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Yang Guifei

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  • Died: 756
  • Chinese/Japanese: 楊貴妃 (Yang Guifei / Youkihi)

Yang Guifei was a concubine to Emperor Xuanzong of China's Tang Dynasty, and is among the most famous women in Chinese history. Her story has been told and retold in countless works of literature, poetry, painting, print, and theatre not only in China, but in Japan and elsewhere as well. She has become an archetypal model for the beauty who, due to the ruler's obsession with her, causes the downfall of a kingdom.

Yang first caught the eye of Emperor Xuanzong when he was nearly sixty; she was at that time married to one of his sons. Yang left the Court and became a Daoist for a time, and her husband remarried. Some time later, she then re-entered Court, as a consort to Emperor Xuanzong, who called her "Precious Consort" (Guifei), the name by which she is now known. Her true name is lost to history.

Yang and the Emperor were quite close, but a part-Sogdian, part-Turkic general by the name of An Lushan attracted her eye as well; Yang formally adopted An in 751. An Lushan later led a rebellion which has become one of the most prominent events in early Chinese history; in 755 or 756, Xuanzong and Yang Guifei were forced to flee the capital of Chang'an, making their way to the former state of Shu (Sichuan province), a scene depicted in countless paintings and other works of art & literature since. The two were killed shortly afterwards; An Lushan's rebellion went on for several years but was eventually suppressed, and power restored to the Tang Court.

The most famous work relating the story, or legend, of Yang Guifei is Bai Juyi's poem "The Tale of Everlasting Sorrow," which was written mere decades after the events themselves took place. Yang Guifei appears as well in countless Japanese paintings and ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and in kabuki plays, chief among them the eponymous Yôkihi.

References

  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 222-224.
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