Nirvana in Fire: Eps 19-23 (Review)

Chinese DramasDrama Reviews

I knew that Jingrui’s story arc would be a doozy, but I didn’t know that it would be THIS intense.  There are a lot of secrets revealed–Jingrui’s birth secret, Li Yang and Xie Yu’s dark past, and a clue to the massacre 12 years ago–thus resulting in major upheavals in the characters’ lives.  Truly cathartic, angsty and life-changing for all those involved.  Things will never quite be the same after this.   Although I tend to dislike a lot of angst, I actually enjoyed this story arc the most out of all the other story arcs so far.  I like how it shows divided loyalties, switching sides, and the consequences of Mei Changsu’s schemes.


Here’s a “quick” run-down on Jingrui’s very complicated backstory:  Jingrui belongs to two families–the Zhous and the Xies.  His two mothers gave birth to sons at the same time, after which one of their newborn sons died in an ‘accident’.  However, they were unable to determine whose son had died.  So the two families decided to ‘share’ the remaining son aka Jingrui.

The big reveal is that Jingrui is the bastard son of Li Yang (wife of Xie Yu) and the king of another country.  Xie Yu hired an assassin (who happened to be Gongyu’s dad) to kill Li Yang’s illegitimate child, but the assassin messed up and killed the Zhous’ son instead.   Li Yang knew about this but stayed silent about it and played along with the facade of sharing Jingrui.  Xie Yu used Jingrui as a link with the Zhou family to further his own political goals.


WOW.  Talk about a confusing backstory!  Since I didn’t read the novel or any spoilers, I had no idea that Jingrui’s birth secret would be this big and…well…messed up.  Then again, this is a c-drama and c-dramas are great at coming up with the most tragic scenarios ever.

All I can say about Jingrui is that I feel bad for him.  He’s on the top of the world at the start of his birthday celebration, only to have his world come crashing down for him that night.  The saddest part is when he falls to his knees and bawls in Zhou-mom’s (forgot her name, oops) arms as Li Yang tearfully watches on.  :'(  I’m nervous that Jingrui won’t recover from this.


“If I have to die, I want to die willingly.”

-Xie Yu

Although I call these episodes Jingrui’s story arc, it could also be considered Li Yang and Xie Yu’s story arc.  These two really shone the most in these episodes.  First of all, Xie Yu (Liu Yi Jun) is a darn good villain.  He is an example of someone who takes everything to the extremes, to the point of self-destruction.  On the surface, many of Xie Yu’s traits would actually be considered to be ‘good’–ambition, determination, and refusing to give up.  However, he takes all of these values too far, especially in combination with his greed, hunger for power and disregard for people’s lives.  Xie Yu is so ambitious that he even uses his own sons (Xiebi & Jingrui) as pawns and forces Li Yang into marriage, so determined to achieve his goals that he kills off anyone in his path, and so unable to give up that he digs his own grave.

Li Yang (Zhang Yan Yan) really surprised me in these episodes.  I already knew that she’s resourceful and proactive, but she really went into action to protect her family and the Zhous.  Seriously, she:

  • threatens suicide to prevent Xie Yu from fighting with Prince Yu
  • holds a knife to Prince Yu’s breastplate to protect the Zhou family
  • holds a knife to Xie Yu’s neck and suggests that he dies to protect his honor

O_O  The thing that interests me the most about Li Yang though, is the interesting contrast of how she both wields and limits her power in her relationship with Xie Yu.  As demonstrated in these episodes, Li Yang does have the power to protect those who are dear to her.  She also has the power to intervene in some palace affairs such as in Yue Gui Fei’s plot to drug Nihuang.   However, her marriage has a restrictive nature because Xie Yu has more hard power.  While it’s not explicitly stated, it’s implied that Xie Yu raped Li Yang while she was drugged to force the marriage.  On top of that, Xie Yu can dangle the knowledge that he didn’t (but could) follow through with Jingrui’s assassination over Li Yang’s head for all these years.  Xie Yu definitely has more power to instill fear in and exert control over Li Yang.

The other thing that intrigues me is how Li Yang has grown to care about Xie Yu despite all of his wrongdoings.  It must be hard for her to cope with being the wife of the man who raped her and ordered an assassination on her baby.  I have no idea how she survived acting out this lie all these years.  Yet, Li Yang seems to truly care about Xie Yu and feels a sense of duty towards him as his wife.


Mei Changsu orchestrates this plan despite knowing how much it would hurt Jingrui because he believes that this is the only way to bring down Xie Yu.  A part of me wonders if he befriended Jingrui in the first place because of his identity as Xie Yu’s son.  Is it really a coincidence that Mei Changsu is the friend of one of his enemy’s sons?

“People can only be betrayed by friends, enemies would never have the chance to.” – Mei Changsu

Whether or not Mei Changsu had ulterior motives in befriending Jingrui, he is visibly affected by the incident and looks like he feels bad that Jingrui had to go through this as a result of his scheme.  I wonder if Jingrui will suspect Mei Changsu’s involvement, and whether their friendship will survive.  :'(


On the bright side, I love all of the combinations of characters that we’re getting to see in these episodes!  It’s epic seeing Jingrui, Xia Dong, Meng Zhi, Fei Liu, Gongyu, Qing Yao, Zhao-mom and Zhao-dad all fighting together to fend off Xie Yu’s soldiers!  Definitely one of my favorite action scenes so far!  I see a new bromance forming between Meng Zhi, Jingyan and Mei Changsu.  Ohohoho!   And there’s even a partnership between Xia Dong & Meng Zhi.  Really, can’t all these characters just join together to form Team Mei Changsu already?!


I think it’ll be hard for NIF to top Jingrui’s story arc; though I hear that the future episodes are just as good.  I’m glad that Jingrui has gotten a lot of screen time in Nirvana in Fire because he’s one of my favorites.   Admittedly I’m still kinda confused about the entire backstory because it’s always being updated with new clues and it involves so many characters.  T_T  It’s easy to miss details here and there.

On a side note, for those who are still itching for more of the cast members in NIF, you may want to check out the currently airing fall c-dramas Love Me If You Dare (starring Wang Kai as a supporting character), Good Times (starring Hu Ge as the lead), and The Disguiser (has both Wang Kai and Hu Ge).

*Update: Thank you for everyone explaining who drugged Li Yang.

Note: No spoilers in the comments please.

Quote Translation Credit & English subs: Viki


I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
Nirvana in Fire: Eps 7-18 (Review)
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  • Like for most popular dramas, I notice NIF fans tend to whitewash their favorite characters. You mentioned MCS/Lin Shu’s Machiavellian way in your previous review, and the Jingrui arc is one example. Your question about how Jingrui addresses that issue with MCS will be answered in the next episodes (I’d just say: Go, Jingrui! He he)

    Many fans also seem to like the Empress Dowager, find her adorable, especially since MCS adores his grandma, and of course the scene where the Empress Dowager put his and Nihuang’s hands together. And forgetting one fact that it was the same person who drugged Princess Li Yang and had Xie Yu rape her, because she didn’t want Li Yang to elope with the foreign prince. Can I say justifying the means by the ends runs in the family? 😉

    • MCS’ Machiavellian methods are a big part of his character so I think it’d be inaccurate to only focus on his ‘good’ traits. There’s a very thin line separating MCS from his opponents. Even though he is frail, angsty and the hero of the story that doesn’t mean he’s always in the right. The Empress Dowager, despite seeming so harmless and ‘cute’ cannot be excused for what she did to Li Yang.

      • Not to barge in, but the Grand Empress Dowager (tai huang tai hou) shown currently is not the same person who drugged Li Yang! She’s the “grandmother” to the emperor & Liyang’s generation, and the great-grandmother to MCS’ generation. The one who drugged Liyang would actually be the already deceased Empress Dowager (tai hou), who was the emperor’s mother, and most likely Liyang’s as well.

    • Sorry to interrupt, but the one who drugged Li Yang was Empress Dowager (Emperors mother), who died before NIF storyline. The one who loved by Mei Chang Su is Grand Empress Dowager (Emperors Granmother).

    • Actually there’s a major misunderstanding of the English translation of NIF, the Empress Dowager is not the old lady that meets Mei Changsu in ep. 2. The old lady is the princes’ great grandmother, i.e. the grandmother of the emperor (she’s more than 90 years old btw), and this Empress Dowager is the mother of the emperor and has long been dead. The late Empress Dowager conspired with Xie Yu to drug Li Yang because the elder princess had been pregnant at that time, and in order that the scandal did not spread out, the Empress Dowager had to marry her daughter off. Hence all these following scenes. Gosh…(I read the novel after watching the drama, and there’re some details that are not revealed explicitly.)

    • No. It wasn’t Empress Dowager who drugged Liyang to force her marry Xie Yu, it was the Emperor’s mother. Empress Dowager is the Emperor’s grandmother. Empress Dowager loved and was loved by everyone including Mei Changsu and Nihuang. Mei Changsu has a very soft spot for her, which is why when news of her death came to Mei’s awareness, he was so sad. It didn’t mention, but I assume the Emperor’s mother died and never got mentioned except for the drug plot. In Chinese, a Emperor’s mother is called “Huang tai hou”, while the grandmother is called “Tai huang tai hou”.

  • Weee, more NiF! Yeah, I had to rewatch Jingrui’s story arc a couple times before getting everything straight. I feel really bad for this kid – he’s such a kind, gentle person and under so much pressure being a part of two families already…and now to have this dropped on his head. Oof.

    Xie Yu is probably my favorite “villain” in this drama. He’s seriously a jaded man with power, ambition, and means. It’s hard to reeeeally hate him.

    NiF has a pretty hefty backstory, but I’d say you’re following a long pretty well (better than I did the first time around). After all, it is a revenge story so many things that happen in the present have to connect to the past.

  • Jingru and MCS’s relationship is multi-layered.

    Scratch that, MCS’s relationship with everyone in the show is multi-layered.

  • People sometimes talk about NiF not having independent female characters but I feel that given the time period, a. this can be a problem, and b. Even though some of the female characters ARE married, they still function very much independently in those relationship and not become “reliant” on it, an example being Princess Li Yang.

  • If you recall from previous episodes, Nihuang was drugged by Concubine Yue and almost got raped. In ancient times, if a young girl loses her virginity to a man, then the man will have the right to marry her and be her husband. Jingrui’s real father was not only a Prince from Nanchu at that time, but also a hostage that Nanchu sent to Daliang. In ancient China, especially during worrier states, a kingdom would send a Prince to another kingdom as a hostage to promise that they would not start a war. In other words, Li Yang fell in love with a Prince hostage. If their relationship becomes public, this would not only be shame to the imperial family, but also a big problem between Daliang and Nanchu. In order to solve this problem, the Empress Dowager (Li Yang’s mother) drugged Li Yang, and let Xie Yu rapped her. At that time, the Prince hostage had left Daliang to become the king of Nanchu, Li Yang had no other choice but to marry Xie Yu. Li Yang is a Princess. She knew that her love with the Nanchu Prince would not have a happy ending. Therefore, even she was forced to marry Xie Yu, she still accepted her fate. Even she knew Xie Yu was trying to kill Jingrui, she still could not tell others, because her love with the Nanchu Prince, as well as Jingrui’s real identity, was still a secret, a shame to the imperial family. Xie Yu did love Li Yang. More than 20 years after their marriage, Xie Yu had become the father of Li Yang’s son (Xie Bi) and daughter (Xie Qi). Li Yang has accepted Xie Yu as her husband. That is why even Xie Yu is not her real love, she would still care to save Xie Yu’s honour.

    • “In ancient China, especially during worrier states, a kingdom would send a Prince to another kingdom as a hostage to promise that they would not start a war. In other words, Li Yang fell in love with a Prince hostage.”

      Sounds like another drama waiting to be produced imo. Are there any dramas with this story arc?

      • There are several dramas having Prince hostages, but they are usually not the focus of the dramas. A new drama called coming up soon. In the drama, Mi Yue, a concubine of Qin, and her son, a Qin prince, were sent to another state as hostages, although the drama’s main focus is on Mi Yue’s whole life. The drama is based on the real history of “Empress Dowager of Xuan”, but there are more love affairs added in the drama than the real history. Another drama also talks about the story during the same period, but the focus is on the King of Qin. Also, Mi Yue’s grandson, the father of Qin Shi Huang (The Empire who unified China) was also a Prince hostage before he went back to Qin to become the King. His love affair with Qin Shi Huang’s mother was also a famous story in China’s history. There are several dramas about this love story years ago.

    • I like how you explained the whole thing. It makes sense. The one thing that makes me not respect Li Yang and find her selfish is the fact she let another child die in the process of protecting her own.

      • I don’t see Prince Jing as emotional or block-headed. He has strong moral senses, doesn’t hesitate to stand up for it, that’s all. His reasoning is: The noble souls of the departed are watching. I cannot allow them to think that I, Xiao Jingyan, has succumbed. He’s not dumb, he knows perfectly well about the consequences, especially in deciding to save Weizheng fully knowing it’s a trap and what could come as a result. But he’s one who got a bottom line and sticks to it. He might not be the best leader by not being strategic, but definitely a best friend, one you can be sure who will never betray you. Actually this is exactly a value system the show is promoting, as well as all too many stories in China’s history have. This value system is part of Chinese culture. Mencius is known for a famous quote in answering questions from one of his students: After due reflection (on what’s right), even there are thousands trying to stop you, you are still going. This thought is backed by the reasoning of “Deciding if getting into a fight based on if you can win only means you are intimidated by your opponent”. Put it simply, you fight for what’s right, not for your wins. There’s one line in the book to tell us Prince Jing is not a blockhead. It goes along the line of Once Mengzhi’s explained to him, Prince Jing totally understands the whole scheme, it’s not that he doesn’t have the brains for it, just he never wanted to understand those backhanded tactics. As for other political dramas, I heard good things about a Korean one called “Six flying dragons”. I just got onto it, it’s looking good, but probably not as good as NiF. All quiet in Peking is a good one and also stared by Waikai, but it’s more of a spy drama than political.

  • Hi! Which is the episode that explains this part – “Jingrui belongs to two families–the Zhous and the Xies. His two mothers gave birth to sons at the same time, after which one of their newborn sons died in an ‘accident’. However, they were unable to determine whose son had died. So the two families decided to ‘share’ the remaining son aka Jingrui.”? Thank you to anyone for clarifying!

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