The legend of Yang Guifei


The Four Great Beauties

Caroline Young, artwork and text

QFWF, June 3th 2019 © Source: The art of Caroline R. Young (2002), Heritage Four Great Beauties

Madam Yang Guifei, better known as “Imperial Concubine Yang”, is one of the Four Great Beauties of ancient Chinese history.

Yang Guifei was naturally and effortlessly beautiful and she had a pleasing, docile character. Yang was gifted in music, singing, dancing and playing the lute. These talents, along with her intelligence and wit, made her a stand-out among the imperial concubines and she easily won Emperor Xuanzong’s favor.

During the late Tang dynasty Yang was the favorite concubine of Xuanzong. Because of his obsession with her, he neglected his affairs of state, and as a result, the enemies of the kingdom were able to successfully invade and conquer the imperial city.

With the enemy literally at their doorstep, the emperor and his court, together with his retinue of wives and children, fled the capital along with the military and headed south until they got to the little village of Mawei.

At Mawei, the generals dug in their heels and gave the emperor an ultimatum: they demanded the death of Imperial Concubine Yang, or else they said they would abandon him one and all.

La Coquette

They considered Yang responsible for their seemingly hopeless predicament and her death was the only appropriate way to go forward in their eyes.
Even faced with this ultimatum, the obsessed emperor still could not bring himself to kill his beloved Yang, and so he fooled everyone and hung her maid in her place.

History records that Yang Guifei was forced to commit suicide, but some people still believe the stories that she was smuggled aboard the famous ‘Black Ship’ and secretly resided in Japan. Stories persist to this day that Yang lived to a ripe old age in luxury in her newly adopted Homeland.

The fact is, until modern times, Yang was the only Chinese woman that Japanese painters painted. Similarly, Yang Guifei’s tomb is rumored to be in Japan.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.