We take a look at the life of Yang GuiFei, who she was, and how she became one of the most influential people in Emperor Xuanzong’s court.
Yang Yuhuan (713 – 756), was the daughter of Yang Xuanyan who served as a census official. She was born during the Tang Dynasty, in the early days of Emperor Xuanzong‘s reign. Upon her father’s death, while she was still young, her uncle Yang Xuanjiao; an official at Henan Municipality raised her.
At 14 years of age, Yang Yuhuan became the Princess of Shou after she married the son of Emperor Xuanzong; Li Mao, the Prince of Shou. Her presence brought about a slight conflict of interest in the royal family, as the Emperor himself became infatuated with Yang Yuhuan despite her being his daughter-in-law.
To curb criticisms from the public, Yang Yuhuan was made a Taoist nun. Sh was also given the name Taizhen by the emperor to make her his concubine. In 745, the emperor gave his son Li Mao another wife, then made Yang Yuhuan his imperial consort. She was given the rank Guifei which was the highest rank for consorts.
Yang Guifei became one of the most influential people because of the immense love the emperor had for her. Her family members were put in key positions in the kingdom and they were respected by all. However, Yang Guifei introduced her cousin Yang Zhao ( Yang Guozhong) to the emperor, who was speedily promoted through the ranks. This cousin became the Chancellor following Yang Guozhong’s intervention that cost the life of the previous chancellor, Li Linfu.
In the following years, the military governor An Lushan got into conflict with Yang Zhao. Though differing versions of this conflict exists, it is majorly believed that Yang Zhao carried out unlawful practices like making wrong arrests and executing members of An Lushan’s staff. The turmoil escalated in 755 when An Lushan led a rebellion against the capital where the Emperor, Yang Guifei, and her family were. It is believed that Yang Guifei prevented the Emperor from abdicating the throne to keep Yang Zhao safe from retaliatory attacks both within the capital where his popularity had greatly decreased and outside the capital where the An-led rebellion forces were.
In 756, the last of the defenses fell to An Lushan’s forces. Yang Zhao alongside the Emperor, Yang Guifei, her family, as well as her clan, secretly fled to Chengdu. At Mawei Courier station on their way to Chengdu, the imperial guards escorting them grew discontent with the lack of food and blamed Yang Zhao. They then accused Yang Zhao of plotting treason and had him executed along with his son and family. The soldiers then approached the Emperor who was with Yang Guifei and urged him to put her to death.
Yang Guifei was strangled in a Buddhist shrine by Gao Lishi upon the Emperor’s command. After the confirmation of her death, the soldiers ceased their uprising, and her body was wrapped in purple blankets and buried without a coffin at Mawei.
In 757, the Emperor, greatly saddened by her death, had a painter commissioned to complete a portrait of her in a separate palace which he often visited.