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Part II: From Concubine to Empress

(2010-12-22 04:57:24)
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分类: 英文長篇小說

In the palace of the feudal China, imperial concubines had different ranks, too, just like the courtiers. When Empress Wu first entered the palace, she was in a low rank. So there was a long way for her to go all the way to the position of the empress.

 

Chapter 1 She Became an Imperial Concubine


In AD 637, the bereaved wife of Wu Shiyue left Wenshui Town in Bingchow with her two daughters for ChangAn City, the capital. She wanted to live with her relatives there, because the two sons by Wu and his first wife had treated them badly. When they reached the capital, the former colleagues of Wu Shiyue came to visit them and consoled them, expressing their hearty condolence. They all saw that Empress Wu had grown up a young beauty. The standard of the judgment of beauty was very much different in different times and to different people. In Tang Dynasty, the typical beauty should be a little chubby, certainly not slim. The paintings handed down from that time showed it.

When Emperor Taizong came to know that the young girl was beautiful and accomplished in many ways, he summoned her into the palace to be one of his concubines. At that time she was only thirteen. The imperial concubines had eight ranks, all under the empress, the wife of the emperor. Her assigned duties were to record the activities of other concubines, including their daily as well as their productive actions such as silkworm breeding, and reported to the emperor. It meant that the emperor looked upon her as one of some importance since she was the daughter of his favorite courtier. Besides, many concubines were not as learned as she.

Anyway, sometimes, exceptions did happen. In the second moon of AD 623, Princess Zhao in Pingyang [Ping here means Flat and Yang here denotes South Side] Town died. She was the daughter of the first emperor of Tang Dynasty, Li Yuan, and the sister of Prince Qin. That year Li Yuan was still on the throne. At her funeral, her father ordered the drums and trumpets to be played in the funeral procession. When a courtier protested that it was against the etiquette rules to play music at the funeral of a female, the emperor said, “To play drums and trumpets is the military music. Since the princess beat the drum herself for the battles, she was not an ordinary female and deserved the accompaniment of drums and trumpets at her funeral.” (It bespoke that in Tang Dynasty rules could be broken under certain circumstances for a female.)

On the day when Empress Wu left home for the palace, her mother cried bitterly because she was worried about what fate would be waiting for her daughter and when she could see her daughter again. But her daughter comforted her, saying, “Don’t cry, Mother. Maybe, our fortune will turn.”

When Emperor Taizong saw her, he was so charmed with her great beauty that he called her Meiniang. (Meiniang here means Charming Girl. She never had a given name recorded in the history book. Now her full name Wu Meiniang given by the emperor is in the Chinese history book. But here it would be better to call her Charming Girl Wu, because Wu Charming Girl sounds so awkward.) Hence everyone called her Charming Girl, her given name, given by the emperor.

Since Charming Girl Wu should report to the emperor what other concubines did during the day, she saw him very often. Like every other concubine, she also wanted to show herself off before the emperor. Once the emperor took some concubines, Charming Girl Wu among them, to look at a blood horse sent to him from the so-called Western Area in the Chinese history book (in the present Xinjiang [meaning New Territory] Autonomous Region). The horse had a name: Lion Steed. It was so huge and wild that no one could tame it. Charming Girl Wu stepped forward and said to the emperor, “I can tame it, but first I need three things: an iron stick, an iron hammer and a dagger. I will hit it with the iron stick first. If it remains wild, I will hit its head with the iron hammer. If it still can’t be tamed, I will cut its throat with the dagger.” The emperor praised her for her bravery.

Anyway, she did not become Emperor Taizong’s favorite, or her destiny would have been totally different. It might be that the emperor liked gentle females and Charming Girl Wu was certainly not the kind. Therefore, she did not bear any child for the emperor and spent more than ten years in the palace without any promotion while some other concubines got it. But her knowledge was widened during her tedious life there. She had learned a lot about politics, about each other’s relationship in the palace, or even in the officialdom. Especially she had learned from the emperor about how to rule the country well.

The wife of the emperor died early and the emperor did not name any concubine to be the new empress. It was favorable for Charming Girl Wu, because if she did anything indecent, no one could punish her except for the emperor himself.



Chapter 2 Brothers vied for the throne


According to tradition the first son should be the successor to the throne and so was it. But Li Chengqian (AD 619—AD 645), the first son of Emperor Taizong, was a hypocrite. He was meager and lame of one leg. He was ashamed of himself for the lameness. He thought that a crown prince should not have bodily defect. He developed a feeling of self-despitefulness. However, he acted like a gentleman before his father, but led a dissipated life behind his back. Although he had a wife and some concubines, he really did not want women. He liked a boy of thirteen who was the player of some musical instrument. He played with the boy in the daytime and slept with him at night. (He might be gay. But at that time Chinese people had no notion of being gay. They thought that it was not normal.) As a crown prince, he should learn palace etiquette and knowledge of how to rule the country, but he liked the lifestyle of a nomad. He often attired himself as a chieftain of Tujue Clan, a minority to the north of Tang Dynasty. He let his men don the uniforms of the Tujue troopers and lived in a tent in the back garden of his residence. He and his men often stole out of the palace to rob some sheep or cattle from the common people, and roasted the stolen animals over camp fire. They ate and drank like savages.

A courtier by the name of Yu Zhining serving the crown prince as a counselor once advised him not to do such improper things. The crown prince was in great wrath and sent two assassins to kill him. When the two assassins reached Yu’s house, they saw that Yu lived like common people. They knew that Yu was a good courtier and they did not kill him.

Yu Zhining (AD 588—AD 665) had been a courtier in Sui Dynasty and later had been appointed the mayor of Koushi [Kou here is a surname and Shi here means Surname] Town. When at the end of Sui Dynasty there were rebellions everywhere, he resigned and took his family and relatives to live in a secluded village. In the eleventh moon of AD 618 when Li Yuan declared himself the emperor of Tang Dynasty, Yu Zhining went to see him and got an official position. Then he worked with Prince Qin. When Prince Qin became the emperor, he got promotion and was made a counselor to the crown prince.

A crown prince had a high-ranked courtier who was also a great scholar as his tutor. The crown prince did not like to study, and so was often blamed by the tutor. Once when he said that he did not care to be an emperor or would not be one in the future and that he loved the life of a nomad, the tutor got really disappointed in and angry with him. He threatened to tell it to the emperor. The crown prince told his men to beat the tutor till the emperor was informed of the event and hurried to his rescue. The crown prince and his men had already fled to his residence. The emperor was so disappointed in the crown prince that he had half a mind to depose him from the position. He began to pin his hope on his second son.

The second son Li Tai (AD 618—AD 652) was a man of ambition, titled Prince Wei. He had ability in good writing and good calligraphy. He organized a group of scholars to make up a book about geography, divided into five hundred fifty volumes. When he knew that the emperor had a preference for him, he started to aspire after the position of the crown prince. The two brothers thereby plotted against each other. The first son felt some danger and wanted to be the emperor as soon as possible.

In the first moon of AD 642, the second son, Prince Wei, finished the book of geography with the assistance of some scholars. When he presented the book to the emperor, his father praised him and granted him with ten thousand scrolls of brocade. Then the emperor decided to make this son the crown prince. But a courtier said to the emperor that according to the tradition, the crown prince should be made by seniority, and besides, the present crown prince had no serious fault that he should be deposed.

Since the death of the empress, his mother, the crown prince made an endless demand for almost everything. The record showed that the crown prince took more than seventy thousand various things in just less than sixty days.

As the crown prince liked the lifestyle of the nomad clan Tujue, who lived in tents and ate roast sheep, it was actually deemed as a betrayal to the national tradition at that time. Especially for the crown prince, it was a serious defect in his character. Other two counselors assigned to him by the emperor advised him not to do so. But he would not listen, and on the contrary, he secretly sent someone to assassinate them, but also in vain.

Prince Han, the seventh son of the first emperor Li Yuan and the stepbrother of the present emperor, always did something unlawful and was scolded by Emperor Taizong. He befriended the crown prince. They often divided their men into two groups and fought with each other like in a real conflict. The game caused bleeding or even death. Anyone who disobeyed would get a severe beating. The crown prince once said, “When I become the emperor, if anyone gives me advice, I will kill him. When I kill hundreds of them, no one dares to advise me any more.”

Prince Wei, the second brother of the crown prince, disdained his brother as he was lame and of no ability. So Prince Wei had an ambition to usurp the position of the crown prince. Both brothers wanted to get supporters from the courtiers. Before the emperor, some of the courtiers spoke ill of Prince Wei and some said that the present crown prince was not suitable to be the successor and only Prince Wei was the right one for it.

As the crown prince privately loved a young musician in the national musical department, the homosexual behavior was unbearable to the society and also to the emperor, who ordered the young musician arrested and executed. The crown prince got the body and buried it in his garden, a gravestone set up with a false official title inscribed on it. When the emperor learned it, he was indignant. And the crown prince knew that his father was angry with him, and so he avoided meeting his father as often as possible. He thought that it must be his rival brother who told it to his father. He was all the more hating his brother and planning to kill him.

Helan (double surname) Chushi, the son-in-law of Hou Junji (?—AD 643), who was the minister of Official Ministry, was working for the crown prince. So Hou Junji often went to see the crown prince, too. When the crown prince asked Hou Junji for his advice as to what he should do next to avoid further disaster, Hou hinted to him to rebel. It meant that if he could usurp the throne from his father, he would be the emperor and no one could do anything against his will any more.

Hou Junji had been a brave general under Prince Qin, the present Emperor Taizong. He had gone through many battles victoriously. Therefore, in the ninth moon of AD 626, after Prince Qin had become Emperor Taizong, the emperor granted him with the title of Duke Luguo. In the eleventh moon of AD 630, he was made the minister of Military Ministry. In AD 637, his title was changed to Duke of Chengguo. In AD 638, he was made the minister of Official Ministry. But Hou thought that he was such a brave and talented man, he should have been appointed a prime minister. Once when he had been sent to fight a minority in the west, though he had defeated them, he had taken a lot of trophy for himself. And his subordinate generals followed suit. It was deemed embezzlement. So he was put into jail. Only when a courtier reasoned with the emperor that Hou’s merits could offset this crime was he released. But he hated to be imprisoned and still thought that he should have been rewarded for the victory he had won. It was the reason that he wanted to instigate the crown prince to rebel. If the crown prince was successful, he would be appointed a prime minister.

Prince Han also suggested to the crown prince to rebel. Tu He, the husband of Princess Chengyang, joined in the conspiracy. All of them had a ritual of being bound by a vow. Their plan was that the crown prince would pretend to be sick and when the emperor came to see him, they would kill the emperor.

In the ninth moon of AD 642, Emperor Taizong wanted Wei Zheng to be a counselor to the crown prince in hopes that he could help the crown prince to correct his bad behavior. But Wei refused to take the edict. Only when the emperor persisted did he accept the appointment. However, since he was sick in bed, he could not really go to see the crown prince.

In the fourth moon of AD 643, supported by Prince Han and Hou Junji and others, the crown prince changed his plan to attack Taiji [meaning Extreme Pole] Chamber where the emperor lived. When the emperor learned the conspiracy, he imprisoned his first son and killed all others, including Prince Han and the minister Hou Junji. At first the emperor wanted to pardon Prince Han because he was his stepbrother, but at the insistence of some senior courtiers in the equality of law, the emperor had to order Prince Han to end his own life at home.

Once the emperor sent Hou Junji to a famous general Li Jing to learn the art of war. But Hou reported to the emperor, “Li Jing will rebel.” Surprised, the emperor asked why. The reply was, “Because Li Jing only taught me the general idea of the strategies. He keeps the essence of it as a secret from me. That’s why I draw the conclusion.” When the emperor asked Li Jing about it, Li answered, “It just shows that Junji will rebel. In this peaceful time, what I teach him is enough for him to fight any invasions. He wants to learn all I know, what else can it mean except that he wants to use it in rebellion?” Once Li Daozong, Prince Jiangxia, said to the emperor, “Junji has great ambition, but not great wisdom. He feels it a shame to be under Fang Xuanling and Li Jing. He’s not satisfied to be the minister of Official Ministry. In my opinion, he will rebel.” The emperor said, “Don’t judge him like that. Don’t suspect him.” Now as Hou rebelled and was executed, the emperor apologized to Prince Jiangxia and sighed, “Just as you prophesied.”

 


Chapter 3 Her Second Husband Became Crown Prince


On the fifteenth day of the sixth moon in AD 628 when Empress Wu was four years old, Li Zhi (AD 628—AD 683 and AD 649—AD 683 on the throne), the ninth son of Emperor Taizong, was born, who would be the second husband of Empress Wu in the future, four years younger than she. In the second moon of AD 631, Li Zhi got the title of Prince Jin.

In AD 643, perceiving the opportunity that his eldest brother was no longer the crown prince and supported by the courtier Cen Wenben and others, the second son behaved especially well before his father, who then promised to make him the crown prince. Cen Wenben (AD 596—AD 645) was a prudent man. He supported the second son from his view of seniority.

Cen Wenben’s father was the mayor of Handan [just the name of a place] Town. When he was falsely accused and put in prison, Cen Wenben, at the age of fourteen, came forth to plead for his father. He was so eloquent and reasonable that his father was released unguilty. When he was asked to write an essay on “Water Lily”, he finished it in no time on the spot and was deemed a boy prodigy. When he grew up, a warlord Xiao Xian (AD 583—AD 621) in Jingchow [meaning Bramble District] sent for him and he worked for Xiao Xian, who was the nephew of Empress Xiao of Emperor Yang of Sui Dynasty. Xiao Xian was appointed as the mayor of Lu [a surname here] Town. After the overthrow of Sui Dynasty, Xiao gathered rebels and became a warlord. When Tang army came to attack, Xiao Xian fought back, but was defeated in all the battles. When he was surrounded by Tang army, Cen Wenben persuade him to surrender so that no more people would die. Xiao Xian was sent to ChangAn City, the capital of Tang Dynasty and was killed there. Cen Wenben joined Tang army and got some official positions until promoted to be a prime minister.

In the eighth moon of AD 644, when Cen Wenben was made a prime minister, he was sad and afraid. At home, when his mother asked him why, he said, “The higher my position, the heavier my responsibilities. I am not sure I can perform my duties well.” When relatives and friends came to congratulate him for the promotion, he said, “You’d better mourn for me, not congratulate me.” His brother Wenzhao loved to have friends and feasts. The emperor did not like it and once said to Wenben, “What your brother’s doing may bring you trouble. What if I send him out of the capital to be an official in some other town?” Wenben said while sobbing, “My mother specially loves my brother, who has never stayed away from home for a day. If he is sent somewhere else, my mother will be sad and grow languid. So if my brother’s gone away, my mother will be gone soon.” He cried. The emperor had a pity on him and changed his mind. And the brother Wenzhao did not bring any trouble to Wenben all his life.

But Changsun (double surname) Wuji, the brother of the emperor’s deceased wife, had strong objection to making the second son the crown prince. He begged the emperor to make his ninth son, Prince Jin, the crown prince.

When the second son came to know it, he threatened the ninth son, saying, “You were a friend of Prince Han. Are you afraid that something will happen to you since he died?” He implied that if the ninth brother wanted to be safe, he should not vie for the position of the crown prince with him. The ninth son showed the fear on his face before his father. When the emperor detected it, he insisted on knowing the reason. So the ninth son had to tell his father all about the threat. Then the emperor realized that if he made the second son the crown prince, his first son and the ninth son would be in danger and if he made the ninth son the crown prince, the first son and the second son would be safe. So the emperor made his final decision to have the ninth son as the crown prince.

To get support of the chief courtiers, the emperor played a little trick. One day, when he dismissed court, he told Changsun Wuji, Fang Xuanling, Li Ji and Chu Suiliang to stay behind. He said, “I’m disappointed in my cousin Prince Han and my first son.” Just finishing the words, he fell back like in a swoon. The four courtiers were in panic and hurried to help him. When the emperor was assisted to sit up, he drew his sword out as if he would kill himself. Chu Suiliang then took the sword from the emperor and handed it to the ninth son, who was present. The four courtiers asked the emperor what was wrong with him. The emperor said, “I want to make Li Zhi the crown prince.” The four courtiers had no objection. That day, the second son, Prince Wei, was put in confinement for the safety of the ninth son. Thus, on the seventh day of the fourth moon, the ninth son was announced to be the crown prince.

In the seventh moon, his first son was sent to live in Qianchow [meaning Black District] in confinement, who died in the twelfth moon of AD 644 His second son was sent to live in Junchow [meaning Equal District], also in confinement.

From the lesson he had learned of the downfall of his first son, Emperor Taizong seized every chance to educate his ninth son. When they were eating rice, the emperor would say, “If you know how hard to grow and reap rice, then you won’t lack rice.” (It is literally translated from the text so that the readers can know what exactly the emperor said.) When the son was riding a horse, the emperor would say, “If you know how to let the horse work and rest alternately and never use up its energy, you will always have a horse to ride.” When he saw his son in a boat, the emperor would say, “Water can float a boat, but can also capsize it. People are like water and the sovereign is like a boat.” (This is always quoted in the time to come.) Whenever the emperor held levee, he bade his son to stay at his side to learn how he managed the state affairs. Besides, the emperor also wrote a book for him, titled “Rules For An Emperor To Follow”. He even went so far as to encourage the son to make decisions about important issues.



Chapter 4 The Last Years of Her First Husband


Emperor Taizong had a pious belief in Buddhism. In AD 627, the famous monk Xuanzhuang (AD 602—AD 664) started alone to India, where Buddhism originated. He stayed there for more than ten years and studied the Buddhist sutras. He even gave lectures to and had debates with Indian monks. In AD 643, he set out on the returning journey, bringing back 657 copies of Buddhist sutras. In the second moon of AD 646, the monk Xuanzhuang arrived in ChangAn City to the welcome of the emperor. The monk Xuanzhuang built the five-storied Big Wild Goose Pagoda in the Temple of Big Mercy-Benevolence (the Temple had been ordered to be built in the capital by the crown prince in memory of his mother, the late empress of Emperor Taizong.) in ChangAn City (the present XiAn City). Travelers can still see the pagoda there nowadays. The monk Xuangzhuang spent more than ten years to translate one thousand three hundred and thirty volumes of the sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese. Later these sutras spread to Korea and Japan. He dictated a book about the Asian countries he had journeyed through. (The monk’s alleged adventures were described in the world-renowned novel titled “A Journey to West” by Wu ChengEn (AD 1504—AD 1582) in Ming Dynasty (AD 1368—AD 1644). The hero in that novel is the well-known Monkey King or Golden Monkey.)

In the late years of his life, Emperor Taizong became suspicious of his courtiers. He commanded a prime minister named Liu Ji (?—AD 645) to kill himself at home. Liu was really a learned and upright person. At the end of Sui Dynasty, Liu Ji worked for Xiao Xian (see above). When he went to work with Tang government, he was appointed the administrator of the governor’s yamen in Nankangchow [meaning South Health District]. During the reign of Emperor Taizong, he was gradually promoted to be a prime minister. In AD 645 when the emperor left for the Korean war, he let the crown prince take the administration of the nation and ordered Liu Ji to assist his son. Liu said, “Be at rest, Your Majesty. If any courtier is guilty, he will be executed.” As the emperor was sick, Liu said to other courtiers, “His Majesty’s illness is so serious. I’m worried.” But a courtier named Zhu Suiliang reported to the emperor that Liu said that he would act as the regent to the crown prince when His Majesty died. He would kill anyone who disagreed with him. So the emperor suspected Liu as to be ambitious for the power and ordered him to kill himself by his own hand. (Zhu Suiliang was also a good courtier. No one could understand why Zhu wanted to say something falsely to the emperor and caused his death. The history book just listed the fact.) After the death of Emperor Taizong, the son of Liu Ji wrote a memorial to the succeeding emperor to mention the false report of Zhu Suiliang, the emperor ignored it because Zhu Suiliang was a favorite courtier at that time. Only when Empress Wu was on the throne was the false accusation of Liu Ji cleared.

In the first moon of AD 643, a secret report came that Liu Lancheng, the governor of Daichow [Dai here means Substitute] was planning a riot. So Liu Lancheng was executed. A general Qiu Xinggong took the liver and heart of the executed governor, cooked and ate them. When the emperor heard of it, he scolded the general, “When Lancheng rebelled, the government has the law to punish him. You didn’t need to do such a thing. If doing this can show the loyalty, the princes should do it before you did.” The general Qiu felt ashamed of himself.

In the fifth moon, Emperor Taizong asked Fang Xuanling, “Why did the historiographers in the previous dynasties never show the historical records to the emperors?” Fang answered, “Because the historiographers always wrote down the exact facts, bad or good. If the emperors read the records of their bad behavior or deeds, they might probably get angry and kill those historiographers.” The emperor said, “I’m different from the previous emperors. I want to read the records to know my mistakes before and avoid them afterwards. You can compile some and let me read it.” Another courtier said, “Your Majesty do things correctly and records show nothing bad. It makes no difference whether Your Majesty read them or not. But if the subsequent emperors are not as clear-minded as Your Majesty, the historiographers can’t elude the execution. If they want to avoid the danger, they will write down what the emperors like. Then how can the records be believable?” At the insistence of the emperor, Fang Xuanling had to choose a period of the records after some deletion and change, and presented it to the emperor. When the emperor read the record for the event on the fourth day of the sixth moon (denoting the event to kill the two brothers of the emperor), he found that the narration was ambiguous. The emperor ordered to write the facts as they were.

In the second moon of AD 646, Emperor Taizong was sick in bed and the tradition demanded that the crown prince should come to stay with him and take care of the medicine and food the emperor needed. The concubines came to visit the emperor by turns. Charming Girl Wu also came and started to know the crown prince personally. The crown prince was charmed by her beauty. As Charming Girl Wu had been neglected for so many years, she was yearning for love. So she and the crown prince fell in love with each other, at the first sight. Although Charming Girl Wu was the concubine of the father in name and should not love the son of her husband, and the son should not love the concubine of his father, yet such things did happen occasionally in the Chinese history. Later when the son succeeded to the throne, in one of his imperial edicts, he wrote as an explanation to this affair, “When I was still the crown prince and had the chance to be often at the side of my late father, I behaved myself and never even glanced to any females there. My father knew it and eulogized me and gave me Charming Girl Wu.”

In the ancient China, it did happen for a person to give away his concubine to someone else for the promotion of their relationship, but there was a doubt that a father would give his concubine to his son, especially when the father was an emperor.

In the third moon, the emperor got better. A courtier reported to the emperor that Zhang Liang, the minister of Judicial Ministry, had adopted five hundred sons and that Zhang Liang once asked a fortune-teller, “I have some dragon scales on my arm. (The ancient Chinese people thought the emperor was the impersonation of the dragon.) If I want to rebel, is it okay?” So the emperor had Zhang Liang arrested. When Zhang Liang pleaded for himself, the emperor said, “If you don’t want to rebel, why do you adopt five hundred sons?” Then he had all the courtiers discuss the case. Almost all the courtiers decided that Zhang Liang was guilty and deserved death sentence. A courtier by the name of Li Daoyu said that Zhang had really no action of rebellion and did not deserve death sentence even if he was guilty. But as a result, Zhang Liang was executed for treason. Soon the position of a vice minister of Judicial Ministry became vacant. The emperor wanted prime ministers to choose someone to fill it. They nominated some candidates, but none met the requirements of the emperor. Suddenly the emperor said, “I got someone. When Li Daoyu said that Zhang Liang had really no action of rebellion, he was right. Although I didn’t listen to him at that time, I regretted it ever since.” Then the emperor made Li Daoyu fill the vacancy.

On the twenty-second day of the twelfth moon, it was the birthday of the emperor. The emperor said to the courtiers, “Today is my birthday. People always enjoy the day in merry-making, but I feel cheerless. As an old poem had it: How distressful are the parents, when it is the hard labor to bear me, and how can we feast on the mother’s hard labor day?” Thus speaking, his tears rolled down his cheeks. The courtiers wept, too.

In the first moon of AD 647, all the minorities in the north and west pledged obedience to Tang government. The emperor gave their chieftains respectively the titles of governors or magistrates to rule over their own regions. The chieftains prostrated and cheered the emperor.

In the third moon, Emperor Taizong was sick again. He hated the weather in the capital.

In the fourth moon, the emperor ordered to rebuild Emerald Palace on the site of the ruined Taihe Palace on Mount Zhongnan. The Emerald Palace was finished very soon.

In the fifth moon, the emperor went to live in Emerald Palace and let the crown prince handle the national affairs. One day the emperor asked the courtiers why he could make all the minorities obey him while the previous emperors could not have done it. The courtiers all said, “Your Majesty’s merits are great like Heaven and Earth.” The emperor said, “No. I can achieve it because of five things. The previous emperors were generally jealous of those with abilities surpassing them; but when I see the abilities in others, I deem it as I have them. The previous emperors couldn’t see that everyone had only certain abilities, not all the abilities, but I only use the abilities a person has and avoid his shortcomings. The previous emperors, when seeing good men, wanted to favor them, and when seeing bad men, wanted to push them into abyss; but I, when seeing good men, respect them, and when seeing bad men, pity them. The previous emperors hated the upright men and kill them openly or secretly; but since I inherited the throne, so many upright men have been in my court. Since ancient time, other emperors always thought their own race superior and the minorities inferior; but I love the minorities and treat them fairly so that they look upon me as their parent. That’s why I achieved the present merit.” All the courtiers eulogized the emperor.

In the sixth moon, the emperor appointed Li Wei as the minister of Household Ministry, which was in charge of the things concerning all the people and their families nationwide. At that time Fang Xuanling, always a faithful follower since the emperor had still been Prince Qin, stayed in the capital to aid the crown prince for the administration. Someone came from the capital. The emperor asked him what Fang had said about the appointment of Li Wei. The answer was that Fang only said that Li had beautiful beard, which implied that Li was not a man of talent. So the emperor re-appointed him as the magistrate of Luochow [Luo here is the name of a river].

In the first moon of AD 648, from his experience as a ruler, the emperor wrote a book in twelve chapters, titled “Paragons for the Emperor”. He gave it to the crown prince Li Zhi and added, “You must also learn from the examples of some good emperors in the previous dynasties. It is said that if one learns from superior examples, he may only get moderate results; and if one learns from moderate examples, he will get inferior results. (Ancient Chinese people divided everything into three levels: superior, moderate and inferior.) Since I got on the throne, I have done many things improper, like always having brocade, pearls and jades for decoration, often building palaces and pavilions, obtaining dogs, horses and hawks from distant places, and my travels causing the unnecessary supplies. Those are my shortcomings. You can’t learn these things from me. As I saved people and expanded the territory, my merits surpass my demerits. So people are not complaining and the dynasty is still standing. But comparing with the ideal of perfection, I should feel ashamed of myself. You don’t have my merits, but will inherit my empire. If you perform your best to do all the good things, you may keep the nation in safety. If you become haughty, lazy and dissipated, you can’t even keep yourself safe. A new dynasty is slow to establish, but quick to collapse. The throne is difficult to get, but easy to lose. You must be careful, very careful.”

In the sixth moon, the emperor married his daughter, Princess Xiangcheng, to the son of a courtier Xiao Yu. He wanted to build a special residence for her, but the princess rejected, saying, “As a daughter-in-law, I must wait on my parents-in-law day and night. If I live in another residence, how can I do the filial duties?” Xiao Yu (AD 575—AD 648) got the title of Prince of XinAn at the age of nine. His elder sister was Empress Xiao, the wife of Emperor Yang of Sui Dynasty. When Li Yuan took ChangAn City, he sent for Xiao Yu and made him the minister of Etiquette Ministry. Then he was promoted to be a prime minister.

The prime minister Fang Xuanling was seriously sick and sent in a memorial advising the emperor to stop invading Korea if it did not enter Tang territory. His son Fang YiAi had married Princess Gaoyang, the daughter of the emperor. When Fang Xuanling died, the emperor shed sorrowful tears.

In the third moon of AD 649, the sickness of the emperor got worse. The crown prince waited on his father at the bedside.

On the twenty-fifth day of the fourth moon, the emperor was moved to live in Emerald Palace. The crown prince accompanied him there. The emperor said to his son, “General Li Ji (AD 594—AD 669) is a man of talent. As you haven’t done any favor to him, he may not serve you faithfully when I am gone. Now I will order him to leave the capital. If he leaves immediately, you can let him return after my death and make him a prime minister. This favor will make him serve you loyally. If he hesitates to go, I will kill him for your future safety.”

On the fifteenth day of the fifth moon, Li Ji got the demotion accordingly to be the governor of Diechow [meaning Pile-up District]. He left the capital right away and directly from the palace, without even returning to home to bid his family farewell.

On the twenty-sixth day of the fifth moon, Emperor Taizong left this world for Heaven. Before his death he summoned Changsun and Zhu Suiliang, his two trustworthy senior courtiers, to his presence and wanted them to support and help the crown prince in his administration of the country. He said to them, “I entrust my good son and good daughter-in-law to you.” Zhu Suiliang (AD 596—AD 658) was a renowned calligrapher. He had been recommended to Emperor Taozong by Wei Zheng for his great skills in calligraphy. Later he became one of the favorite courtiers of Emperor Taizong. As he was so bold as to speak out his opinions without the consideration of offending the emperor or not, Emperor Taizong trusted him and so made him and Changsun the counselors to the crown prince when he was dying.

When the sad news of the death of Emperor Taizong spread nationwide, all the princes staying away from the capital returned to pay their last respect to the deceased emperor. Hundreds of people from all minorities staying in the capital wailed hard. Some pricked their faces and ears till bleeding, and some cut their hair, all these done to the customs of their own tribes on such an occasion. Charming Girl Wu was twenty-five that year.

On the first day of the sixth moon, his ninth son, Li Zhi, was crowned as Emperor Gaozong at the age of twenty-two. Emperor Gaozong summoned General Li Ji back to the capital and made him a prime minister. On the twenty-eighth day of the eighth moon, Emperor Taizong was buried in Mausoleum Zhao.

Generally speaking, Emperor Taizong was one of the greatest emperors in the Chinese history. He was not only talented militarily and politically, but also good in character. He was modest and often accepted criticisms and corrected his mistakes. His reign was deemed as the best one in the Chinese history. The rulers in the subsequent dynasties often said that a ruler should learn the example from Emperor Taizong, but none really tried to attain the aim.



Chapter 5 Living in a Nunnery


According to the tradition, those concubines of the deceased emperor who had born children would be confined in their own chambers and those who did not bear any children would all go to a nunnery to be nuns. Charming Girl Wu was included in the second group of course. In the ninth moon of AD 649, the concubines belonging to the second group, including Charming Girl Wu, twenty-five years old that year, were sent to the nunnery.

Compared with living in the palace, life in a nunnery was tedious and hard. Besides shaving off the hair, nuns must observe ten disciplines: 1) no killing of any living creatures (nuns and monks are all vegetarians); 2) no stealing, no desire for money and luxurious clothes; 3) no marriage, keeping away from males and no sexual thoughts; 4) no gossiping, no name-calling and never being a witness to any crimes (nuns and monks should be indifferent to worldly affairs); 5) no alcohol and no going to a wine house; 6) no eating meat and no riding on a horse or in a coach; 7) no looking at mirrors, no making-up on faces, no loud speaking, no laughing while talking, no playing any musical instruments, no dancing and no looking round while walking; 8) no learning witchcraft, no divining, no idle chatting and no commenting on political affairs; 9) no wearing clothes in the same color as those of males, no sitting together with males and no correspondence with the outside world; 10) no curse words, no speaking ill of anyone, no flirting, no strutting and no crossing legs while sitting.

Generally, a novice nun should get up earlier than the senior nuns and should labor hard. But these newly-coming nuns could not really be classified as novice nuns. They were the widows of the late emperor. So the head nun and senior nuns could not ask them to do whatever against their will. Only they should also abide by all the disciplines. Charming Girl Wu could not bear to live such a life. She often thought of Emperor Gaozong, but she was not sure when she could see him again, or never again.

The twenty-sixth day of the fifth moon in AD 650 was the anniversary of the death of the late emperor. Emperor Gaozong came to the nunnery to have a memorial ceremony performed for his father. After the ritual, the emperor went to find Charming Girl Wu, who sobbed without saying anything and the emperor sobbed, too, thinking of the love between them.

Thereafter, Emperor Gaozong came to visit her frequently. As she was now a nun, the emperor should find an excuse to take her back to the palace. But at present he did not have any pretence. Therefore, he had to let her stay in the nunnery for the time being.

As the emperor could not always come, she thought of him and wrote a poem about it. The poem goes as follows:

I look upon red as if it’s green when I think of you; (meaning she could not even tell colors apart when she was thinking of the emperor)

I grow languish and bony for missing you.

If you don’t believe my tears running down often,

You can open my trunk to check on my skirt with pomegranate pattern. (She meant that the trace of her tears could be seen on the skirt.)



Chapter 6 What Happened When She Was in Nunnery


In the tenth moon of AD 649, the new emperor asked Tang Lin, the head judge of the Supreme Court, how many prisoners he had now. The reply was “Over fifty, and two of them were sentenced to death.” The emperor was satisfied, because the fewer the prisoners were, the better the rule of the country was. Then he learned that the prisoners under the ex-head judge always complained that they had been falsely accused, but no prisoners made any complaints now. The emperor wondered and once asked a prisoner, who said that since all the cases were justly judged, about what could a prisoner complain? The emperor pondered over it long, and exclaimed, “To judge a case should be like that.”

Tang Lin had been the vice mayor of Wanquan [meaning Myriad Waterfall] Town in Sui Dynasty. There were over ten prisoners of minor offense in the yamen. It was a good time for plowing and sowing when it was raining in spring. Tang Lin asked permission of the mayor to release those prisoners temporarily, the mayor did not agree. Tang Lin said, “If you are not confident about it, I will take the responsibility for it.” So the mayor took a vacation. (It meant that when the mayor was away, the vice mayor would be responsible for everything in the yamen.) Tang Lin let those prisoners go home for the field work. He had an agreement with them that they would return to the prison before the mayor came back from vacation. The prisoners were grateful and returned in time. Tang Lin became famous for that matter. He had also cleared three thousand prisoners of their false charges. Therefore, when he worked for Tang government, he was promoted to the position of the minister of Judicial Ministry.

He was thrifty and lived a simple life. He could always forgive people for trifling mistakes. Once when he went to attend a funeral, he forgot to bring white clothes with him. White color was traditionally used for mourning in China. So he told his page to go back to fetch him a white gown. The page mistakingly got another gown that was not white. He did not dare to give it to his master. Tang Lin guessed it and said that he suddenly felt short of breath and was not fit to cry for the diseased. He did not need the white gown any more. Another time when he let someone boil medical herbs for him, but something went wrong with it. When he learned the situation, he said to the man that as it was cloudy, not fine, it was not fit for him to take the medicine. He told the man just to throw it away. These two examples bespoke that he was a man considerate of the awkward conditions of other people rather than the need of his own.

In the twelfth moon, the emperor freed Prince Pu, his second brother, from the confinement, who died in the eleventh moon of AD 652.

On the sixth day of the first moon of AD 650, the new emperor made his wife the empress, nee Wang, and so the history book recorded her as Empress Wang (AD 628—AD 655). Her father was granted the title of Duke of Weiguo, but died soon. Why was the first thing the new emperor did after he had been crowned not to declare his wife as the empress, but to postpone it to the next year? The tradition was that the coronation of an empress must be done at the beginning of a new year. The grandaunt of Empress Wang was Princess TongAn, the sister of Li Yuan, the first emperor of Tang Dynasty. When the second emperor had still been Prince Jin, Princess TongAn had said to Emperor Taizong, the father of the present emperor, that she had a grandniece, who was a nice gentle pretty lady. Emperor Taizong asked for the hand of the girl to be the wife of his ninth son, Prince Jin. When Prince Jin was made the crown prince, her father was promoted to be the magistrate of Chenchow [Chen here is a surname].

In the autumn that year, Princess Hengshan, a daughter of the late emperor and a sister of the present emperor, would be married to someone in Changsun family and the wedding was planned to be held then. However, a courtier Yu Zhining said that rules inhibited wedding for three years after the death of a parent. That was a Chinese tradition in the old times. So the wedding was put off. Things concerning a parent were always observed to the traditional standards lest people would criticize them as unfilial sons and daughters.

One day the emperor went hunting and was caught by a heavy shower. Although he was clad in oilcloth, which was leaking, he got somewhat wet inside. He asked a courtier beside him, “How can I make the oilcloth not leaking?” The reply was, “When it is made of tiles, it definitely won’t leak.” The emperor was pleased at the humorous answer and stopped hunting. (Only houses are covered with tiles. The courtier hinted that the emperor should stay under roof, not go out hunting.) This event showed that Emperor Gaozong was also ready to take criticisms like his late father.

On the eleventh day of the first moon in AD 651, the emperor made Liu Shi, the maternal uncle of Empress Wang, a prime minister.

Prince Teng was the magistrate of Jinchow [meaning Gold District]. He was a man of no mercy. At night he often went out of the city to disturb people in the villages. He liked to shoot people at random with his bow and pellets or bury someone in snow for fun. When the emperor was told about his behavior, he wrote to reprimand him, saying, “There are many ways to have fun. As you are my relative, I don’t want to enforce law on you. So I just write to you in hopes that you will feel ashamed of yourself.”

Prince Teng and Prince Jiang both were fond of accumulating wealth and led a life of self-indulgence. When Emperor Gaozong came to know it, he wrote to reproach them. Once when the emperor gave something to all the princes he left out these two princes. He told them that as they could make fortune by themselves, he did not need to give them anything. Then he gave them each a cart of hemp cord so that they could put coins on it. (The bronze or brass coins used in the old China had square holes in the middle so that people could put them on a cord.) The two princes were ashamed of themselves.

In the ninth moon, the emperor said to the prime ministers, “I heard that the courtiers bear with one another for wrongdoings. How can they do justice to everything?” Changsun (double surname) Wuji, a prime minister and the maternal uncle of the emperor, said, “I can’t say that there’re no such things. But no one dares to twist law on purpose. As for taking some trifling gifts, even Your Majesty can’t avoid.” The emperor had nothing more to say as Changsun was his uncle and the main supporter.

In the eleventh moon of AD 652, the emperor issued an edict, “From now on, anyone sending hawks, horses or dogs to the palace will be deemed guilty.” He set foot down not to go hunting any more.

In the same moon, Princess Gaoyang, daughter of the late emperor, made Fang YiAi, her husband, sue his brother Fang Yizhi for the division of the family property. They were the sons of Fang Xuanling, a prime minister and a favorite courtier of the late emperor. Ever since the death of her father-in-law, she had always been wishing to divide the family property. It had been her idea, but on the contrary, she had accused the brother-in-law of putting up the idea. So the brother-in-law had complained to the late emperor, which had caused the princess to lose the favor of her father. The princess was not happy. At that time, a thief had been caught to steal a jade pillow set with precious gems and pearls from the bedroom of a monk. When the monk had been questioned where he had got the precious jade pillow he had said that it had been given to him by Princess Goayang. It had revealed the adultery between the princess and the monk. The late emperor had been infuriated and had executed the monk and confined the princess in her own residence. The princess had even begun to hate her father. When her father had died, she had not even shown any sorrow on her face.

The case to divide family property was against the moral tradition of the old Chinese society. So the present emperor demoted Fang YiAi to be the magistrate of Fangchow [meaning House District] and Fang Yizhi to be the magistrate of Xichow [Xi here means Low Damp Place].

Xue Wanche (?—AD 653), after joining Tang army, had served Li Jiancheng, the first son of Li Yuan. When the first son and the third had been killed by the second son in AD 626, he had led palace guardsmen to attack the second son. Only when he had been shown the head of the first son did he flee to hide in the South Mountain. He came out after Emperor Taizong, the second son, sent someone several times to summon him to the capital. He helped General Li Jing and General Li Ji to fight invaders from north and west and fought Koreans, too. To appreciate his merits, Emperor Taizong married Princess Danyang to him. Princess Danyang was the daughter of Li Yuan, the sister of Emperor Taizong and the aunt of the present emperor Gaozong. Xue was a haughty man and was demoted to be the magistrate of Ningchow [meaning Quiet District] for some wrongdoings. When he was back to the capital, he befriended Fang YiAi. He often complained to YiAi about his demotion. Once he said to YiAi, “If the country gets into a tumult, we must support Prince Jing to be the emperor.” Prince Jing was also familiar with YiAi, because his daughter married YiAi’s younger brother Fang Yize. Prince Jing (?—AD 653), the sixth son of emperor Li Yuan, once said that he had a dream in which he took the sun and the moon in his hands, a sign to show that he was entitled to be a future emperor. Chai Lingwu was the son of Chai Shao who had married to Princess Pingyang, a daughter of Li Yuan and the sister of Emperor Taizong. At that time, both of his parents died. He was married to Princess Baling, a daughter of Emperor Taizong and a sister of the present emperor.

Princess Gaoyang tried to drive away her brother-in-law and deprive him of his inherited family title by falsely accusing him of harassing her. Therefore, the brother-in-law accused Princess Gaoyang and his brother of the guilt to divide the family property. Emperor Gaozong let Changsun interrogate them, which exposed their plot of treachery. As a result, those who participated in the plot were either executed (Fang YiAn, Xue Wanche and Chai Lingwu, all were sons-in-law of the late emperor Taizong and brothers-in-law of Emperor Gaozong) or forced to make suicide (Prince Jing, Princess Gaoyang, Princess Danyang and Princess Baling).

Prince Wu was the third son of the late emperor Taizong and was appointed the governor of Anchow [meaning Safety District]. His mother was the daughter of Emperor Yang of Sui Dynasty. Prince Wu was talented like his father, Emperor Taizong, who had once wanted to make him the crown prince, but at the strong opposition of Changsun, Emperor Taizong had had to give up the idea and had made the present emperor the crown prince.

Changsun always looked upon Prince Wu as a future threat to the present emperor, his nephew. Now he seized the opportunity to make Fang YiAn, with a fond hope of survival, put Prince Wu on the list of his conspirators. Then he reported to the emperor that Prince Wu was likewise involved in the plot. He put Prince Wu into prison and was about to execute him. The emperor was a kind person. He did not want to kill his step-brother. But Changsun had Prince Wu executed without letting the emperor know it. After the execution, he reported to the emperor that he had to kill his step-brother for his future safety.

The reason of the revolt was thus: Prince Jing wanted to be the emperor. Fang YiAn and Chai Lingwu had been the friends of Prince Tai, the second son of Emperor Taizong, the brother of the present emperor. If Prince Tai had been made the crown prince and become the emperor by now, they would have had higher positions than now. So both harbored enmity for the present emperor Gaozong. Xue Wanche hated the present emperor for the demotion he thought he did not deserve. Their spouses were involved involuntarily by law. Prince Wu was falsely accused.

In the tenth moon of AD 654, forty-one thousand people were hired to build the outside walls of ChangAn City to strengthen it so that it could resist any invasion. The work was finished in thirty days. A courtier sent in a memorial, saying, “Emperor Wei of Han Dynasty (206 BC—AD 220) fixed the walls of ChangAn City and soon died. Now the city walls were fixed again. I’m afraid that something serious will happen.” Yu Zhining begged the emperor to execute him as he had cursed the emperor. But the emperor said, “Although what he said is like a curse, if I execute him, no one will express their opinions to me any more.” So he pardoned the courtier.



Chapter 7 Back to the Palace


Empress Wang was the great granddaughter of a high-rank general of West Wei Dynasty. (AD 535—AD 557) Her maternal family had some blood tie with the emperor’s family. Her grandaunt, Princess TongAn, was a stepsister of Li Yuan, the grandfather of the present emperor. Therefore, Empress Wang had been chosen to be the wife of the present emperor Gaozong. But the emperor did not love the empress because she had been forced on him by his late father. Since she was his wife, he had to crown her as his empress.

Emperor Gaozong had many concubines including Concubine Xiao. She came from a scholar’s family in a southern province. Among all the concubines, the emperor liked her best as she was pretty. Since Empress Wang did not bear any son for the emperor, and Concubine Xiao had three children, a son and two daughters, Empress Wang felt a threat to her position as the empress.

Her maternal uncle Liu Shi advised her to adopt the eldest son of the emperor since the boy’s own mother had low position in the palace and was not even a concubine. Only by chance the emperor had just had an affair with her and she had got pregnant. Although she bore a son for the emperor, he had never given her any title. Such things happened in the palace of old China.

If the emperor could make her foster son the crown prince, her position as the empress would never be shaken by any other concubines. Concubine Xiao also begged the emperor to make her son the crown prince. But the emperor did not agree to the request of either of them. Empress Wang felt all the more urgent to have her foster son officially announced to be the crown prince. Therefore, she put her idea through her mother to her uncle, a prime minister, who befriended other prime ministers. Next day they suggested to the emperor that it was time for His Majesty to decide on who would be the crown prince. In the feudal China, the successor to the throne was chosen by this order: first consideration would be given to the son of the empress and if the empress had no sons, then the eldest son would be the next. Although it was the tradition, yet the emperor had the final say to decide which of his sons should be the crown prince as whom he liked best. To Concubine Xiao, if her son could be made the crown prince, she would be the empress dowager when her son became the emperor after the death of the present emperor. But the courtiers wrote a memorial to the emperor suggesting that his eldest son should be made the crown prince.

On the second day of the seventh moon, at the insistence of the senior courtiers, the emperor had to make his eldest son the crown prince. So the hope of Concubine Xiao was shattered. She hated Empress Wang all the more and spoke ill of the empress to the emperor when they lay in bed side by side at night. The pillow whispers are always effective.

Charming Girl Wu knew that it was very difficult to go back to the palace though the emperor came to see her whenever he had the chance to steal out of the palace. They even had sexual intercourses when they met in her room in the nunnery. Before long, something happened that turned her fortune.

At the beginning of the winter, Charming Girl Wu gave birth to a boy, another son of the emperor, named Li Hong (AD 652—AD 675). This was an important event to the imperial family. At the same time another event took place. The conflict between Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao became serious because they both vied for the preference of the emperor.

In the spring of AD 653, the severe relationship between Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao reached its climax. Empress Wang often spoke ill of Concubine Xiao to the emperor whenever she had the chance, but the emperor would not listen to her. Then she thought of Charming Girl Wu. She knew that the emperor loved Charming Girl Wu very much. If she could get Charming Girl Wu back to the palace, the emperor would give his preference to Charming Girl Wu and alienated Concubine Xiao. So she sent a messenger to the nunnery to tell Charming Girl Wu to let her hair grow because the head of a nun would be shaved from time to time to keep it hairless.

On the twenty-sixth day of the fifth moon, it was the fourth anniversary of the death of the late emperor. So the present emperor went to the nunnery to have some kind of memorial service. When he met Charming Girl Wu, she wept bitterly. He promised to get her back to the palace as soon as possible. The chance came even sooner. One day Empress Wang told the emperor her idea of getting Charming Girl Wu back to the palace. The emperor was glad to seize the opportunity and sent a carriage to bring Charming Girl Wu back. Charming Girl Wu was delighted to leave the nunnery at last after four years of boring life there. When she was back in the palace, she was promoted to the second rank among the concubines because she had born a son to the emperor. So she became Concubine Wu.

Not long after Concubine Wu came back, her son Li Hong was made Prince Dai, which strengthened her position in the palace. But she was all the more polite and amiable to everyone, and particularly showed her homage and obedience to the empress, who like Concubine Wu very much and thought that she had made a right decision. She often threw in a few good words for her to the emperor, which were really unnecessary, but better than none.


 

Chapter 8 She Became the Empress


A) Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao united against Concubine Wu


Since Concubine Wu returned, the emperor began to estrange Concubine Xiao. Empress Wang was happy for that. But if she could have foreseen the turns of the events, she would never have made up such a mind. Although Concubine Xiao lost the favor of the emperor, yet the next one the emperor showed his love to was not the empress herself, but Concubine Wu. Then she understood that she was so foolish to have made such a mistake. It seemed to her as if she just drove away a wolf, but instead there came in a tiger, as a Chinese saying goes. Out of jealousy, she began to hate Concubine Wu, which was another mistake for her. She should not make an enemy, a terrible enemy, of Concubine Wu. If she could always been nice to Concubine Wu and never make her feel her life in danger, Concubine Wu might not seek every possible means to have Empress Wang deposed.

Concubine Xiao did not know that it was Empress Wang’s notion to get Concubine Wu back in order to deal with her. She only knew that Concubine Wu came back and as a result the emperor ignored her. She was so surprised that Concubine Wu could so easily occupy her former position as a favorite with the emperor. And so she commenced to abhor Concubine Wu, too.

Now the serious situation made Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao form a union to take care of Concubine Wu. They set their foot down to get rid of Concubine Wu, who was now like a thorn in their flesh. Concubine Wu could guess what they were harboring against her. From the general situation happening in the palace, she knew that she could not give in to make her own life miserable, and that she had to fight back to win the victory. She began to give money generously to eunuchs and palace maids, who liked her better and would report to her whatever they knew that happened in the palace.

This was not just jealousy and contention for the favor of the emperor among the three women. This involved almost all the courtiers, because each of them had her own supporters among the courtiers and each of them represented benefits of some of the courtiers. And each of them had her advantages and disadvantages

For Empress Wang, she was the wife of the emperor and had many established senior courtiers at her back. But the emperor did not even like her and she did not bear any children for the emperor. Besides, she was so arrogant and treated the eunuchs and maids so badly that they disliked her.

For Concubine Xiao, she was so pretty that the emperor had liked her. They should still have had some feelings towards each other. Besides, she had born a son and two daughters for the emperor. But she had few supporters either among the courtiers or among the eunuchs and maids in the palace.

For Concubine Wu, she was beautiful and clever, and deeply loved by the emperor, for whom she had born a son at the time. She had supporters among the courtiers and as she treated the eunuchs and maids well, she had their support, too. Some of them were her spies on Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao. Only she had been a concubine of the late emperor and the senior courtiers opposed her for that reason.

Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao were all the more envious and hateful of Concubine Wu and often said some nasty things about her to the emperor whenever they had the chance, but he could not see any truth in them, because Concubine Wu behaved very carefully. When Concubine Wu got any information about some indecent behavior of the two women through her spies and told it to the emperor, he believed it because it was really what they did or really what happened. So the emperor had half a mind to remove Empress Wang from her present position, which Concubine Wu was aiming at, but he did not make up his final mind yet. Concubine Wu was aware that if the emperor died before her, since his health was not good, Empress Wang would certainly treat her very badly, or even had her killed. For her own safety, she must do something to have the empress deposed from her position and herself to occupy it.

The emperor was not happy as the empress and the other concubines were jealous of Concubine Wu and their relationship was a little tense. One evening when he was in Concubine Wu’s chamber, he summoned the empress and all other concubines there to have a dinner party in hopes that he could persuade them to be nice to Concubine Wu. When Concubine Wu proposed to have a toast to everybody’s health, no one lifted her cup. Then the emperor asked the empress to drink first. The empress could not refuse the demand of the empress and lifted her cup. The other concubines followed suit. At the end of the party the concubines begged the emperor to divide his evening time equally among the concubines. The emperor promised, but he never kept his promise, because he was so fond of Concubine Wu and always listened to her.


B) Concubine Wu fought back

 

In the sixth moon of AD 654, Concubine Wu hinted to Dugu (double surname) Ji, the head eunuch of the emperor, to go to see Liu Shi, the uncle of Empress Wang, and to advise him to resign from the position of a prime minister. Dugu went and gave Liu the advice. He added to Liu that it was the idea of the emperor. The emperor did not want to remove him openly, and to keep his face, it would be better for him to resign. Since Empress Wang, his niece, lost the favor of the emperor, Liu felt that the emperor had become a little cold to him. So he took the advice of the head eunuch and handed in his resignation to the emperor next day. The emperor accepted his resignation and appointed him the minister of Official Ministry.

On the seventeenth day of the twelfth moon, the emperor started on a trip for a visit to the grave of his late father. He took Concubine Wu with him and she gave birth to her second son on the way, who was named Li Xian [Xian here means Sage, pronounced in the first tone as Xian1. Chinese words have four tones. The pronunciation of every word belongs to one of the four tones.]

Concubine Wu knew that if she wanted Empress Wang to be deposed she must take some drastic steps. When she gave birth to a girl, the emperor loved it like the apple of his eye. As the empress did not have any children of her own, she liked it, too, or maybe, just to please the emperor. One day, Empress Wang came alone to see the baby, just a couple of months old. At that particular moment, no one was in the baby’s room. When Empress Wang left, Concubine Wu came back and learned that the empress had come to see the baby. She went into it and strangling the baby to death, covered it with the quilt like nothing had happened. (This was only one version of the story. Another different version was that the empress asked a witch to use witchcraft on Concubine Wu to claim her life, which was very much against the palace rules and which was stated in the later paragraphs. There was also a third version.)

After a while the emperor came and Concubine Wu stepped forth to meet him with a smile. Habitually he went into the baby’s room. Once inside, Concubine Wu pulled aside the quilt and was about to pick up the baby as usual. Suddenly she cried out as if she did not know what to do. The emperor was at a loss what all this meant. When he learned that the baby was dead, he fell into a great wrath. He wanted to know how such a thing could happen and then was told that Empress Wang had come a while ago. He cried, “It must be she who did it.” Taking this chance Concubine Wu hinted that the empress had no qualification to hold her position any longer.

After the death of her daughter, Concubine Wu would no longer live in this chamber. So she moved to Longevity Chamber (every chamber in the palace had a special name), where the emperor lived. (In ancient China the emperor had a chamber of his own. If he wanted to sleep with any concubine on a certain night, he would go to her chamber. He could also sleep alone in his own chamber.) The emperor accepted Concubine Wu to always live with him.


C) The courtiers divided into opponents and supporters


All the courtiers divided into two groups of cons and pros about the removal of Empress Wang from her position. And it was obvious that Concubine Wu would fill the vacancy when Empress Wang was deposed. The cons were those old courtiers including prime ministers as Changsun Wuji, the maternal uncle of the emperor, Zhu Suiliang, a famous calligrapher, Liu Shi, uncle of Empress Wang, etc. They all came from noble families. The pros were those coming from common families. They were Li Ji, Xu Jingzong, Li Yifu, etc.

Li Ji (AD 594—AD 669) had been in a rebellious army against Sui Dynasty. After Sui Dynasty had been overthrown, he had joined the troops of Tang Dynasty and got promotions to a high position with a duke’s title. As he had not been an original follower of the late emperor, the late emperor had not trusted in him.

When the late emperor had been seriously sick in the fourth moon of AD 649, he had told his son, the present emperor, “Li Ji is a man of great talent. You may not be able to control him as you have not shown any favor to him. I will demote him now and send him to a remote place. If he leaves right away, you can summon him back and promote him to be a prime minister after my death. For this favor, he will become your faithful follower. If he hesitates to go, I will execute him so as to get rid of a potential threat to you.” Thus, on the fifteenth day of the fifth moon in AD 649, Li Ji had been demoted without any fault on his part to be the governor of Diechow [Die here means Pile-up] (in the present Gansu [meaning Sweet Respect] Province) about a thousand miles away from the capital. He had guessed what the late emperor Taizong had been thinking. Therefore, he had set out immediately when he had got the order from Emperor Taizong. Accordingly the present emperor had sent for him to the capital and promoted him to the position of a prime minister. But since Changsun Wuji and other prime ministers stayed in power so long, he had only the empty title. He was of course on the opposite side against them. Naturally he supported Concubine Wu.

Xu Jingzong (AD 592—AD 672) came from an official’s family originally living in Hangchow [name of a city, where the famous West Lake is located]. His father had been the vice minister of Etiquette Ministry in Sui Dynasty. He was a learned man and when he had passed the government tests in Sui Dynasty, he had become a mid-rank official. When the powerful general Yuwen (double surname) Huaji had killed his father, he had wanted to kill him, too. Xu Jingzong begged hard on his knees to spare his life. So General Yuwen had spared him. For that he had been deemed a coward and despised on ever since. When once General Yuwen had been defeated in a battle by a rebellious peasant army, Xu had escaped in the chaos to join the largest peasant army, called Wagang Army. When Tang army conquered others, Xu had joined Tang army. He was thought to belong to the eighteen scholars serving the late emperor when the late emperor had still been Prince Qin. When Prince Qin had become the emperor, Xu had been given the task in AD 634 to write the history books with some other scholars. In AD 636 when the empress of Emperor Taizong had died, Xu had once joked with another courtier, saying that he looked like a monkey. He had chosen the wrong time and wrong place to make the joke. It was a violation of the etiquette rules and he had been demoted to be an official under the governor of Hongchow [meaning Flood District]. Later he had bribed someone to throw in some good words for him to the emperor. He had been summoned back to the capital. In AD 645 when Emperor Taizong had gone to fight Korea, he had been ordered to write an imperial edict for the emperor. He had written it on the saddle of the horse for more than thousand words. The emperor had greatly appreciated his beautiful wording. It had become a popular story ever since. When the present emperor succeeded to the throne, he was appointed the minister of Etiquette Ministry. In AD 650, since a minority chieftain had offered him a lot of precious things as a wedding deposit (It was the tradition in the ancient China that when anyone wanted to have the hand of someone else’s daughter for himself or his son, he must send a matchmaker with a wedding deposit, which was generally silver, gold, scrolls of silk and brocade, and other precious things.) and as Xu coveted riches, he had assented to the request of marriage. But other courtiers thought that it was inappropriate for a courtier to marry his daughter to a chieftain’s son, and so did the emperor. And furthermore, as he had accepted briberies, he had been demoted to be a magistrate in the city of Zhengchow [Zheng is a surname]. Two years later he was back to the capital through bribery. No doubt, these senior courtiers looked down upon him. So he would of course stand on the side of Concubine Wu.

Li Yifu (AD 614—AD 666) was born in Raoyang [Rao here means Abundance and Yang here means the Sun] Town in the present Hebei [meaning River North, to the north of the Yellow River] Province. His grandfather had been the deputy mayor of Shehong [meaning Shooting Flood] Town in Zichow [Zi here is the name of a tree] (The town is in the present Sichuan Province). Li grew up there. When he was still young, he had already a reputation for literary talent. At the age of twenty-one, he had been recommended to take part in government tests. He had passed the tests and got an official position. Since the death of the late emperor, he had not been promoted though he had used every possible means such as bribery and flattery, for which he had been scorned by those upright old courtiers like Changsun. Therefore, he had a fear that Changsun would demote him and send him to a remote place. He would naturally side with Concubine Wu.

The real reason of the cons for the opposition of the removal of Empress Wang was that when Empress Wang was removed, the vacancy would be filled by one of the concubines and they were sure that the emperor would make Concubine Wu the new empress. Then their interests would be greatly affected. But the reason they stated to the emperor was that Concubine Wu had been a concubine of the late emperor. Therefore, she was not fit to be the empress of the present emperor.

The pros in the support of Concubine Wu to be the empress was because they wanted to redistribute the power since they had been kept out of the center that actually controlled the political power. They figured that as the emperor loved Concubine Wu so deeply that when she became the empress, she would use her influence with the emperor to make them enter the power center.

The event developed like this. At the beginning of AD 655, the emperor and Concubine Wu thought that Uncle Changsun was the decisive factor in this event. If he agreed to remove Empress Wang, the major obstacle would be cleared off their path. So they went to visit him in his residence. They brought him a cartful of things made of gold and silver for family use and ten cartfuls of silk and brocade; moreover, the emperor promoted his son in order to see what his reaction was. When it seemed that Uncle Changsun was delighted, the emperor said with a sigh, “I am sorry to say that the empress didn’t bear me a son.” He hinted that Empress Wang should be removed. It was the tradition in the ancient China that a woman was only the machine tool to bear children for her husband so that he could have heirs to succeed his family name and estate. In any family, even a peasant family, if the wife did not have a son (daughters did not count), the husband could divorce her just for that reason.

Uncle Changsun understood what the emperor meant, but he intentionally ignored him and digressed from what the emperor expected him to say. The emperor and Concubine Wu felt frustrated and went back to the palace. However, they still hoped to persuade him.

Concubine Wu’s mother, Ladyship Wu, had known Uncle Changsun when both were younger because her husband and Changsun worked together. She came to visit her daughter and lodged in the palace. When she knew the situation, she offered to go to see Uncle Changsun and try to persuade him. However, though Uncle Changsun was kind and polite to her, he declined her request and sent her away with her cartful of gifts. Then she went to see Xu Jingzong, whom she had also known when young, as planned with her daughter before she left the palace. She gave the cartful of present to Xu and asked him to try to make Changsun listen to him. Accordingly, Xu went to see Changsun, but got a flat refusal.

The emperor was resented at the obstinacy of Uncle Changsun, but as he was his maternal uncle and had many supporters and followers, the emperor had to forbear with him. Concubine Wu, nevertheless, threw out her antennae and was waiting for a chance.


D) Foolish actions on the part of Empress Wang and her supporters


Empress Wang was envious of and indignant with Concubine Wu, who was occupying the sole attention of the emperor. Now the emperor spent every night with Concubine Wu since she moved in to live with him. He treated the empress and the other concubines as if they were not existing. As a legend had it, one day in the sixth moon, a wonderful idea struck Empress Wang. At least she thought it a wonderful idea to get rid of Concubine Wu. She told her mother, who often visited her, to find someone who could exercise a special black art. Her mother went to a temple to worship Buddha. Since she had donated a lot of money to the temple, the head monk always treated her with a rich dinner of vegetables. At dinner, she asked the head monk if he knew some sorcerer or sorceress. So he recommended to her a sorceress who lived behind the temple. She made a cloth doll and wrote on it the name of Concubine Wu and her birthday. Then she put some needles into it, in the heart and in the head, and chanted some magic words. Many ancient Chinese people believed that the curse would make the person being thus cursed die from headache and heartache. No trace of murder could be found on the body. The mother took the cloth doll into the palace and gave it to the empress, telling her to chant the magic words everyday at the doll.

Concubine Wu had a spy even working in the chamber of Empress Wang. The spy eunuch saw the empress often going into a special room where the empress stored the cloth doll. He reported it to Concubine Wu, who told it to the emperor, saying, “This is a great crime of the empress to curse the emperor, a crime deserving death.” The emperor flared up and sent his eunuchs to search the chamber of the empress and found the cloth doll. Though it was not the emperor’s name on it, yet it was a violation against the palace rules. So he gave orders to forbid the empress to leave her chamber and her mother to enter the palace again.

On the tenth day of the seventh moon, the emperor demoted Liu Shi, the uncle of the empress, from the position of the minister of Official Ministry to be the magistrate of Suichow [meaning Favorable District].

The emperor was all the more determined to get rid of Empress Wang and make Concubine Wu the empress. Uncle Changsun and his fellow supporters of Empress Wang saw the red light and wanted to take the initiative. They wanted to send Li Yifu, one of Concubine Wu’s supporters, to a remote place to be a low-rank official. However, before they did anything, Li Yifu got the wind of it and hastened to his best friend Wang Dejian, nephew of Xu Jingzong, for his advice. Wang said, “His Majesty wants to make Concubine Wu the empress. That’s for sure. His Majesty hesitates only for fear of the opposition of those senior courtiers. If you can openly state to the emperor that His Majesty should make Concubine Wu his empress, you will be in the favor of Concubine Wu and get promotion in no time.”

He nodded his agreement. Next day, He sent in a memorial to the emperor that the present empress should be removed and Concubine Wu should be made the empress. The emperor was pleased with him and granted him a bushel of pearls. Soon he got promotion.

In the eighth moon, a courtier Pei Xingjian was demoted to be an official under the governor of Xichow [meaning West District]. It was because he had made some remarks of critique about Concubine Wu. Someone who had overheard it told it to Xu Jingzong, who reported it to Concubine Wu.


E) Removal of Empress Wang and the crown prince


On the first day of the ninth moon in AD 655, Xu Jingzong was restored to the position of the minister of Etiquette Ministry. One day after the levee, the emperor summoned four courtiers to his personal office. They were Uncle Changsun, Li Ji, Zhu Suiliang and Yu Zhining (AD 588—AD 665), who was now a prime minister and the duke of YanGuo [Yan here is the name of an ancient kingdom in China as well as a surname, and also meaning a swallow, and Gou here means Country]. They all knew the reason for this reception. Everyone was thinking what he would reply to the emperor. Li Ji did not want to have dispute with the other three. Therefore, he told them that he was suddenly not feeling well and went home.

The emperor received the three courtiers and said to Uncle Changsun, “As Empress Wang has no children and Concubine Wu has sons, it is reasonable for me to consider to remove Empress Wang from her position and make Concubine Wu the succeeding empress. What do you think?”

Uncle Changsun did not answer the question and instead he said to the emperor, “The late emperor appointed Zhu Suiliang as Your Majesty’s advisor. Your Majesty can ask his opinion.”

Zhu Suiliang, without waiting for the emperor to ask him, said to the emperor, “Empress Wang came from a noble family and the late emperor said that he had a good daughter-in-law. On his death bed, he held Your Majesty’s hand and said to me, ‘Now I trust my son and the daughter-in-law in your hands to help them in need.’ I hope that Your Majesty still remember it. Now Empress Wang hasn’t done anything wrong, how can she be removed? I can’t agree with Your Majesty and betray the trust of the late emperor.”

The emperor was unhappy, but since Zhu mentioned his late father, he could not say anything more. He told them to think the matter over at home. The three courtiers left the palace.

Next day when the emperor summoned them to his presence again, Yu Zhining did not want to offend the emperor, but he did not want to agree with him and so he kept his mouth shut. Uncle Changsun was silent. Seeing this, Zhu Suiliang had to step forth, saying sternly, “If Your Majesty are determined to abolish the present empress and need another one, there are so many other concubines from noble families. Why must Your Majesty want to make Concubine Wu the new empress? Everyone knows that she was a concubine of the late emperor. If she is made the empress, what will people think of Your Majesty? I know I’m guilty of my opposition against Your Majesty’s will. I’m willing to die than betray the trust of the late emperor.” Thus speaking, he took off his official cap, went down on his knees and knocked his forehead on the ground till it bled. (This was always the way in the ancient China that a courtier adopted to force the emperor to accept his idea, but not always successful.) The emperor was incensed and ordered his bodyguards to drive Zhu out of the palace. Concubine Wu was sitting behind a screen listening to them. Now from behind the screen she shouted, “Why not kill this animal?” (Literally translated from the history book) She referred to Zhu, but the emperor gave no order to kill him. Then another courtier Han Yuan ran in, gasping. He asked, “Do Your Majesty order Zhu executed?” The emperor replied, “No. I didn’t give such an order.” Han said, “Zhu is loyal to Your Majesty. He is right. Your Majesty can’t depose Empress Wang and make Concubine Wu the empress.” Luckily for him, Concubine Wu already left for her chamber. The emperor would not listen to him and sent him away.

As there was so strong opposition from the old courtiers, the emperor was frustrated. Then he suddenly thought of Li Ji and secretly went to his residence. The emperor asked Li for his opinion. Li was dissatisfied with Uncle Changsun’s clique and was really on Concubine Wu’s side, but he was a wise man and did not want to speak out his idea openly. So he said, “This is Your Majesty’s family matter, why ask opinion of the outsiders? Do the courtiers come to ask the opinion of Your Majesty when they want to take someone to wife?”

What he meant was apparent. As it was the family matter of the emperor, the emperor could make any decision about it and no need to ask the courtiers for their opinions. Now the emperor took actions. He demoted Zhu Suiliang and sent him out of the capital to be the governor of Tanchow [meaning Pond District] (the present Changsha [meaning Long Sand] City in Hunan [meaning Lake South] Province in the middle of China).

On the thirteenth day of the tenth moon, the emperor issued an imperial edict, stating:

As Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao wanted to poison me, they must be deprived of their titles and put in confinement. Their mother and brothers must be banished to the remote southern region.

The poisoning event went like this: As the emperor ignored Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao and stayed every night with Concubine Wu, Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao sent a jug of wine to the emperor one evening at dinner time. When the emperor was about to raise the cup to his lips, Concubine Wu stopped him and poured the cup of wine on the ground. The spot on the ground that the wine touched became black, which meant that the wine contained poison. That was why the emperor said in his edict that they intended to poison him.

Another version went like this: Concubine Wu prepared the wine with the poison in it and had someone working for Empress Wang bring in the jug, making Empress Wang and Concubine Xiao look as if they wanted to poison the emperor. Whatever was the truth, anyway, Empress Wang was deposed from the position of the empress in the history book.

Concubine Wu summoned Xu Jingzong to her presence and wanted him to write a petition and gather signatures as many as possible. In the petition they would beg the emperor to make Concubine Wu as the new empress. So Xu and other supporters went round to collect signatures on the petition. As the situation was so evident that the emperor abolished Empress Wang from the position and was determined to make Concubine Wu his new empress, many courtiers turned over and signed their names on the petition.

On the nineteenth day of the tenth moon when the petition was handed in to the emperor, the emperor was glad that so many courtiers support his idea. Then another imperial edict was issued, stating:

Wu’s family had great merits in the establishment of Tang Dynasty. Concubine Wu herself had been chosen into the palace for her talents. After I was made the crown prince, I waited on the late emperor on his sick bed day and night. He appreciated my good behavior and gave me Concubine Wu as a reward. Therefore, I make her my empress now.

According to the tradition in the ancient China, a man could give any of his concubines, not the wife, to anyone he wanted to as a gift. But a father giving his concubine to his son seldom happened if not ever so.

After the imperial edict had been declared nationwide, on the first day of the eleventh moon, a solemn ceremony of crowning the new empress took place. Concubine Wu was sent to her mother’s house beforehand. Then Li Ji was sent there as wedding envoy and Yu Zhining as deputy wedding envoy, followed by many carriers of the wedding presents.

On entering the house, a eunuch carrying a tray with an imperial wedding certificate and the seal of the empress on it put the tray on the table. Some palace ladies went into Wu’s room and attired her as an imperial bride. When finished, she came out accompanied by the ladies to receive the certificate and the seal on her knees. In the Chinese tradition these two things were more important than the crown. Then she took her seat and all others kowtowed to her as congratulations.

Li Ji and Yu Zhining returned to the palace to report to the emperor that they completed their errand. Then Empress Wu was carried in an imperial palanquin into the palace, escorted by guards of honor. Once in the palace again, she was led into the wedding chamber, waiting for the emperor to come in to spend the first honeymoon night with her. She became the empress at last at the age of thirty-one.

On the twenty-first day of the tenth moon, just three days after her wedding day, she wrote a memorial to the emperor to demand to praise Han Yuan and Lai Ji, both of whom had opposed her to be the empress.

Although already being the empress, Empress Wu still felt some threats to her position as long as the ex-empress was still alive and those old courtiers as her supporters still stayed in power. Now she must do something to steady her position. The chance came before long.

In the eleventh moon, the emperor thought of the ex-empress Wang and ex-concubine Xiao, who were now in confinement. He went to see them. The ex-empress Wang begged his pardon and ex-concubine Xiao scolded Empress Wu for their confinement. Both implored the emperor to set them free. They would be willing to be palace maids to serve him. The emperor said that he would think it over and then left.

Empress Wu learned it and asked the emperor to kill them. As the emperor so doted on her, he was at last persuaded to give an order that the ex-empress Wang and ex-concubine Xiao should hang themselves.

On the twenty-seventh day of the same moon, when both the women died, Empress Wu felt half relieved. She was told that before ex-concubine Xiao hanged herself, she cried, “In next life, I wish I would become a cat and Wu become a mouse. I will bite her head off.”

The next issue was about the crown prince, the foster son of the ex-empress Wang, who had been made the successor to the throne at the request of those old courtiers. Empress Wu was afraid that if he would have become the emperor some day, he would have killed her for the vengeance of the ex-empress. Now as she was the empress and had her own sons, according to the tradition, her eldest son should be the crown prince, which would help to strengthen her position. She waited for another chance to complete her wish.

Xu Jingzong, one of her chief supporters, thought now that Concubine Wu became Empress Wu, her son should be the crown prince. He knew that the emperor would like the idea to please his new empress. Therefore, he wrote a memorial to the throne to request the replacement of the crown prince because the present crown prince was born from a mother who was not even an imperial concubine.

The emperor was glad to receive such a memorial. He sent for Xu and asked, “What about making the eldest son of Empress Wu, Li Hong, the crown prince?” Xu readily agreed. This time Uncle Changsun and his clique did not say anything in opposition.

On the sixth day of the first moon in AD 656, the crown prince was deposed and sent to Liangchow [Liang here is a surname] as the magistrate there; hence, his former title Prince Chen was changed to Prince Liang. Li Hong, the eldest son of Empress Wu, four years old then, was made the crown prince. He had been born in AD 652 in the nunnery when Empress Wu had still been a nun there. Soon after the birth of the son, Empress Wu had been brought back to the palace and next year the son was made Prince Dai.

If she had not met Emperor Gaozong when he had still been the crown prince, or if she had met Emperor Gaozong and he had not fallen in love with her, she would have lived as a nun for the rest of her life. What can we conclude from it? Fate or otherwise? But she did meet Emperor Gaozong and he did fall in love with her. However, if she had not been so clever and known to use ruses to deal with Empress Wang, she might always have been the concubine or even killed by Empress Wang. But she knew how to get support from the emperor and courtiers to the eunuchs and maids, and could seize opportunities to take decisive measures. That was why she could succeed and the ex-empress Wang failed.

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