Harem Favorites of an Illustrious Celestial

Harem Favorites of an Illustrious Celestial

Harem Favorites of an Illustrious Celestial

Harem Favorites of an Illustrious Celestial

Excerpt

The poignant love story of an Illustrious Celestial of the T'ang dynasty and his Precious Consort has aroused interest and sympathetic response throughout the centuries. It is sometimes not the way in which a person lives but the nature of his death that assures remembrance by posterity, and this certainly was true of the Precious Consort. She submitted with philosophic resignation to her fate and in 756 walked to her execution grounds without protest. The strangulation of the Lady Yang helped to quell a rebellion of the palace guard and thereby rescued the T'ang throne from an early oblivion.

The dramatic possibilities of this historical episode were effectively explored in the centuries to follow. Chinese poets and dramatists were stimulated to create highly original productions of their own centering around the theme of the emperor and his beloved consort, and their works were later emulated by those of western writers. My limited contribution to the considerable literature on this favored T'ang theme has been to go back into the early primary materials and attempt to discover the historical evidence which provided the basis for subsequent embellishments. In so doing, I have become convinced that a more valid picture of events which transpired in the middle eighth century in China may be obtained by viewing the life of Precious Consort Yang in the perspective of the harem in which she secured distinction. I have also made a study of earlier harem favorites to appear during the reign of the Illustrious Celestial. Since my most important reference materials are the biographies of harem ladies in the T'ang standard histories, these have been translated and included in the present work as appendices.

Research into this subject makes it apparent that women such as the Precious Consort were taken into the harem not only because they were beautiful, but also because they came from aristocratic families and possessed distinguished lineage. To further illustrate this point, I have compiled genealogy charts of the leading harem favorites under discussion. My book consists for the most part of separate monographs on the related subject of an imperial harem. These deal in part with the influence . . .

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