Yuhuan, later to become Yang GuiFei (713-756), was one
of the few women whose beauty has caused the downfall of
monarchs and nations.
Yang Yuhuan was the daughter of Yang Xuanyan, a census
official in Sichuan. An only child who lost her father early in
life, Yang Yuhuan was raised in the household of her uncle.
Emperor Xuanzong had
firmly established a strong empire with a cosmopolitan
capital in Chang'an (outskirts of Xi'an) and a brilliant Court, he ordered a
search throughout the land to find China's greatest
beauty. One day, at Huaqing Hot Springs, Yang Yuhuan,
the 18-year-old concubine of
Li Mao, the Prince of
Shou, and one of the Emperor's sons, caught Xuanzong's eye. Amidst protestations from
his son, Xuanzong took Yang to be his own concubine, and
she grew to wield enormous influence over the emperor,
who began neglecting matters of state to spend time with
her. He renamed her Yang GuiFei (high-ranked imperial
On one occasion, Yang GuiFei
offended Emperor Xuanzong with her words, and he sent her back
to her home. Emperor Xuanzong regretted his actions. He
against 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 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 his chief eunuch
Gao LiShi escort her back to
the palace, and thereafter loved her even more.
paintings indicate that -- like other beauties of the
time -- Yang GuiFei was a plump woman.
Emperor Xuanzong, wallowing in the pleasures of the
flesh, neglected his court and politics. Taking great
pains to please her, the emperor had the palace at
Huaqing Hot Springs enlarged, and she spent many
languorous hours bathing there to keep her skin fresh.
Fresh lychees, her favorite fruit, were brought by pony
express from Guangzhou every week. Many of her relatives
took positions at Court, with her cousin,
Yang Guozhong, becoming
Chief Minister, and her sisters were all appointed to
even adopted An Lushan, a general of Turkic origin, as
her son and helped him win power at court. In 755, An
Lushan seized the opportunity to stage a rebellion and
marched into the capital. Emperor Xuanzong fled towards
ChengDu in the southwest, taking Yang GuiFei with him.
Years of neglect had weakened the
imperial army, and its remaining soldiers were
determined to remove Yang GuiFei, the cause of its
decline. When stopping to change horses at Mawei
village, the soldiers mutinied, killing Yang Guozhong, and demanding the death of Yang GuiFei.
Emperor Xuanzong had no choice but to order her
execution. Yang GuiFei was strangled in the courtyard of
a small Buddhist temple by Gao
Lishi, and buried at Mawei village.
The An Lushan rebellion dragged on
for several years, but was eventually crushed. The
emperor, however, never recovered from his loss of Yang
GuiFei, and died a broken man a few years later.
Tang dynasty survived nominally, but a steady decline
had set in, and its former glory was never to be
The Four Beauties of China
According to legend,
the Four Great Beauties are the most beautiful women of
ancient China. They gained their reputation from the
influence they exercised over kings and emperors and
consequently, the way their actions impacted Chinese
history. Three of the Four Great Beauties brought
kingdoms to their knees, and the lives of all four ended
in tragic or under mysterious circumstances.
The Four Great
Beauties lived in four different dynasties, each
hundreds of years apart. as depicted by this Vietnamese
painting, in chronological order, they
(c. seventh to sixth century BC, Spring and
first century BC, Western Han Dynasty)
(c. third century, Three Kingdoms period)
(719–56, Tang Dynasty)
Said to be so entrancingly beautiful that fish
would forget to swim and sink away from the
surface when she walks by.
Said to be so beautiful that her appearance
would entice birds in flight to fall from the
Said to be so luminously lovely that the moon
itself would shy away in embarrassment when
compared to her face.
Said to have a face that puts all flowers to
Each had their own uniquely
human qualities. Xi Shi - big feet, Wang Zhaojun
- shoulder slip, Diao Chan - small ear, Yang
Guifei - body odor.
Yang GuiFei supposedly
suffered from overpowering body odour, which she
attempted to wash away with lavish baths and
cover up with scented powder.
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