Yang Guifei

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Imperial Consort Yang
Yang Guifei, by Uemura Shoen, Shohaku Art Museum, Nara, Nara, Japan
BornYang Yuhuan (楊玉環)
Yongle, China
Died15 July 756(756-07-15) (aged 37)
Mawei Station, Xianyang, Shaanxi, China
Mawei Station, Xianyang, Shaanxi
(grave later not excavated)
SpouseLi Mao, Prince of Shou
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang
FatherYang Xuanyan
MotherLady of Liang
Yang Guifei
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningImperial Consort Yang
Yang Yuhuan
(personal name)
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Yang Yuhuan (Chinese: 楊玉環; 719 – 15 July 756[1]), often known as Yang Guifei (楊貴妃, with Guifei being the highest rank for imperial consorts during her time), and known briefly by the Taoist nun name Taizhen (太真),[2] was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang during his later years. She is known as one of the Four Beauties of ancient China.

During the An Lushan Rebellion, as Emperor Xuanzong and his cortege were fleeing from the capital Chang'an to Chengdu, the emperor's guards demanded that he put Yang to death because they blamed the rebellion on her cousin Yang Guozhong and the rest of her family. The emperor capitulated and reluctantly ordered his attendant Gao Lishi to supervise her forced suicide.


Yang was born in 719 during the Tang dynasty, early in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. Her great-great-grandfather Yang Wang (楊汪) was a key official during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui, and, after the fall of the Sui dynasty, served one of the contenders to succeed Sui, Wang Shichong; Yang Wang was then killed when Wang Shichong was defeated by Tang forces in 621.[3] Yang Wang was from Huayin (華陰; in modern Weinan, Shaanxi), but his clan subsequently relocated to Yongle (永樂; in modern Yuncheng, Shanxi).

Yang's father Yang Xuanyan (楊玄琰) served as a census official at Shu Prefecture (蜀州; in modern Chengdu, Sichuan), and his family went there with him. He appeared to have had no sons, but had four daughters who were known to history—Yang Yuhuan and three older sisters.[4] Yang Xuanyan died when Yang Yuhuan was still young, so the latter was raised by her uncle Yang Xuanjiao (楊玄璬), who was a low-ranking official at Henan Municipality (河南府; modern Luoyang).

Princess and Taoist nun[edit]

In 733, fourteen-year-old Yang Yuhuan married Li Mao, the Prince of Shou and the son of Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Wu. She thus carried the title of Princess of Shou. After Consort Wu died in 737, Emperor Xuanzong was greatly saddened by the death of his then-favorite concubine. Some time after that, however, Princess Yang somehow came into Xuanzong's favor and the Emperor decided to take her as his consort. However, since Princess Yang was already the wife of his son, Emperor Xuanzong stealthily arranged 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 favorite consort of the Emperor.

Imperial consort[edit]

In 745, after Emperor Xuanzong gave the daughter of the general Wei Zhaoxun (韋昭訓) to Li Mao as his new wife and princess, he officially made Taizhen an imperial consort—with the newly restored rank of Guifei, which was greater than the previously highest rank of Huifei, carried by Consort Wu. He bestowed posthumous honors on her father Yang Xuanyan and granted her mother the title of Lady of Liang. He also gave high offices to her uncle Yang Xuangui (楊玄珪) and cousins Yang Xian (楊銛) and Yang Qi (楊錡). Since 745, all within the imperial court and the palace had treated her as like new empress (像皇后, Xiàng huánghòu), and bowed to her as if she was the most powerful woman in land (Tiānxià Mǔ, 天下母), and In the palace, they called her lady (娘子, Niángzǐ), like the politeness used for the empress. Her three older sisters were conferred the ranks of Ladies of Han, Guo, and Qin, and it was said that whenever the noble women were summoned to imperial gatherings, even Emperor Xuanzong's highly honored sister Li Chiying (李持盈), the Princess Yuzhen, did not dare to take a seat more honorable than theirs. Emperor Xuanzong also gave his favorite daughter Princess Taihua (born of Consort Wu) to Yang Qi in marriage. The five Yang households—those of Yang Xian, Yang Qi, and the Ladies of Han, Guo, and Qin—were said to be exceedingly honored and rich, and all of the officials fought to flatter them.

Around the same time, Consort Yang introduced her second cousin Yang Zhao (whose name was later changed to Yang Guozhong) to Emperor Xuanzong. Yang Zhao, who flattered the emperor, rose quickly in the ranks.

Consort Yang became so favored that whenever she rode a horse, the eunuch Gao Lishi would attend her. Seven hundred laborers were conscripted to sew fabrics for her. Officials and generals flattered her by offering her exquisite tributes. In 746, she angered Emperor Xuanzong by being jealous and rude to him, and he had her sent to her cousin Yang Xian's mansion. Later that day, however, his mood was such that he could not eat, and he battered his servants for minor offenses. Gao knew that he missed Consort Yang, and requested that the treasures in Consort Yang's palace be sent to her. Emperor Xuanzong agreed, and sent imperial meals to her as well. That night, Gao requested that Emperor Xuanzong welcome Consort Yang back to the palace, a request that Emperor Xuanzong easily agreed to. Thereafter, she was even more favored, and no other imperial consort drew his favor.

In 747, when the military governor (jiedushi) An Lushan arrived at the capital Chang'an to meet Emperor Xuanzong, Emperor Xuanzong showed him much favor and allowed him into the palace. He had An honor Consort Yang as mother and Consort Yang's cousins and sisters as his brothers and sisters.

In 750, Consort Yang again offended Emperor Xuanzong with her words, and he sent her back to her clan. The official Ji Wen (吉溫) told Emperor Xuanzong that he had overreacted, and Emperor Xuanzong regretted his actions. He again sent imperial meals to her, and she wept to the eunuchs delivering the meal, stating:

My offense deserves death, and it is fortunate that His Imperial Majesty did not kill me, but instead returned me to my household. I will forever leave the palace. My gold, jade, and treasures were all given to me by His Imperial Majesty, and it would be inappropriate for me to offer them back to him. Only what my parents gave me, I would dare to offer.

She cut off some of her hair and had the hair taken back to Emperor Xuanzong. Emperor Xuanzong had Gao escort her back to the palace, and thereafter had even greater love for her.

In 751, An Lushan again visited Chang'an. On An's birthday on 20 February, 751,[5] Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Yang rewarded him with clothing, treasures, and food. On 23 February, when An was summoned to the palace, Consort Yang, in order to please Emperor Xuanzong, had an extra-large infant wrapping made, and wrapped the obese An in it, causing much laughter among the ladies in waiting and eunuchs. When Emperor Xuanzong asked what was going on, Consort Yang's attendants joked that Consort Yang gave birth three days before and was washing her baby Lushan. Emperor Xuanzong was amused by the comic situation and rewarded both Consort Yang and An greatly. Thereafter, whenever An visited the capital, he was allowed free admittance to the palace, and there were rumors that he and Consort Yang had an affair, but Emperor Xuanzong discounted the rumors.

Consort Yang's cousin, Yang Guozhong, had been serving—remotely—as commander of Jiannan Circuit (劍南道; headquartered in modern Chengdu, Sichuan). In 752, following Nanzhao incursions against Jiannan Circuit, chancellor Li Linfu wanted to send Yang Guozhong to Jiannan to personally supervise defenses against the Nanzhao attacks. Consort Yang interceded on Yang Guozhong's behalf, and Yang Guozhong did not actually report to Jiannan.

Li Linfu soon died, and Yang Guozhong became chancellor.

An Lushan's rebellion and Consort Yang's death[edit]

A modern statue of Yang

Yang Guozhong and An Lushan soon were in conflict, and Yang Guozhong repeatedly acted provocatively, such as arresting and executing staff members from An's mansion in Chang'an.

In 755, An finally rebelled and marched his troops toward the capital. In order to try to placate the populace, which believed that Yang Guozhong's conflict with An Lushan had provoked the rebellion, Emperor Xuanzong considered passing the throne to his crown prince, Li Heng. Yang Guozhong, who was not on good terms with the prince, feared this development, and persuaded Consort Yang and her sisters, the Ladies of Han, Guo, and Qin, to speak against it. Emperor Xuanzong, for the time being, did not abdicate the throne.

In 756, Yang Guozhong forced General Geshu Han to engage An Lushan, at least partly out of fear that the general himself might attempt to usurp the throne. Geshu Han was defeated and Tong Pass, the last major imperial defense, fell to An's forces. With the situation becoming desperate, Yang Guozhong suggested fleeing to Chengdu, the capital of Jiannan Circuit. On 14 July,[6] Emperor Xuanzong, along with Consort Yang, her family, and his immediate clan members, secretly left Chang'an, heading toward Chengdu. With him were Yang Guozhong, his fellow chancellor Wei Jiansu, the official Wei Fangjin (魏方進), the general Chen Xuanli, and some eunuchs and ladies in waiting close to him.

On 15 July,[1] Emperor Xuanzong's cortege reached Mawei Courier Station (; Mǎwéi Yì, in modern Xianyang, Shaanxi). The imperial guards were hungry and angry at Yang Guozhong. Tibetan emissaries, who had followed the emperor, were also complaining to Yang Guozhong that they had not been fed. General Chen Xuanli believed that Yang Guozhong's actions had provoked this disaster and reported to Li Heng that he planned to accuse Yang Guozhong.

In this tense situation, soldiers of the imperial guard declared that Yang Guozhong was planning treason in collaboration with the Tibetan emissaries. They killed Yang Guozhong, his son Yang Xuan (楊暄), Consort Yang's sisters, the ladies of Han and Qin, and Wei Fangjin. (Wei Jiansu was severely injured and nearly killed, but was spared at the last moment.) Yang Guozhong's wife Pei Rou (裴柔) and his son Yang Xi (楊晞), along with Consort Yang's sister, the Lady of Guo, and her son Pei Hui (裴徽) tried to flee, but were killed. The soldiers then surrounded Emperor Xuanzong's pavilion and refused to leave, even after the Emperor came out to comfort them and ordered them to disperse.

Emperor Xuanzong then sent Gao Lishi to ask General Chen Xuanli for his advice. Chen's reply was to urge the Emperor to put Consort Yang to death. Initially the Emperor refused,[7] but after Wei E (韋諤, Wei Jiansu's son) and Gao Lishi spoke in agreement with Chen, the Emperor eventually agreed.[8] He had Gao take Consort Yang to a Buddhist shrine and allow her a forced suicide, considered a more dignified death than execution.[9] When Consort Yang's body was shown to Chen and the other imperial guard generals, the soldiers dispersed and prepared to continue the journey. Consort Yang was buried at Mawei, without a coffin, but with masses of fragrance wrapped in purple blankets.[10][11]

In 757, Prince Li Heng, who had taken the throne as Emperor Suzong, recaptured Chang'an and welcomed ex-Emperor Xuanzong, then Taishang Huang (retired emperor) back to the capital. Emperor Xuanzong went through Mawei on his way back to Chang'an. He wanted to locate Consort Yang's body and rebury her with honor.[10][11] The official Li Kui spoke against it, pointing out that the imperial guard might again mutiny if he did so. However, Emperor Xuanzong secretly sent eunuchs to rebury her with a coffin.[10][11] When they found the body, it had decomposed, but the fragrance bag buried with her was still fresh.[10][11] The eunuchs returned with the fragrance bag, and upon its presentation to Emperor Xuanzong, he wept bitterly.[10][11] 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.

Personal characteristics[edit]

Yang was known for having a larger figure, in an era of Chinese history where such body types were preferred.[12] Because of that, Yang is often compared and contrasted with Empress Zhao Feiyan, who is known for being a slender person. This, in turn, led to the four-character idiom huanfei yanshou (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: huánféi yànshòu; lit. 'plump Huan', 'slender Yan'), describing the physical range of the types of beauties between Zhao and Yang.

Modern-day description of Yang's physical size differs. She has been variously described as "rotund",[13] "well rounded",[14] "full-bodied",[15] "portly",[16] and "obese".[17] However, some consider the description of Yang as an obese woman to be either a misinterpretation of ancient Chinese texts,[18] or a misapplication of modern standards on body size.[15]

Lychee was a favorite fruit for Yang, and 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. Most historians believe the fruits were delivered from modern Guangdong, but some believe they came from modern Sichuan.

A copy of the outline of her right hand still exists, having been carved on a large stone at the site of the Xi'an Palace.[19]

Yang was granted use of the Huaqing Pool which had been the exclusive private pool of previous Tang emperors.

Fashion influence[edit]

Yang is sometimes credited with the invention of the hezi, an ancient Chinese bodice.

Cultural depiction[edit]

Yang's story has been often retold. While some literature describes her as the author of much misfortune, other writings sympathize with her as a scapegoat. In the following generation, a long poem, "Chang hen ge" ("Song of Everlasting Sorrow"), was written by the poet Bai Juyi describing Emperor Xuanzong's love for her and perpetual grief at her loss.[20] It became an instant classic, known to and memorized by Chinese schoolchildren far into posterity.

The story of Yang and the poem also became highly popular in Japan and served as sources of inspiration for the classical novel The Tale of Genji which begins with the doomed love between an emperor and a consort, Kiritsubo, who is likened to Yang. Noh plays have been staged based on her story. A Japanese rumour states that Yang had been rescued, escaped to Japan and lived her remaining life there. In Japanese, she is known as Yōkihi.

In the novel Dream of the Red Chamber, the two ladies beside the main character Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai had the images of Xi Shi and Yang Guifei. Both Lin and Xi Shi are sick and weak, Xue and Yang are plump and healthy. In chapter 30, Xue got angry because Jia said she is like Yang and she is chubby. The real reason is that Xue does not have a brother like Yang Guozhong.

Other works retelling her story include:



  • The Drunken Concubine (貴妃醉酒 Guifei Zuijiu)
  • The Unofficial Biography of Taizhen (太真外傳 Taizhen Waizhuan)
  • The Slope of Mawei (馬嵬坡 Mawei Po) by Chen Hong (陳鴻)
  • The Great Concubine of Tang (大唐貴妃 Da Tang Guifei), a contemporary Beijing opera with historical motif.

Stage plays[edit]

  • The Hall of Longevity (長生殿 Changshen Dian) by Hong Sheng (洪昇) of the Qing dynasty
  • The Mirror to Grind Dust (磨塵鑒 Mocheng Jian) by an anonymous playwright of the Ming dynasty
  • The Records of Shocking Grandeur (驚鴻記 Jinghong Ji) by Wu Shimei (吳世美) of the Ming dynasty
  • The Records of Colourful Hair (彩毫記 Caihao Ji) by Tu Longlong (屠隆隆) of the Ming dynasty
  • Tang Minghuang on an Autumn Night with Wutong Tree and Rain (唐明皇秋夜梧桐雨 Tang Minghuang Qiuye Wutong Yu) by Bai Pu (白樸) of the Yuan dynasty
  • Cathay: Three Tales of China by Ping Chong[21]


Poster for the 1955 Japanese film Princess Yang Kwei-Fei


Video games[edit]

  • Yang Guifei appears in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order as a foreigner-class servant - her beauty and the unrest it causes are attributed to her serving an Outer God.


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Volume 218 of Zizhi Tongjian recorded that Yang was killed on the bingshen day of the 6th month of the 1st year of the Zhide era of Tang Suzong's reign. This date corresponds to 15 Jul 756 on the Gregorian calendar.
  2. ^ Old Book of Tang, vol. 51 Archived 2008-10-18 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Book of Sui, vol. 56 Archived 2012-02-10 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Yang Yuhuan's three older sisters were described as having had birth ranks first, third, and eighth, implying that Yang Xuanyan might have had nine or more daughters, but it was also possible that their ranks were combined with their female cousins.
  5. ^ Volume 216 of Zizhi Tongjian recorded that An's birthday was on the jiachen day of the 1st month of the 10th year of the Tianbao era of Tang Xuanzong's reign. This date corresponds to 20 Feb 751 on the Gregorian calendar. [(天宝十年正月)甲辰,禄山生日,...]
  6. ^ According to Xuanzong's biography in the Old Book of Tang, Xuanzong abandoned Chang'an in the early hours of the yiwei day in the 6th month of the 15th year of the Tianbao era of his reign. This date corresponds to 14 Jul 756 in the Gregorian calendar.(「(天宝十五载六月)乙未,凌晨自延秋门出,...」) Old Book of Tang, vol. 9.
  7. ^ (上杖屦出驿门,慰劳军士,令收队,军士不应。上使高力士问之,玄礼对曰:“国忠谋反,贵妃不宜供奉,愿陛下割恩正法。”上曰:“朕当自处之。”) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 218
  8. ^ (...,京兆司录韦谔前言曰:“今众怒难犯,安危在晷刻,愿陛下速决!”因叩头流血。上曰:“贵妃常居深宫,安知国忠反谋!”高力士曰:“贵妃诚无罪,然将士已杀国忠,而贵妃在陛下左右,岂敢自安!愿陛下审思之,将士安,则陛下安矣。”) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 218
  9. ^ (上乃命力士引贵妃于佛堂,缢杀之。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 218
  10. ^ a b c d e Old Book of Tang, vol.51.
  11. ^ a b c d e New Book of Tang, vol.76.
  12. ^ Meyers, Jessica (29 August 2016). "China once struggled to feed its people. Now it's seeing a rise in eating disorders". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 July 2018. ...But the Tang Dynasty favored larger body types. One of its most revered beauties, Yang Guifei, had stomach rolls.
  13. ^ "Recent Books". The Korea Times. 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2018. Centuries ago, rather rotund royals Yang Guifei of ancient China exemplified beauty.
  14. ^ van Berkel, M.A.C. (30 June 2017). "The changing portrayal of Yang Guifei's beauty" (PDF). Leiden University. p. 26. Retrieved 17 July 2018. The only reference to Yang's stoutness is in the chengyu1 37 "Yang Yuhuan was plump, while Zhao Feiyan (趙飛燕) was skinny" (环肥燕瘦), but it is not known whether this proverb was already in use in Tang times. This chengyu illustrates that she was considered well rounded.
  15. ^ a b Clark, J. Peter; Ritson, Christopher (2013). Practical Ethics for Food Professionals: Ethics in Research, Education and the Workplace. IFT Press. p. 82. ISBN 9781118506424. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  16. ^ "體重138斤的楊貴妃為何受到唐玄宗寵愛?" [Weighing in at 138 jin, why is Yang Guifei so beloved by Emperor Xuanzhong of Tang?]. People's Daily. 21 March 2010. Archived from the original on 17 July 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2018. 唐玄宗的貴妃楊玉環身材是豐腴的 (The Imperial Consort of Emperor Xuanzhong of Tang, Yang Guifei, has a portly figure.)
  17. ^ "Yang Guifei". Britannica.com. Retrieved 17 July 2018. ...she was one of the few obese women in Chinese history to have been considered beautiful.
  18. ^ Keller, Kathleen, ed. (2008). Encyclopedia of Obesity: J - Z. SAGE Publications. p. 50. ISBN 9781412952385. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  19. ^ Ripley, Robert (1971). Ripley's Believe It or Not! 16th Series. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-80072-7.
  20. ^ Sato, Hiroaki (1995). Legends of the Samurai. Overlook Duckworth. p. 191. ISBN 9781590207307.
  21. ^ "Cathay: Three Tales of China".
  22. ^ "楊貴妃 -1992年中國內地電影:電影《楊貴妃》刻畫 -華人百科". www.itsfun.com.tw (in Chinese). Retrieved 2020-02-22.

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