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The life of Yang Yuhuan

Portrait of Yang Yuhuan  

My name is Yang Yuhuan and I am the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty. I am officially addressed as Yang Guifei in the imperial courts and I am honoured to be called one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China due to my mesmerizing beauty. However, my story was not one with a happy ending. This was how my story went…

I was born in 719 CE during the Tang Dynasty. My father, Yang Xuanyan, was a census official at Shu prefecture (modern day Chengdu, Sichuan). However, my father died when I was very young and I was bought up by my uncle instead, who was a low-ranking municipal official at Henan Municipality (modern day Loyang).

Contrary to popular belief, my first marriage was not to Emperor Xuanzong, my current husband. I was first married to his son, Li Mao the Prince of Shou, and was henceforth, conferred with the title of the “Princess of Shou”. However, one day, while I was out at Huaqing Hot Springs, Emperor Xuanzong happened to chance upon me and was immediately entranced by my beauty. Ever since that meeting, Emperor Xuanzong was determined to make me his concubine. In order to prevent criticisms for taking the wife of his son, he arranged for me to secretly become a Taoist nun with the tonsured name of “Taizhen”. For a while, I stayed in the palace as a Taoist nun until a new wife could be found for my ex-husband, Li Mao the Prince of Shou, before taking my place in the imperial courts as Emperor Xuanzong’s concubine.


Imperial Concubines of the Tang Empire


In the Tang Empire, Emperor Xuanzong had countless concubines waiting to serve on him, hand and foot. It was believed that many concubines were necessary so that the Emperor’s sex life could be organized into a regimented order in order to maintain the well-being of the entire Chinese empire by ensuring the birth of many descendants for the Emperor, specifically, male descendants. Through this way, the longevity of the dynasty is ensured. There was a fixed schedule as to which concubine was to sleep with the Emperor and detailed records of these schedules were kept so as to verify later whether or not the Emperor is the father of any children born by the concubines.

If you are lucky to be favoured by the Emperor, he would keep your name, which is written on jade tablets, in his bed chambers, so that he can call upon your services, as and whenever he wishes. I remembered the first time my name was picked by Emperor Xuanzong. The moment my name was selected, a eunuch was immediately sent into my chambers so as to get me ready. I was made to disrobe, so as to ensure that I wasn’t concealing a weapon. I am then wrapped in a piece of gold cloth and hurriedly carried to the Emperor’s chambers, where the Emperor will lavish his blessings upon me.


Yang Guifei's lavish outfit and jewelle


Due to the Emperor’s deep affection for me, I was highly respected and often sent lavish gifts by both the Emperor and his subjects, who were hoping that I might put in a good word for them in front of the Emperor. Emperor Xuanzong even bestowed the Huaqing Hot Springs, the place where we first met, to me so that I may spend the cold Spring months in relative comfort. Knowing that lychees are my favourite fruit, during the lychee season, Emperor Xuanzong will order relay horses just to transport fresh lychees for me to enjoy. I couldn’t be more blessed and loved at that moment of time.


Emperor Xuanzong with Yang Guifei


Alas, my beauty was so mesmerizing that Emperor Xuanzong neglected his court and the politics of the country, bringing the Tang Dynasty to a grounding halt and my adopted son, An Lushan, led a rebellion, taking over the capital and forcing Emperor Xuanzong and me to flee the country. But not long after we fled the capital, the remaining soldiers, who were still under Emperor Xuanzong, demanded for my death. They said that the cause of Emperor Xuanzong’s neglect of the empire was my fault. If I was not killed there and then, the soldiers refused to carry on. It was with a heavy heart that I had to hang myself in the courtyard of a small Buddhist temple at the slopes of Mawei village as my beloved Emperor Xuanzong looked on.

This is my story and this was how I end.