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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Kingdom & The Beauty

Shaw Brothers' Production starring Lin Dai 林黛.  Her life like in the movie, died of a tragic suicide over love.

一瞥驚鴻影, A stolen glance startled the swan1,
相逢似夢中. Our chance meeting was like a dream.
廣寒身未到, The moon2 yet to be reached,
分手太匆匆... Too hurriedly we had parted...

This is the main song in the movie, "Kingdom and the Beauty"


1. Actually an eastern bean goose or the great wild goose. There is no graceful connotation for goose in English - "A silly goose" is the first thing comes to an English reader's mind.

2. The moon is also known as the Palace of the Great Cold. This where the goddess 嫦娥, Chang O lived or banished to (depending on the source). In the movie version, the Ming Emperor Chen Te 正德 played hookey and on a whim stole out of the dreary palace and escaped to the prosperous south for an extended outing. There he met the heroine, fell in love with her and had an affair with her. However the very next day, the imperial retainers sent by his mother discovered his location and was forced to head back to the Capital. A movie ploy to make the Emperor look good. For added embellishment to the story, the chief eunuch came out with a plan to fill the mind of the Emperor with pretty dancing girls. The easily excitable emperor soon had her completely out of his mind.

In the meantime, the heroine bore the emperor a son and became sick yearning for him. A family friend took pity and journeyed all the way from the South to the capital in the north (some 800 miles). On the way he recounted the liaison of the heartless Emperor for all to hear (in a rap like song - remember this was in the 60s!). Finally he reached the capital and through a series of situations, the emperor finally remembered as if woken from a dream; went to see the Empress Dowager and vowed to make the now remembered lover the Empress. The mother refused on the grounds that the girl was a nobody (an extremely flimsy pretext since the founder of the Ming Dynasty was once a upon a time, a lout who had to become a monk to escape starvation).  The Emperor said that he would rather throw away the throne for the girl. To break the stalemate, the prime minister offered to adopt the girl as his god daughter... Finally the imperial edict came to fetch her. When at last the imperial entourage arrived at the Palace, she expired from her sickness and long journey.

The producers took many liberties to make the movie look good. According to popular stories of that time, Emperor Chen Te was a licentious ruler. In unofficial histories, he did travel to the South for pleasure and indeed had an affair with a girl there. She was made into an Imperial concubine. Unlike the movie, she was soon out of imperial favour there were several new favourites came after her. Another story version: The Empress once asked the Emperor what was so beautiful about this concubine and when the Emperor replied that it was her eyes, the jealous woman had them plucked and served on a dish to the Emperor exclaiming, "Here are her beautiful eyes. You can now always be near them!" Chen Te became Emperor at the age of 14 and died at 30. For more info see

The last two lines of the poem alluded to another famous story of the Tang Emperor Ming Huang and his imperial concubine Lady Yang. After she was forced to commit suicide during their flight from the capital arising from a rebellion, the emperor abdicated and thought of her ceaselessly. He would die happy if he could just get another glimpse of her.  So with the help of a Taoist priest a tryst was arranged. As if in a dream, he saw her descending from the moon to see him. Time was too brief when she finally departed leaving the Emperor even sadder. Yang Gui Fei was also granted the title of "Great Fidelity". This is a name given for a nun, a Tang Court ploy to avoid embarrassing situations created when foreign kings came asking for an imperial marriage with an imperial princess. The ploy is to make her a nun. After the situation had passed, she was then reverted to laity.

Historically Lady Yang was the emperor's daughter-in-law from a minor son. When his favourite concubine died, the Emperor was raging about like a bear. To keep peace and for the sake of their safety, the chief eunuch arranged for the emperor to espy Lady Yang bathing in the Pool of Flower Purity. (Historically, he was in his 60's and she was in her late teens when the peeping Tom episode took place!) The Emperor was smitten, soon had his son divorced her before appropriating her for himself after a period of decorum has passed after serving as a nun.

Another case of incestuous relation in the eyes of Chinese tradition. Well that's another story to be told.

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