Tang Dynasty (唐朝 618AD to 907AD). Emperor Xuan Zong, who was also known
as Tang Ming Huang (唐明皇), regined from 713AD to 755AD. The period of
his rule was regarded as the second golden age of the Tang Dynasty.
Emperor Xuan Zong had a passion for young, beautiful girls. Since his coronation
he had been searching, far and wide, but without success, for the most beautiful
girl in the land.
A family in his empire by the surname of Yang (楊) was to play a ominous
during his rule. The Yang family had a very beautiful teenage daughter,
Yu Huan (楊玉環), a fact not known to many people. Since she was not about
to be bethrothed to any young man her father sent her to work as a lady-in-waiting
in the Emperor’s Palace. She was the most beautiful girl ever to step foot
in the palace. One of the many sons of the Emperor soon married her.
Many years later, one day, Emperor Xuan Zong accidentally met his daughter-in-
law in the palace. At that time, Emperor Xuan Zong was already 61 years
old and Yang Yu Huan was only 26. He was immediately enamoured to her and
snatched her away from his son. He adored her so much that he made her a
Gui Fei (貴妃), first class concubine, and Yang Yu Huan was come to be known
as Yang Gui Fei (楊貴妃).
Just a smile from her was said to be enough to enchant and enrapture the
Emperor. He loved her dearly and more than anything else in the world. He
built her a natural warm spring pool so that she could take her bath at
Spring time. After her bath in the pool her body, reputedly, would look
as smooth as jade.
During Spring time, court officials were made to wait lengthy periods to
get an audience with the Emperor as Yang Gui Fei took up almost all his
time and attention.
Yang Gui Fei’s brothers and sisters were appointed to high offices by the
decree of Emperor Xuan Zong. Gradually members of her family gained enornomous
power in the Tang Court. Yang Gui Fei’s first cousin older brother, Yang
Guo Zhong (楊國忠), became the Prime Minister and held more than forty portfolios.
However, he was very corrupt and amassed great fortunes. People envied
the Yang family for producing such a beautiful daughter. Due to the glory
and wealth that Yang Gui Fei had brought to her family many families preferred
to have baby girls than baby boys. They hoped that one day their daughters
could follow Yang Gui Fei’s footsteps and became the favourite concubine
of an Emperor.
The Emperor’s excesses and obsessions with his beloved concubine brought
about the gross neglect of affairs of the state.
An Lu Shan (安祿山), the non-Han Chinese commander-in-chief and governor
of Fan Yang (范陽 present day Beijing 北京 city in Hebei province 河北省
) had the occasion to visit the capital, Chang An (長安 present day Xi An
西安 city in Shaanxi province 陜西省). An Lu Shan could clearly observe
the corruption among the Emperor’s officials, especially the Prime Minister
and the decay of the Tang Court. He reported the matters to the Emperor who,
however, refused to believe him. The Prime Minister came to know about this.
An Lu Shan shortly went back to Fan Yang but he had made a formidable enemy,
Yang Guo Zhong, who vowed to destroy him.
One day, to instigate a rebellion by An Lu Shan against the Tang Court,
the Yang Guo Zhong, Prime Minister sent troops to ransack a house that belonged
An Lu Shan. In the process the soldiers also killed a few of An Lu Shan’s
friends. That enraged An Lu Shan who was left with no option but to retaliate.
With 170,000 troops under his command An Lu Shan marched west to the Tang
capital, to take puntitive action against Yang Guo Zhong who thought that
he could take this opportunity to get rid of An Lu Shan. However, it seemed
that An Lu Shan and his forces were unstoppable. An Lu Shan and his troops
crossed the Yellow River, overran Luo Yang (洛陽) and turned west marching
towards Chang An. The Tang Court fled in panic as the Tang Ming Huang ordered
a mass evacuation. Soon after, An Lu Shan occupied the capital and razed
it to the ground.
Emperor Xuan Zong and his Court, together with thousands upon thousands
residents from the capital, fled southwest towards Cheng Du (成都 present
Cheng Du city in Sichuan province 四川省).
Arriving at a place called Ma Wei Po (馬嵬坡 present day Xing Ping county
興平縣 in Shaanxi province) about 100 kilometers from the capital, the retreating
army and the mass of people stopped and refused to go any further. They
demanded the death of the Emperor’s concubine, Yang Gui Fei and her elder
brother Yang Guo Zhong, the Prime Minister. Under such extreme circumstances
Emperor Xuan Zong had no alternative but to issue an order to have them
The execution of the Prime Minister was carried out instantly. Yang Gui
Fei was to be executed by hanging from a tree in a nearby hill. While being
led up the hill Yang Gu Fei cried and begged,
"Save me, save me, Your Majesty! Save me, save me, Your Majesty!"
However, the exodus shouted,
"Hang her! Hang her! Hang her!"
There was a big commotion and the great multitude were looking at Emperor
Xuan Zong awaiting for his reaction. Emperor Xuan Zong was powerless to
help his Gui Fei and very relunctently he gave the order to proceed. Suddenly
the crowd were quiet. Not a sound was heard when the noose was placed around
her neck. Emperor Xuan Zong hung his head and buried his face in his dragon
robes. He dared not look at the execution and tears welled in his eyes.
君王掩面救不得﹐回看血淚相和流. As soon as Yang Gui Fei had kicked her
bucket the crowd roar. Her jewellery was scattered all over but no one bothered
to pick them up. The people had condemned her as well as the jewellery she
While the Tang Court took refuge in Cheng Du the lovelorn Emperor was pining
away. At times he could not bear to look at the full moon as it reminded
him of the joyous occasions he shared with his Gu Fei. He lost his vitality
to continue as Emperor.
In 756AD Emperor Xuan Zong abdicated the throne and his third son, Li Heng
(李亨), was installed as Emperor Su Zong (肅宗).
The rebellions were eventually crushed and the Tang Court began to move
back to Chang An. On the way back to the capital, at the spot where Yang
Gui Fei was hung, the ex-Emperor stopped and lingered for what seemed like
eternity. He seemed to be searching for his beautiful Gui Fei. He could
not find the place where she was buried. He recited the secret phrases which
no one knew except her and him,
"Up above the sky we wish we were a pair of birds
On earth we wish we were the two branches of a tree."
Finally when the time came to be moving on, the Ex-Emperor left behind
his tears but not his sadness.
Back at the capital, the natural warm spring pool was still there and intact,
as were the flowers and trees. It was as if he had not left the palace
at all. But reality soon hit home. His beautiful Gui Fei was no more. He
grieved and longed for her and he was losing his will to live. He wished
he could see her in his dreams every night. He engaged a soothsayer to search
for her spirit but appear it did not, not even just once.
CHUNG Yoon-Ngan (鄭永元)