Yang Gui Fei 杨贵妃
Yang Gui Fei, 杨贵妃, Imperial Consort Yang or Lady Yang, was one of the four beauties of ancient China. She was born in 719 CE and her given name was Yang Yu Huan 杨玉环. Her court title was “Guifei” 贵妃, a high-ranking consort and she is often referred to as Yang Gui Fei or Lady Yang.
Lady Yang lived in Tang Dynasty, 唐朝 China and began her court life when she was made the wife of an Imperial prince, Prince of Shou, 寿王. This marriage did not last long as she caught the attention of her father-in-law, the reigning emperor Li Longji, 李隆基, popularly known as Tang Ming Huang 唐明皇.
As the Emperor’s attraction towards her grew, she was made a Taoist priest and given the name TaiZhen, 杨太真. This was a process designed to assist her transition from the wife of a prince to the reigning emperor’s concubine.
When she finally entered the palace, she became the favorite concubine of Tang Ming Huang. Although her court title was “Guifei”, a senior consort, she was effectively the most senior concubine in the Tang harem.
As the favourite concubine
Tang Ming Huang’s affection for Lady Yang was evident for resources made available to her. The Hua Qing hot springs, 华清池 in the Tang capital Chang An 长安, today’s Xian 西安, was given to Lady Yang for her to spend the cold spring months. Lady Yang’s favorite fruit was lychees, 荔枝, so during the lychee season, the emperor ordered relay horses to transport fresh lychees into the palace for her enjoyment.
Lady Yang’s family received great honors from the court. Her sisters were bestowed titles and her cousin Yang Guo Zong 杨国忠 became the Prime Minister.
Lady Yang had an adopted son An Lu Shan 安禄山, a border military commander of Turkish descent who constantly clashed with her cousin Yang Guo Zong. Their antagonism eventually led to An Lu Shan’s rebellion, 安史之乱, in 755 CE.
Lady Yang's downfall and tragic end
During the time of rebellion, the border defense of the Tang Empire relied on foreign military commanders and defenses within the empire were very weak. An Lu Shan was able to advance very quickly towards the capital, Chang An. Faced with no alternative, the Imperial court fled towards Chengdu, 成都in Sichuan, 四川.
When they arrived at Mawei, 马嵬坡, the Tang troops mutinied. They blamed the Yang family for the chaos and had her cousin Yang Guo Zong and other Yang family members executed. The troops also demanded that Lady Yang be put to death. Tang Ming Huang had no choice but to order Lady Yang to commit suicide. She was 38 years old when she died in 756 CE.
Legacy of Lady Yang
Lady Yang’s death marked the end of her love story with Tang Ming Huang. Lady Yang has been blamed for distracting the emperor and allowing her family to enrich themselves at the expense of the country. On the other hand, she is also seen as a helpless victim who paid the ultimate price for the Tang Empire’s decline.
Maybe because of her fame or attracted by her love story, Lady Yang continued to fascinate generations of writers, poets and even artists and movie directors today.
Bai Juyi, 白居易, the Tang Poet wrote the poem “Song of Everlasting Sorrow”, 长恨歌 that romanticized her love affair. The poem became very popular and continues to be recited and appreciated today. Premium quality lychees are known as the concubine smile, 贵妃笑, inspired by Lady Yang’s love of lychees. The famous Beijing opera Drunken concubine 贵妃酗酒 is based on her story.
Fascination with Lady Yang continues
Tang Ming Huang and Lady Yang’s love story has inspired many television serials and movies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.
Historical sites in China relating to Lady Yang such as the Hua Qing hot springs and her tomb, both in Xian are major tourist stops.
Lady Yang’s story is also popular in Japan where she is known as Yōkihi. The Japanese believed that she did not die in Mawei but had escaped to Japan and even have a tomb to prove it. In the Sennyu-Ji Temple, 泉涌寺, a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, they claim to have a Guanyin, 杨贵妃观音, carved in the image of Lady Yang.
In 2002, the popular Japanese star, Yamaguchi Momoe, 山口百惠claimed that she was a descendent of Lady Yang.