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Statue of Yang Guifei at Huaqing Pool, Xi'an.
Yang Guifei, by Takaku Aigai, 1821.
Statue of Yang Guifei at Huaqing Pool, Xi'an.

 

 

Yang Yuhuan, often known as Yang Guifei (literally: "Imperial Consort Yang" - Guifei being the highest rank for imperial consorts during her time) was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang during his later years. Yang was born in 719 during the Tang Dynasty and was at the age of 14 made to marry Li Mao, the Prince of Shou - son of Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Wu. This marriage did not last long as Yang quickly caught the attention of her father-in-law, and after Consort Wu died in 737, the saddened emperor decided to take Yang as his consort. However, since Princess Yang was already the wife of his son, Emperor Xuanzong stealthily arranged for her to become a Taoist nun, with the tonsured name Taizhen, in order to prevent criticism that would affect his plan of making her his concubine. Yang then stayed, for a brief moment, as a Taoist nun in the palace itself, before Emperor Xuanzong made her an imperial consort after bestowing a new wife on his son Li Mao. Yang became the favourite consort of the Emperor. The Hua Qing hot springs in the Tang capital Chang’an (near today’s Xi’an) were given to Lady Yang for her to spend the cold spring months. Her favourite fruit was lychee so during the lychee season, the emperor had the fruit, which was only grown in southern China, delivered by the imperial courier's fast horses, whose riders would take shifts day and night in a Pony Express-like manner, to the capital.
The emperor also bestowed posthumous honors on her father and granted her mother the title of Lady of Liang, gave high offices to her uncle and cousins. Her three older sisters were conferred the ranks of Ladies of Han, Guo, and Qin. Finally, through Yang Guifei, even her second cousin Yang Guozhong was promoted reaching a position of chancellor after some time. A gambler and a wastrel, Yang Guozhong eventually incited a rebellion which he failed to suppress. The emperor, using the imperial guards to escort him, Consort Yang, her family, and his immediate clan members, fled and left the capital. With growing dissent and no food provided, the soldiers of the imperial guard blamed the Yang family for the chaos and had Yang Guozhong and other Yang family members executed. The soldiers then surrounded Emperor Xuanzong's pavilion, refused to leave and demanded that Lady Yang be put to death. Seeing no other choice, the emperor agreed. Yang Guifei was taken to a Buddhist shrine and strangled. She was buried at Mawei, without a coffin, but with masses of fragrance wrapped in purple blankets. After the rebels were defeated, the emperor went through Mawei on his way back to Chang'an and had Yang reburied. When he returned to Chang'an, he had a painter create a picture of Consort Yang in a secondary palace, and often went there to view the portrait.