towards one or two sons created the jealousy and dissatisfaction among his sons as they started to compete to vie for his attention and also, in other words, his position as well. At the same time, Kangxi encouraged his sons to do well in studies and also in all the fields which was meant to train them to be capable princes but at the same time, he was encouraging definite competition between the brothers as they all wanted to do better than the other to gain respect and attention. To the princes, to be capable is not just an achievement but a prospect to be considered the next heir and it is no wonder that they are constantly trying to depose the Crown Prince. I mean, let's put it this way, if the Crown Prince was really capable and strong, did you think that the other princes would try so hard to depose him? He would have at least gained a little bit more of respect from his brothers, don't you think, compared to having all his brothers not supporting him. The numbers definitely did say something, and there were even evidences that supported the Crown Prince was responsible for a long list of misconducts and crimes in the country and seriously, is such an individual fit to be the next king?
Furthermore, putting someone as the Crown Prince based on his position and not considering his capabilities posed the problem of not gaining the respect of the other princes. Yes, he is the eldest and also a legitimate heir but he should also prove his capabilities.
Anyway, at least the first Crown Prince was deposed on valid grounds but when it came to selecting the next Crown Prince, Kangxi tried to put it aside by purposely announcing that he will put it in a will and only announce upon his death. However, the mistake is that Kangxi again started showing favour towards some of his sons; such as Yinzhen and Yinti, again because of their birth as they were the sons of Consort De, his favourite concubine after his first wife (Yinreng's mother) whom he installed as his second Empress; Empress Xiaogongren. His affections for Yinti was more obvious and somehow, I felt that Yinti's prospects to be the next heir was doomed from the start. Why?
Based on his position, he was the 14th Prince and making him the next successor would mean surpassing his elder brothers; which were more than 10 in total (excluding the eldest and 2nd Prince)!
Isn't that a little ridiculous; never mind the capabilities, for Yinti is the youngest among all the contenders and do you seriously think that 11 princes would let it slide and kowtow to their younger brother? Furthermore, if you were to take into consideration about the birthright and also disregarding the remaining princes, how about his own elder brother, Yinzhen (the 4th Prince)??
I mean, after the first and 2nd Prince, it would be the third or the 4th and 5th right? According to Chinese culture, they always follow the hierarchy unless the elder ones are really incapable or are so bad that the younger ones have outshone them. Also, look at history, didn't it show you that having a younger one to succeed the throne only meant trouble??
I just felt that it was really not the right move, and even if the 3rd, 4th and 5th are not considered, you still have 13th (since Yinsi was not favoured at all due to his background).

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Kangxi, I believe, still care about all his sons, as Yinzhen mentioned in one episode when Kangxi wanted to kill Yinti, that "even ferocious tigers do not eat their own offsprings" (a famous Chinese saying), although he did tend to sway towards favouring some of them more compared to the others. It may not be really all wrong as Chinese also used to say that it is common as even our fingers on our hand are of different lengths; indicating that we will tend to have our favourites and dislikes too. However, as a parent, perhaps favouritism need to be shown at a more subtle level because all the children would want equal attention and love as well.

Relationship of the Princes/Between the Brothers
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Boys will be boys; they had their happy and carefree moments when they were much younger and back then, the question of power and ambition had not even surfaced as depicted in the earlier episodes of the series. As we all know, guys are those who do not really care nor do they let emotions get in the way of their relationship/friendship or blood ties with each other and furthermore when we are talking about a bunch of well-bred and cultured royal princes.
Guys are all born to be ambitious in nature, although there is also a minority who are content with a simple life; for instance, Yin'e, the 10th Prince. Due to his own lacking in intelligence, he lived with simple thoughts and only happiness mattered to him. Then again, Yin'e is probably the only prince who thinks that way as the rest of his brothers are all equally intelligent and competent and their pride and achievements made them more confident of their own capabilities. Faced with the prospects of ultimate power and authority made them lust for more, and stirred their discontent with the brother whom all deemed inappropriate in his own conduct and also lacking in competence as compared to each and every one of them. It was normal, right, to have respect for a highly capable candidate although there could be envy compared to having to report to someone who could not even surpass your own level?
The Crown Prince, although was feared and falsely respected due to his status and also for the sake of their father, Kangxi, was not really honoured by all his brothers; despite them being younger than him of age and not just because of his incompetence or misconducts, but also his constant arrogance in throwing his weight around everyone around him and insulting people to his own liking. His disrespect and disregard for others eventually led to hatred and anger towards him, and everyone lost their patience with him. Yes, so Yinreng was the Crown Prince and he had a lot of power to do whatever he liked because of his favour with the Emperor, but he seemed to have forgotten that power lies in numbers and he is standing alone against all his other brothers.
That was the reason why Yinsi and Yinzhen's collaboration to expose his crimes and depose his title was a success as they gained support from the ministers and even the other princes. Of course, it was not that hard to gain access to his criminal records as the arrogant Yinreng did not care about leaving his marks behind everywhere and his reputation with the officials not in his support group just led them readily offering their support to the two princes.
Among the brothers, although they were torn by their ambitions and aims, most of them had one target in mind and that was the Crown Prince Yinreng, obviously. (the poor guy)
Therefore, putting their personal ambitions aside, one of their biggest or earliest aim was to depose Yinreng of his Crown Prince title.
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After the Crown Prince is deposed, it was then battle among the remaining princes to be the next Crown Prince and ultimately, the heir to the throne. Among the princes, there are three main candidates; 4th, 8th and 14th, although the 14th came much later on as he supported the 8th Prince to be next potential heir, yes, over his own brother, the 4th Prince but I will come to that later.
However, in the much earlier stage, I should also include the 3rd Prince, who was also one of the potential candidate as he is the next one in line after the 1st and 2nd Prince, if you look at the hierarchy.
The 3rd Prince, as mentioned above, is much more subtle and perhaps also because the strongest competition lies in the two princes; the 4th and 8th who each had their own support groups and were also deemed as the most strategic and popular princes based on their capabilities and intelligence.
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Yinzhen, the 4th Prince was deemed the most potential candidate based on his birth as his mother was Consort De, Kangxi's favourite concubine and also the next Empress and that made him ever more suitable to be considered as a possible heir to the throne. It was perhaps due to this fact which made Yinsi, the 8th Prince, consider Yinzhen his biggest threat in competition and Yinsi is often wary of Yinzhen's moves and was often suspicious of him even when Yinzhen seemed to appear to try to help his gang. The misunderstanding between the two brothers deepened; or it was more from Yinsi, it appeared in this drama due to Ruoxi's affections towards Yinzhen. Anyway, taking Ruoxi out of the equation, Yinzhen and Yinsi were the strongest competitors against each other in history as they had their own alliances and support in the Imperial Court.
Yinzhen and Yinsi both had their own support from their own brothers as well; yes, interestingly, some of the princes are not interested in the throne for themselves but pledged their support for the brothers whom they felt would be better candidates.

Let's look at the groups and also the battle among the princes:
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Yinsi, Yintang, Yin'e, Yinti (The 8th Prince Gang)
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Yinsi, the 8th Prince had the support from three brothers; the 9th, 10th and 14th because they admired him for his qualities and capabilities. It was said that Yinsi bribed some of the officials in court to support him as well, but again, Yinsi did seem to be quite popular, gaining him the reputation of being the 8th Virtuous Prince/Prince of Virtues (Ba Xian Wang) even during Kangxi's reign which showed his popularity among the people. Maybe the support from the ministers were works of his brothers who helped him to form the alliance to ensure that he could succeed in his ambitions to ascend the throne?
The impressive part is how he had so many brothers to support him and one of them is even the biological brother of Yinzhen; Yinti who pledged his support for Yinsi instead of Yinzhen. However, there are questions that arise in my mind as I was studying the relationship and also this group and one of the biggest question is, if Yinsi had a larger group to support him and also the ministers in the court, how on earth did he still fail to compete against Yinzhen? This led me to believe that my theory is right, that Yinsi still lacked in his wit and strategies and not just that, he did not know how to place his ponds very well nor does he know how to utilize the resources in hand. For instance, Yinti was his ally and he should have planned for Yinti to help him out in military but no, he could lose to Yinzhen's allies; Longkodo and Nian Geng Yao when he himself had Yinti, who was a prince and a potential candidate to the throne who had control of the army as well. Perhaps it was his own failing health, as shown in the series and also Yinti rising in his influence that made Yinsi retreat and turned to pledge his support for Yinti instead.
The four brothers were rather close to each other and they are constantly helping each other and even to the extent of helping Yinsi to depose any potential threats; including Yinzhen although Yinti was rather reluctant in that aspect. However, Yintang was a rather corrupted prince himself which was one of the factors which dragged Yinsi down while Yin'e was too simple to be able to help him to strategize. Yinti, on the other hand, was a rather shaky ally as he was often caught between his loyalty to Yinsi and also his relationship to Yinzhen and thus, as you can see, Yinsi is really without much strong support despite him having the numbers. Also, this gang was constantly trying to make things difficult for Yinzhen and I even find that their tactics were of lowly status as they resort to frame Yinzhen of something he did not do, just to depose him of the potential to be considered as a Crown Prince, and that is their biggest mistake. Okay, maybe I was being biased in this case, but then again, why sink so low when there are many other methods to do this? Despite being close to each other, there were times when they had their differences; for instance Yintang's corruption case made Yinsi retreat and having Yintang to surrender himself, while Yinti was also being suspected of betraying Yinsi for his own good and I guess, they lacked the trust and bond with each other as compared to Yinzhen's gang?

Yinzhen and Yinxiang (4th Prince Gang)
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I liked this pair very much because it was much less complicated due to Yinxiang, the 13th Prince's carefree style and also Yinzhen being the total opposite; as the reserved and extremely cautious type. However, there was just so much mutual trust and understanding that they do not need words but they already knew what each other had on their minds and that to me, is definitely the highest level in a relationship. It is unique how the two of them could be so close to each other when they are not even born of the same mother, nor are they close in their age gap but Yinzhen did mention that he and Yinxiang grew up together and perhaps it was also due to Yinxiang's straightforward and carefree style which made him less threatening to the already cautious Yinzhen? Besides, Yinxiang was also the happiness machine to Yinzhen as he often tries to soften Yinzhen's stern outlook by his own casual and playful ways, yet at the same time, he always stood by Yinzhen in times of need; and he does not even care whether it was right or wrong. It was more of an unquestionable loyalty where "When Yinzhen needs me, I will be there" and it was proven through the touching scene where he stepped forward to take the blame and clear Yinzhen of the allegations although they both did nothing at all, but in that situation, Yinxiang already knew that it would be hard to rid Yinzhen of the suspicion and someone needs to admit to avoid further complications or involve more princes, and he just stood forward to admit it. Besides his undying loyalty to Yinzhen, Yinxiang was also trying to save all the other princes to avoid anyone being subject to their father's anger and suspicions and he just decided to sacrifice himself for one and for all. A true hero, I'd say to that and I am impressed with his courage. He is truly a brother in need, and his actions moved me to tears for that was indeed a very noble sacrifice indeed. If there was one who cared about brotherly love, Yinxiang would definitely be one of them and Kangxi should be proud of him. Yinzhen, at the same time, was also the same although he was often misunderstood as cold and unfeeling, but you could see the pain in his eyes which he tried to hide when Yinxiang was sentenced to 10 years of house arrest. However, Yinzhen's display of affections differ from Yinxiang; mainly because Yinzhen was also more reserved and withdrawn in nature and at the same time, he was also the more strategic guy who knew that he needed a plan and power to be able to save his brother and also to maintain their safety and that was the turning point when he fought for the throne, silently behind everyone's eyes. Yinxiang never doubted him and stood by him even when he became the Emperor and meted out cruel punishments to the people who betrayed him. The best part about this relationship is besides their mutual and unspoken understanding for each other, they are also direct and transparent with each other yet know the line to respect each other.
This is definitely the best brotherhood compared to the rest of them.

Yinzhen and Yinti (Biological Brothers)
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Though born of the same mother, these two somehow just never seemed to get along well with each other and the way they behaved around each other seemed rather awkward as well. I guess there were a few factors which contributed to their distant relationship with each other:
1. Age gap: Yinzhen was born the 4th while Yinti was the 14th and that would mean at least 10 brothers in between the two of them. Furthermore, Yinzhen may appear like the stern and serious elder brother which made Yinzhen a little unapproachable to Yinti?
2. Consort De's different treatment towards both sons: Their mother was definitely one of the key factors as she was more strict with Yinzhen which she attributed to her intention to make sure that Yinzhen would make a good role model to Yinti as the elder brother while with Yinti, she was doting and also loving. I felt that Yinzhen must have been very pitiful to have to watch her mother showering his younger brother with care and love while with him it was all about rules and regulations and the right way to behave. Perhaps, he lacked in experiencing maternal love which made me cold towards things and people around him?
Yinti was also constantly cautious around Yinzhen and it seemed that Yinti always suspected his brother hiding a lot of intentions and he never learnt to trust his own brother. Perhaps the fact that Yinti grew up with Yinsi and also they may be of closer age gap which made him steer towards Yinsi more compared to Yinzhen. Sometimes I also felt that Yinti, despite being suspicious of Yinzhen, was also found to have the same character as he is also hard-headed and can be quite persistent although, Yinti did come across as a little spoilt sometimes too. I wonder whether it is also because Yinti was jealous of Yinzhen's friendship with Yinxiang, while Yinzhen was jealous of his mother's attention on Yinti. There must have been more misunderstanding or even the lack of, which made them uncomfortable of each other. However, one thing which irked me is Yinti's lack of respect for his own brother. It does not matter whether he liked him or not, but the very least, to have that basic respect for your elders. If he can do it for Yinsi, why not his own brother, who, may I mention is even elder in position compared to Yinsi? It is just a little complex in understanding the brotherhood between the two; I mean from the biological point of view. If I want to say Yinti was merciless towards Yinzhen, it is not accurate either for Yinti was seen to be defending Yinzhen in times of trouble; when Yinzhen was framed and also Yinti even tried to make a deal with Yinsi, that in case Yinsi ascends the throne, can he spare Yinzhen from agony? I find myself swinging from being impressed to frustration sometimes when Yinti just lashes out at Yinzhen for not being the good elder brother (remember the part when Yinti blamed Yinzhen for not defending him when Kangxi threatened to kill him?)
Towards the end, their brotherhood was further wrecked with the presence of Ruoxi between them when Yinti tried to ask for Ruoxi to be his wife using the edict issued by Kangxi to take Ruoxi out of the palace, and angering Yinzhen at the same time. Perhaps, from the moment Yinti was said to be the next heir, there was no longer hope to revive their brotherhood, but then Yinzhen also did not harm his own brother even in history and he was allowed to live although he kept him under house arrest to mitigate the risks of threats from Yinti who once had control of the army. Again, the reason for their disharmony lies in their parents, I think, and it is a pity.

Yinxiang and Yinti (13th and 14th Prince)
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This is another neutral pair; despite both of them pledging their allegiance to different brothers but yet this did not affect their brotherly relationship with each other and I think that is due to the fact that they are both people who knew their stand and roles. Both are equally straightforward and also similar in their carefree style, and somehow they could just get along fine. In fact, Yinti probably trusted Yinxiang more than Yinzhen himself and of all the brothers in Yinsi's support group, Yinxiang also found himself trusting Yinti only as the least threat to Yinzhen, simply because Yinti was more compassionate and maybe also because Yinti was the youngest among all of them. These two princes are probably the best of all as they did not really plot or fight for anything and only stood there to support the one they believe in when they are needed. I like the fact that they did not let their support for Yinsi and Yinzhen affect their brotherhood and could still share a casual and light conversation with each other without involving the plans of the brothers they support respectively and that to me, is the right way gentlemen should behave. I am impressed by their ability to sort that out, and to be honest, if Yinsi and Yinzhen had the potential to be the next emperor, these two had the same qualities as well but they just decided to take the backstage although Yinti was then pushed forward as Kangxi started to develop liking for him and eyed him as his potential successor. Even when Yinzhen had ascended the throne, Yinxiang still stood to be the mediator between Yinti and Yinzhen and that showed that Yinxiang was never one who lets power get in the way of brotherhood.

Yinzhen and Yinsi (4th and 8th Prince)
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These two were born to compete with each other; with both being the two most capable princes among all the princes and the two are aware of each other's presence and their respective capabilities which made them want to fight for the throne for themselves. I mean, they were destined to try for the throne the moment they were born in the royal family and as sons of the Emperor. Furthermore, their capabilities surpassed that of the then Crown Prince which made them even more confident that they could win the battle with their careful planning and strategy and furthermore, everyone had equal chance to the throne before the Crown Prince is made the emperor right? The two princes both had their own advantages although Yinzhen definitely had the better advantage enhanced with his birth compared to Yinsi. Comparing the two of them, they were equally as good although as mentioned above, I do tend to prefer Yinzhen more over Yinsi due to his subtlety and also extremely careful planning and if you look at it carefully, his strategy was detailed and he covered all the aspects to ensure definite success while Yinsi depended too much on external factors and also his support from his brothers and ministers and he overlooked the most important factor, which was military power to help him attain and secure his position. Yinzhen succeeded in this part which ensured his ascension to the throne and at the same time, minimized the risks of rebellion. He used military power to stabilize his position; so Yinzhen planned for the before and after parts and there is little wonder that his plan was a huge success. Even when Yinsi thought of rebellion and overthrowing Yongzhen, there was little left for him to plan as Yongzhen had already secured the military and had the support of Nian Gengyao, Longkodo who helped him in ascending the throne. As Ruoxi had said, he had planned so meticulously that every detail was considered; from having his ponds outside the palace to inside the palace and also at specific areas in the country and even in magistrate. He slowly knocked Yinsi's support outside the palace and Yinsi did not even realize that he was in action. There was basically no room for Yinsi to recuperate when Yinzhen ascended the throne, but to accept defeat.
Yinti had also mentioned that these two princes were both equally good and had it been in a different situation where they were not competing against each other, they would have been a good pair as they complemented each other in each of their strengths and weaknesses and they would be the best combination which would be hard to defeat. Unfortunately, it is also due to their respective strengths and ambitions that they would not be able to tolerate the existence of each other as Yinsi had mentioned when Yinti tried to ask Yinsi to spare Yinzhen should he ascend the throne and Yinsi said that Yinzhen would never spare him should he ascend the throne as well. The reason is simple; they are each other's biggest threat and for that reason alone, they can never exist at the same time. Anyway, when you have such calibre people, they can never cooperate as their ambitions would always get in the way. Furthermore, in this drama, besides their contest for the throne, they were also competing for Ruoxi's affections which deepened their hatred or misunderstanding for each other. Yinsi's previous attempts to contend for the throne and also his mistake in framing Yinzhen made Yinzhen hate him all the more and there was definitely no way of Yinzhen having him as an ally. However, Yinsi's popularity also led Yinzhen to plan properly to ensure that he could gain the full support from the ministers and also the public and therefore Yinzhen still granted him the title of Prince Lian of 1st rank and had him assist him in court matters; which was a smart move as he wanted to utilize Yinsi's competence to help him yet at the same time, attain respect from everyone in his ability to control his competitor and also respect capabilities. While Yinzhen had never really planned to do anything drastic towards Yinsi, as shown in the earlier part of the series, Yinsi, on the other hand, had never trusted Yinzhen especially as they grown older. Even before Ruoxi warned him, Yinsi had already kept the lookout for Yinzhen's every move and was agitated with his pledged support for Crown Prince Yinreng and somehow, I just could not accept that Yinsi stooped so low to frame Yinzhen to get him out of the way. It seemed to me that Yinsi never really trusted anyone, besides himself, and it is weird, because the more I look at it, Yinsi and Yinzhen was rather similar in their character as well although they appeared to be total opposites physically but deep down inside, they are both pitiful souls who could not find room to trust anyone around them and maybe that is also a trait in strong and successful people?

The Princes in General
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As mentioned earlier, I have believed that there is always a certain connection no matter what, as they are all still born of the same father and they are all brothers which was depicted in the scene when they pleaded with Kangxi for Yinxiang's release and also in the earlier scenes when they were supposed to be much younger where they got along so well with each other.
People grew up and perhaps they were born to such a destiny where they were to compete for ultimate power from the start, and it is hard not to let ambitions get in the way especially when the man had such strong egos back then where their career meant everything and we are talking about the throne.
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Had it not been for the throne, I think they would have been great with each other as brothers as they had such great chemistry and guys are always just so simple with their wants and dislikes.
But then again, life is not that simple either, right?

To be continued with more relationships analysis....Ruoxi and the princes....stay tune...

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