Imperial Concubine Yang (06/01/719—08/15/756 AD) was born in Yongle of the present Shanxi province. Her maiden name was Yuhuan (literally meaning Jade Ring), or Yunu (literally meaning Jade Slave). She was very beautiful, though a little chubby, and was one of the four beauties famous in the history of China. The standard beauty in Tang Dynasty (618—907 AC) should be a little chubby. Men of that time didn''t like girls skinny. A legend about her beauty goes like that once when she went round the imperial garden and touched some flowers, the flowers she had touched bent down like in timidity. So it was said that she had the ability to make flowers feel shy.
The other three were Xi Shi (date of birth unknown and died in 448 BC) who lived in a village in the present Zhejiang province, the area belonged to Yue State in the earliest War Period (472 BC—221 BC). A legend about her beauty goes like that when she went to wash her gauze clothes in a nearby stream, the fish in there, seeing her beauty, sank to the bottom of the stream in bashfulness. At that time, Yue State was defeated by Wu State and the king of Yue State wanted to revenge. His famous courtier Fan Li (516 BC—448 BC) had a plan and he went round to find beautiful girls. One day he came across Si Shi who was washing her clothes by the stream. Her beauty stunned the courtier Fan. He took her to the palace and she was trained to sing and dance. Then she was sent to the palace of Wu State. The king of Wu State liked the girl very much, enchanted by her great beauty. He made her his queen and watched her sing and dance everyday. He neglected his state affairs. The king of Yue State secretly gathered and trained his army till one day he thought he was strong enough and invaded Wu State and conquered it. Then he thought of the beauty Xi Shi and wanted to send for her for his own enjoyment, but the beauty was nowhere to be found. History had it that the courtier Fan was afraid that the king of Yue State would be enchanted by her beauty, too, and so he took Xi Shi with him to where the king could not find her. Fan later became a rich businessman. He and Xi Shi died in the same year.
The second beauty was Wang Zhaojun (52 BC—19 BC) in West Han Dynasty (206 BC—8 AD). A legend about her beauty goes like that when she went to marry the Mongolian prince and on her way there, and when the wild geese in the north saw her beauty and became so listless that they fell down from the sky. When in teens, Wang was selected to be a palace maid. All maids in the palace wished to get in the preference of the emperor and be made an imperial concubine. They asked the palace painter Mao Yanshou to paint their portraits beautiful because the portraits would be sent to the emperor who would choose the most beautiful as his imperial concubines. Most maids bribed the painter, but Wang refused to bribe him so that he painted Wang with some facial defects. She was of course not to remain as a maid. The Mongolian in the north often made war against Han Dynasty, and to maintain peace along the border, Han Dynasty often held out the olive branch by marrying a princess to the Mongolian prince, but actually, a palace maid was chosen and sent to Mongolia as a princess. This time Wang was chosen for the purpose. Before her departure, as a rule, she was summoned to the presence of the emperor. When the emperor, seeing her beauty, regretted to marry her away. However, for the peace of the nation, he had to keep his promise. Anyway, he killed the painter for painting Wang so ugly. Wang died in Mongolia at the age of 33. (1)
The third one was Diao Chan (dates of birth and death unknown) who lived in East Han Dynasty (25 AD—220 AD). She liked to worship the moon goddess in the courtyard when it was full moon in the sky every month. A legend about her beauty goes like that whenever she worshiped the moon goddess, the moon lost its sheen as if shaded by her beauty. Her family name was Ren and her maiden name was Hongchang. She was very clever and at the age of fifteen, was chosen to work in the palace as a maid in charge of the emperor''s clothes and headgear. Her job title was Diao Chan, hence she was known in history by her job title. Except for certain historians, common people don''t know her real name. When the palace fell in chaos, she escaped and was adopted by the high official Wang Yong (137－192 AD). Then a bad courtier Dong Zhuo (141—05/22/192 AD) controlled the court. The emperor was only a puppet. He had an adopted son, Luu Bu (birth day unknown and died on 02/07/199), who was the bravest knight at the time. Dong and Luu were both lewd men. Wang Yong always wanted to get rid of Dong Zhuo and restore the power to the emperor. Hr harbored a scheme, the Chinese called Beauty Strategy. First he invited Luu to his home for dinner. During the dinner time, he let Diao Chan come out to dance before Luu. Since Luu was a lewd man, he immediately fell in love with the beauty. Luu expressed his wish to marry the girl and Wang gave his ascent. Only he needed time to prepare for dowry, which was reasonable. So Luu left in great ecstasy. Next day, Wang invited Dong Zhou to his home for dinner. At dinner he also let the girl come out to dance before Dong, who liked the girl at the first sight. Dong ordered Wang to send the girl to his residence, which Wang never dared to refuse. A few days afterwards, when Luu came to ask to fix a date for his wedding, Wang told him that his adoptive father Dong took his future wife, which enraged Luu. One day he met the girl in the garden of Dong, the girl instigated him to kill Dong and marry her, which he did. And he did marry the girl.
Since Yang''s was a big family, they had a huge residence divided in three sections. The front section was the servant quarters. The middle section was the main living part for family members. The last section was the place for the worshiping of the ancestors. They had a large garden in the back of the residence with an artificial lake and a zigzag bridge over it. There were grottoes and some pavilions dotting here and there among flowers and trees. This was typical Chinese architecture for a big family residence in old time. There was a small pond, later called Imperial Concubine Pond, below Watch-River Pavilion. It was said that the girl Yang used to wash her hair in the lucid pond.
Her father, Yang XuanTan, was an official in Shuzhou and died when Yang was ten. Then she went to live with her uncle, Yang XuanGui, also an official, in HeNan province. Generally, girls in big families were well educated. They were taught to read and write, to dance and play some musical instruments, and to paint. Yang Yuhuan was talented in dancing.(2)
Her brother was Yang Gua, who was an official in the central government.
Her famous male cousin was Yang Guozhong (birth day unknown and died in the fifth moon of 756 AD). When young, he was nothing, despised by all the neighbors for leading a low life. Then he joined the army in Sichuan province and later was promoted to be a petty officer. But he was still poor. At the end of his three year''s term, he had even no money to pay for his board and food in any inn to return home. Anyway, he often visited the family of Yang Xuantan, though Xuantan was already dead. He had an affair with the second sister of Imperial Concubine Yang, who had three sister and one brother, besides this cousin.
The most active sister was Yang Yuyao, who was also beautiful and had affairs with her cousin Yang Guozhong. She was afterwards married to Pei and gave birth to a son and a daughter for him. Pei died soon.
At that time, the emperor on the throne was Xuanzong of Tang Dynasty (618—907 AC). He was the grandson of Empress Wu the Great. Now the emperor wanted to find a girl as the wife of his favorite son, Prince Shou, who had already reached the age to marry. Generally, the Tang emperors would look for girls for their sons from Wei family, Yang family, or Wu family.
Yang XuanAo, the uncle of Yang Yuhuan, had worked as a matchmaker to select girls for sons of the imperial family, and of course, he learned the message that the emperor wanted to find a girl for his son. Since Yang Yuhuan was his niece and was the most beautiful girl among all girls of Yang family, he decided to make his niece be the wife of Prince Shou. Through his influence with the new matchmaker, he succeeded in putting the name of his niece in the list of selection. After several interviews like through a sieve, Yang Yuhuan was at last chosen to be the wife of the imperial son. She now crossed the threshold to enter the imperial circle. (3)
The wedding ceremony of Prince Shou and Princess-in-law Yang took place in Luoyang city. They lived there less than a year and then Prince Shou took his wife back to ChangAn city, the capital, to see his father, the emperor, in the tenth moon of 736 AD. But he could never imagine that as soon as he arrived in the capital, he was unexpectedly involved in a political plot, schemed by his mother, the imperial concubine Wuhui. The imperial concubine Wuhui always wanted her son, Prince Shou to be the crown prince and looked for a chance to get rid of Crown Prince Ying.
In the eleventh moon of 736, Crown Prince Ying, the eldest son of the emperor, Prince E, the fifth son , and Prince Guang, the eighth son, gathered in their palace residence and complained about their mothers out of the favor of the emperor. Yang Hui, the son-in-law of the imperial concubine Wuhui, came to know it and reported to Wuhui. Wuhui found a chance to report to Emperor Xuanzong, adding that the three princes formed a clique. The emperor hated anyone to form a clique behind his back, afraid that they would plot against him. The emperor fell in great fury and summoned the premier to consult him about deposing the crown prince and other two princes.
The premier Zhang Jiuling (678—740) was an upright man. He said to the emperor that as there was no evidence against them, His Majesty should not rashly make the decision to depose them. The imperial concubine Wuhui learned it and sent someone to bribe Zhang, who refused and reported to the emperor about the bribery. The emperor was moved and made up his mind not to depose the three princes. Wuhui''s scheme failed.
Some time afterwards, Wuhui created some rumors about Premier Zhang and caused Zhang to be demoted. The next premier was Li Linfu (683—752), who was a wicked sly person. To please the imperial concubine Wuhui, he often sang praises of Prince Shou before the emperor.
In the fourth moon of 737, Wuhui secretly told her son-in-law to spread rumor that the crown prince and other two princes were planning a mutiny. When the emperor was told the rumor, he sent for Premier Li for consultation. Li said that it was the emperor''s family affairs and the emperor could make whatever decision he thought fit. Therefore, the three sons were executed and deprived of their titles of prince. (4)
However, after a few days, the emperor thought that there was something wrong with the case. He killed three of his own sons without any evidence. He regretted. Just then, Premier Li came to see him and reminded him of the vacancy of crown prince, adding his suggestion that Prince Shou should be the right person for it. The emperor didn''t say anything about it.
One day, a courtier Pei Zhen came to see the emperor and said that he heard that someone had suggested Prince Shou to be the crown prince. He reminded the emperor of the fact that people were all complaining that the crown prince had been wrongly killed. So it was not the right time to make Prince Shou the crown prince. Besides, through seniority, there were some elder brothers to be considered first. The emperor knew that it was the right consideration. When Premier Li put up his proposal again to make Prince Shou crown prince, the emperor said, “I won''t select him.”
The emperor had a favorite eunuch named Gao Lishi. Although a eunuch was low in social status, as a favorite eunuch of the emperor, who often listened to him, he had great power. One day the head eunuch said to the emperor, “Your slave know that Your Majesty can''t decide which princes to be the crown prince. In your slave''s humble opinion, it should go by seniority.” The emperor said, “You are right.” In the sixth moon of 738, the emperor declared his decision that his third son, Prince Zhong, should be the crown prince. The hope and plan of imperial concubine Wuhui ended in nothing. She died soon.
Prince Shou and Yang Yuhuan retired to their own residence and lived a peaceful life for the next five years. During these five years, Yang Yuhuan didn''t bear any sons, nor daughters, for Prince Shou. Readers may think that Yang Yuhuan would thus lead her smooth life till the end.
However, her fate was differently arranged. She was destined to give us readers a touching romantic love story. On the eleventh day of the tenth moon in 740, when she was twenty-two years old, the turning point of her fate befell her. That day, the emperor came to Huaqing Palace on a short vacation as usual. It was the twenty-second time to come here. But on the day, he summoned Yang Yuhuan to the Huaqing Palace to meet him. Why did he want to see the wife of Prince Shou there? It was because since his imperial concubine Wuhui died, the emperor had had an empty feeling for his sex life. To make him happy, his head eunuch went to the Yangtze River area to seek beautiful girls for him. At last, he found a beautiful girl by the name of Jiang Caiping, daughter of a doctor. She was so talented. She could read and write, versed in poetry, a renowned poetess in the neighborhood. She could also paint, and play zither and chess. The head eunuch took her to the capital in the north. The emperor liked her very much and made her his Imperial Concubine Plum because the girl loved plum blossoms. The emperor ordered plum trees to be planted round where she lived. After several years, the emperor grew tired of Imperial Concubine Plum and needed a new girl. (5)
The head eunuch knew the emperor best and hinted to have Yang Yuhuan as his next favorite. That year, Yang was only twenty-two while the emperor was already fifty-six, with age difference of thirty-four years. When Yang arrived in the palace, the emperor just expressed his wish to have Yang for his imperial concubine. Of course, Yang could not reject the emperor, who could decide her life or death. After a few days'' stay, Yang was allowed to return to her own residence, as she was still the wife of his son.
During her stay, the famous tune of “Rainbow-Colored and Feather-Adorned Dress” was played and Yang Yuhuan danced to the tune. When she left, the emperor gave her a gold hairpin and a jewelry box inset on the surface with gold, silver, and jade specks.
People always are curious to know why Yang Yuhuan was really in love with the old emperor, thirty-four years older than she. The emperor could have been her father. The reasons were, besides yielding to the power of the emperor, the emperor was a handsome person and also talented in many respects, while her present husband Prince Shou was not romantic, without talents. The emperor could practice calligraphy well. Traveler can still see the tablet with his calligraphy on in XiAn city. The place is called Tablet Forest with a lot of other tablets there. He also liked music, could compose music and play some musical instruments, especially could beat a kind of drum called Jie Drum beautifully. A Jie drum was made of wood, somewhat round like a barrel, but thinner in the middle. The two ends were covered with dried goat skin. It was placed levelly on a shelf and was played on both ends with two drumsticks. (Readers can see pictures of Jie drum by copying and pasting these two Chinese characters 羯鼓 into Google image search box.) Therefore, Yang Yuhuan could dance to the beating tune of the drum played by the emperor. They could really form a music couple in spite of the great age difference. They had true love between them and so handed down to us the moving love tale.
In Tang Dynasty, moral for marriage was loose. The grandmother of the emperor, Empress Wu the Great (readers can get the fact from my book of this same title), became a nun after her first husband died and before she married her second husband, the son of her first husband. Therefore, the emperor followed this example, with a little change, and so Yang Yuhuan became a female taoist in the imperial temple. What is the difference between a nun and a taoist? Besides the different clothes, a nun must shave off all her hair, while a taoist put up her hair in a knot. When a nun wants to shift back to be a lay person, she must let her hair grow long, while a taoist is easy to shift back by just letting her hair down. So the emperor chose to make Yang Yuhuan go the easy way.(6)
When Yang Yuhuan was back home, she felt restless. But Prince Shou knew nothing about it and passed his everyday as usual. The emperor was more restless and wanted to have the beauty beside him right away. Anyway, that a father-in-law possessed his daughter-in-law by force was really a scandal though no one could say NO to him. It was better to get her in a roundabout way. So Yang Yuhuan became a female taoist in the imperial temple, belonging to the imperial family. And her taoist name was Taizhen. So sometimes people called her Yang Taizhen. Before the emperor took Taizhen to his palace, he found another wife for his son to comfort him.
In winter of 741, Taizhen went with the emperor to Huaqing palace on Mt. Li, where there was a hot spring for bath. So Huaqing palace was also called Huaqing Pond, a small artificial pond for bath. That time, the emperor and Taizhen stayed longer, from the nineteenth day of the tenth moon to the fourteenth day of the eleventh moon. This time, when the emperor went back, he took Yang Taizhen with him to his residence—Xingqing Hall, not to return to the temple. From then on, Yang Taizhen began to live with the emperor though she didn''t get the title of imperial concubine yet. The emperor was still afraid of gossiping among people.
After three years of living together, the emperor at length conferred the title of imperial concubine to Yang Taizhen. That was in 745 after the emperor appointed the daughter of the courtier Wei Zhaoxun to be the next wife of his son Prince Shou. In feudal society of China, an emperor could do anything he liked. He could take the wife of his son to be his concubine. He could also the daughter of any courtier to be the wife of any son of another courtier. The parents could not refuse. On the contrary, they must think it was a great honor to them and must thank the emperor. If the son and the daughter could not get along well after marriage, it was their fate. They could not make any complaints against the emperor.
The emperor gave a new wife to his son as a compensation and then he rightfully declared his son''s old wife to be his new imperial concubine. There was no empress any more. Anyway, the emperor didn''t make Yang the empress, and in reality, Yang enjoyed her status in the palace like an empress.
Before Imperial Concubine Yang entered the palace, Imperial Concubine Plum had been the favorite of the emperor. As the time elapsed, her beauty gradually faded. When Imperial Concubine Yang came, beautiful and young, the emperor''s favor transferred from Imperial Concubine Plum to Imperial Concubine Yang. Besides, it was said that Imperial Concubine Yang a little resembled the deceased Imperial concubine Wuhui. So Imperial Concubine Plum was ignored and led a lonely and quiet life. (7)
One night, the emperor went to sleep alone in West Cuihua Pavilion. He suddenly thought of Imperial Concubine Plum and sent a eunuch to fetch her there. They lay side by side in bed, resuming their former heart-to-heart talk. Then Imperial concubine Yang came to know it and rushed to the pavilion. Fearing that the two women might quarrel or even fight, emperor bade Imperial Concubine Plum to hide somewhere in the room. Imperial Concubine Yang dashed into the room and asked the emperor, “Where is the Plum Genie” The emperor said, “In her own pavilion.” Yang said, “Why not send for her and we can make merry together.” The emperor made no answer and ignored her. Yang began to cry and left for her mother''s home. Before long, the emperor thought of her and sent a eunuch to fetch her to the palace.
Once the emperor thought of Imperial concubine Plum again and sent a eunuch to give her a pearl necklace. She returned the necklace with a poem, which read like this:
My two eyebrows are not drawn for long,
My tears smear my torn and worn red gown.
I''ve never put makeup in my pavilion ever since,
Why give me pearl necklace to solace my loneliness?
What was the end of Imperial concubine Plum? Many years hereafter, when a warlord An Lushan rebelled and marched into the capital, the emperor and Imperial Concubine Yang escaped southwest, and Imperial Concubine Plum made suicide by throwing herself into a well, fearful of being raped by the rioters.
After Yang Taizhen became an imperial concubine, her former husband, Prince Shou, turned to be her stepson. When he came to visit the emperor, his father, if Imperial Concubine Yang was present, he must kowtow to her and call her stepmother. A weird relationship. (8)
As a rule, once a girl became an imperial concubine, all her family members would get titles. First,her deceased father was given a posthumous honor of the title of the duke of Qi, and her uncle, yang XuanGui, was made the head of the department in charge of feast. Her brother was promoted, too. Especially her male cousin, Yang Guozhong, a low cad before, got promotion after promotion, because he could please the flatter the emperor, till at last, he was made the premier after the death of Li Linfu, the former premier. Yang Guozhong did a lot of bad things like taking briberies and appointing those bribers to be high officials. His two sons married two princesses.
Yang Guozhong was apt to play a kind of game called E-Pu. Each player had five chessmen and whoever moved the chessmen to the end line won the game. Luckily for him, the emperor also liked to play this kind of game. When he found that Yang Guozhong could play so well, he liked Yang so much that he made Yang his premier despite that Yang had no ability to run the country well.
The emperor was so fond of Imperial Concubine Yang, who was like his inseparable shadow, he neglected his levees. He stopped receiving his courtiers and discussing with them the national affairs. He trusted everything to Yang Guozhong, who became the most powerful man of the time. No courtiers dared to offend him unless he didn''t care misfortunes befalling him or even death. But Yang Guozhong had gradually and unawares made a lot of personal enemies. His greatest and decisive foe was the warlord An Lushan. In Tang Dynasty, a warlord had really the title of lord administered a certain area, but still obeyed the central government. Only he had his own army. He obeyed the central government solely in name.
Back to the brief biography of Yang Guozhong. In 745, he was appointed a staff official, and hen promoted to be a judge in a city to sentence criminals. In 747, he was summoned to the capital to be a secretarial clerk in the central government. In 748, he had fifteen titles, and four years later, in 752, he became the premier. He reached the peak of his life. His titles were almost as many as forty more. The comparatively important ones were: equivalent to the head of the prosecutor''s department; equivalent to the minister of the fiscal ministry; equivalent to the general manager of central bank; equivalent to the head librarian of the national library; equivalent to the minister of the human resources ministry; equivalent to the minister of the labor ministry, etc. etc.
In Tang Dynasty, female relatives of the imperial concubine would get honorary titles, generally Her Ladyship so-and-so. First, her mother was conferred the title of the Ladyship of Liang. Her eldest sister the ladyship of Han, her third sister the ladyship of Guo, and her eighth sister the ladyship of Qin. As Imperial Concubine Yang often thought of her sisters, the three sisters were allowed to move and live in the capital. But Imperial concubine Yang could not foresee that her third sister would give her trouble once she arrived in the capital. (9)
Ladyship Guo (?--756) had the maiden name Yang Yuyao while other sisters'' maiden names were unknown. Ladyship Guo was beautiful, but lewd. She had had affairs with Yang Guozhong, her distant cousin, before she was married. Then she was married to the Pei family and gave birth to a son Pei Hui and a daughter. When she became Ladyship Guo, her son married a princess and her daughter was the wife of a prince.
As the three sisters moved into the capital, the emperor gave each a big residence and often summoned them to the palace. They feasted and made merry together. The three sisters, especially the Ladyship Guo, all got in the favor of the emperor. Before long, the lewd Ladyship Guo had affairs with the emperor, for which Imperial Concubine Yang had quarrels with this sister. Ladyship Guo could even directly go into the palace without waiting for the summon from the emperor. A famous poet Zhang Gu wrote a poem about her:
Ladyship Guo enjoys the imperial favor,
She often rides into the palace at dawn.
She''s afraid make-up will dirty her beauty,
Only pencils eyebrows lightly to see the emperor.
She became another favorite of the emperor, and even the daughters of the emperor were afraid to offend her or the Yang family. Once two princesses did offend the Yang family, the emperor was angry and took back all the things that he had gifted to those two daughters, and as a result, their husbands were expelled from government offices.
Now the end of the Ladyship Guo. In the rebellion of the warlord An Lushan and his successor (the events will be narrated in the later chapters), Imperial Concubine Yang and her cousin Premier Yang Guozhong both died. The other two sisters were also killed in the chaos. Ladyship Guo, her son and the wife of Premier Yang escaped from the capital to Chencang town. The mayor of the town hated the Yang family just like all people at large since the Yang family members did lots of bad things. When he was told that the three of the Yang family came to the town, he wanted to catch them and began to chase them. Ladyship Guo killed her son and the wife of her cousin. She wanted to kill herself too, but did not succeed. The mayor got her and put her in prison. Later she died in the prison and was buried in a suburb of the town. (10)