Shadow of the Empress 3: The Crouching Tiger and the Hidden Dragon 韦后之乱


The Empress seethed upon the throne, supreme yet full of worries- she saw daggers everywhere. A Daoist proverb echoed endlessly in her head: "There is no set pattern to bad and good fortune," -all who is lowly will one day be lift up, and conversely, all who have risen must one day be cast down. Such is the nature of fortune, such is the nature of the universe. It is this thorn within her heart that would instigate one of the most intrigue- filled periods in Tang history. Rather than open warfare and expansionist campaigns- the kind often seen in the early periods of Tang history, this would be a war of shadows, where powerful women vied with each other to reign over the entire realm, of escalating assassinations, purges and counter purges until real blood- royal blood were drawn within the imperial palace itself by thousands of warring guards.


BACKDROP


The year is 705, the august and megalomaniacal Empress Wu (the first Woman "Emperor" of China who founded her own dynasty) had just passed at the ancient age of 81 after 48 years of presiding over the affairs of the Tang Empire. Her death would have seemed to many as a shock, for in an age where the average lifespan was 40, she would have lived so long that she outlasted the lifespan of her many children and many, many generation of enemies. She would have destroyed so many of rival kingdoms that many simply thought she couldn't die.

The Empress' sheer force of personality was so immense that even when one of her sons unseated her power in a midnight coup, the empress simply emerged out of her palace in front of all his generals and soldiers- without any words or gestures, just the fiery gaze of her eyes cowed them all to apologize for rudely awakening her slumber- then returned to her bed in peace. In her final days, though removed from direct rule, Wu still finished her career as an "Emperor," whose edicts are still regarded as the de facto policies of the realm.

The Massive Longmen Grottoes: Empress Wu's face was made into the centerpiece of the universal Buddha, while the chief members of her cabinet were carved into flanking guardian spirits and Arhats. For size comparrison- click here. Wu's megalomaniacal ambition was nothing short of the First Emperor of China or Mao Ze Dong.

In her death- the Empress still casted a vast shadow over the Empire, for many characteristics that existed during her 48 year reign still remained in the political climate of the restored Empire- that of weak, easily manipulated men and a whole cast of extremely ambitious women who wanted to emulate Wu's daring example. To these women- who would be the main players of this scramble for power, even in Wu's ultimate failure, her career only represented a failed experiment, a path to be retrod, a road map to be better charted by themselves. The war over the monumental (literally) power-vacuum once held by the Empress - would be a war of shadows and absolute ruthlessness. To them, their own rise to power would surely eclipse that of the fallen Empress.


BLOOD ON THE PALACE FLOOR


In the bloody aftermath of our last chapter, fear and suspicion reigned within the top echelons of the Tang court. In just one bloody night, the spurned Crown Prince Li Chongjun led thousands of soldiers into the capital and stormed the imperial palace in the hope of capturing his half sister Princess Anle and Empress Wei- as well as forcing his father, the fickle Zhongzong Emperor into retirement.

But his plans failed miserably right outside the gate of the inner palace when his father mustered up a surprising burst of courage and commanded Chongjun's own soldiers into killing all of their commanders- and where he himself was killed afterwards. In all matters his bloody episode was but a footnote in the history of the Tang dynasty, but the damage Prince Chongjun had done outlived him.


Though he was not able to put down Princess Anle and Empress Wei nor force his father into retirement. He did succeed in killing the corrupt minister Wu Sansi- the lover of the Empress Wei and Wu Sansi's son Wu Chongxu who was married to Princess Anle.

For the mother and daughter who had both lost their respective lovers, it meant much more than the deprivation of an intimate consort, instead they were left without protectors and the allegiance of a powerful clan to rally to their support. To them it would have certainly seemed that someone had been working with the rebellious prince from within the inner court, there will need to be a purge, a purge to rid the world of all their possible enemies.


→ Music: ← In the Temple

THE HIDDEN DRAGON

Many in the empire knew well of the magnificence and boundless generosity of Princess Taiping (lit. "Princess of Peace") the favorite daughter of Empress Wu. Many would have also knew of the hundreds of temples she sponsored and the matronly effects she exerted on the august Li and Wu clans of the imperial household. Few though would have knew the coldness of her displeasure, for simply all who had instigated it were probably dead- whether most of them knew their demise was at her command or not- that'a another matter entirely.


Out of all the characters in the entire affair, Princess Taiping would probably be the most difficult to be recounted. For she was many things, many aspects that seamlessly inhabited within a single woman: a generous matron of the arts, a lifelong donor to many charities, and also someone with such casualness with violence that she would have seemed little different from a mobster's wife- no, a bona fide mobster capo herself.

It was for these very qualities, that of astute social awareness and ruthlessness mastery of intrigue that she remained for 40 years as the Empress' favorite child and confidante, one who was so dotted on that it certainly seemed Wu had imparted to her most of the cunning that was due a new mistress of the realm. She was reported to be so dangerous that she often had a knack of not only sniffing out plots against her mid in their tracks- but also frequently had a habit of sending plots against her crashing back against the perpetrators with exponentially more savagery.


But, however dangerous Princess Taiping was in her natural state, it really wouldn't be right to blame her for what happened in 707.

In the aftermaths of Li Chongjun's rebellion, Emperor Zhongzong had all of his alleged co-conspirators investigated, but as the scope of the investigation broadened, Empress Wei and Princess Anle added another series of "alleged" conspirators on the list of those suspected, specifically of her uncle Li Dan- the long retired former Ruizong Emperor (who had yielded the throne to allow her father to become Emperor upon his return to the Capital in 698,) and her aunt- the Princess Taiping. 

It should be point out that these are extremely heinous accusations, as those who are actually condemned would certainly be slain for treason in a most gruesome manner- worse yet, if the treason was deemed heinous enough- in this case against the entire sitting imperial family, the consequences would have not only been passed down on the single individual but also to their children as well. In all circumstances, these would have been shockingly cruel allegations- 


Worse yet for Princess Taiping, when it came to the official court hearing about the allegations, in front of the entire assembly of ministers and magistrates, Anle brazenly accused the summoned matron and Li Dan of plotting against her father and openly advocated for their punishment to the fullest extent of the law. 

Whatever the former relationship between Anle and Taiping, this most flagrant and opportunistic maneuvering would have stung deeply in the proud Taiping's heart. Not because she was necessarily innocent, for as a life long spymaster who had agents everywhere and a hand in every major plot in the last four decades it was certainly possible that Princess Taiping was somewhat aware of Li Chongjun's plot. No, it was not the attack on Taiping's character that she would have minded, but the sheer audacity of the open attack and sheer cruelty of the accusation. The little girl practically had nothing to stick to the great matron but even with an empty hand she still advocated for her death and the death of a former Emperor.  



Yes...it seemed her spoiled niece was quite determined to see her die. Never mind the fact that it was she who advised Wu to restore Anle's father as Emperor again and summon them back from disgrace and nothingness to the capital again, never mind it was her who also helped Anle's father and Empress Wei in unseating Empress Wu and making them into the royal household they are now. Such...foolishness, such foolishness on her own part when she actually pitied the exiled little family, pitied the suffering of her exiled brother. It was clear to her beyond any doubts that the little whelp's wrath was planted and fanned on by her mother.


Regardless, it was also here that the dragon displayed her mastery of the imperial laws. As the court officials tried to nail her with dozens upon dozens of accusations, she simply repeated asked them to come up with evidence for their inquiry. In Taiping's heart she knew well that the two women had nothing serious to attach to her- if they had they would have instantly sent out legions of imperial guards to arrest her in her estate, no- the very fact that this court was held at all seemed that it was designed to let an avalanche of accusations fell on her. But- she also knew perfectly well that this was a quantity game that ultimately lacked depth- so she simply kept on asking for more concrete proofs and witnesses. 

One after one, the allegations crumbled, and when Taiping's was freed to leave the court, the turn came for Li Dan. The unamused royal uncle simply sat and repeated the exact same demands for evidence, and like his sister, was in the end dismissed without any evidence to tie him to the plot. It would have definitely seemed that Taiping had privately advised him on how to getting out of this beforehand. 



A FAMILY AFFAIR 

But neither Anle, nor Taiping was done with this affair, for as soon as the case was near dismissal, Princess Anle ran to her father to force him to arrest Taiping without charges- bypassing the courts entirely. Taiping, though easily preempted this and activated one of her own voices within Zhongzong's palace, the deputy Minister of Civil Services who's also the Deputy Imperial Censor Xiao Zhizhong wept before the Emperor and implored that he show mercy to his sister on the account of their blood bond, through his influence, Zhongzong dropped the proceedings altogether and Xiao quickly stopped the investigations into Li Dan and Princess Taiping. 

However, this was only the beginning, for in the ensuing months and the totality of next three years Princess Anle and Princess Taiping would frequently be involved in partisan struggles, a phenomenon that Emperor Zhongzong was concerned about but could do little to curb. 


For Princess Taiping and Li Dan, both tried their utmost to surviving without getting entangled with their nieces' endless tirades. And more than a few times the two played the role of obedient servants to Princess Anle's self- aggrandizements.

In late 708, a year after the murder of Anle's former husband, Anle remarried her new husband being her deceased husband's cousin and another of Wu Sansi's nephews- Wu Yanxiu (武延秀) in a grand ceremony that included ceremonial guards that were only allowed for empresses, with Li Dan serving as the ceremonial commander.


The wedding banquet was set within the palace, and when Princess Anle came out to greet the guests, they all bowed to her- including all of the elders within the clan. Her young son, by Wu Chongxun, only a few years old, was created the Duke of Gao.

Beneath the surface though, things were beginning to turn desperate for our characters. Having been deprived of a cunning and well entrenched protector, as well as a lover. Empress Wei turned to other strong shoulders to lean on, two were the officials Ma Qinke (馬秦客) and Yang Jun (楊均)- effectively Wu Sansi's former henchmen within her own faction who had over the years supported her interests. 


Most importantly, though, Empress Wei elevated the Zong Chuke (宗楚客) another of Wu Sansi's henchmen to become a commanding general of the imperial guards and given the designation of Zhongshu Ling (中書令, the new title for the head of the legislative bureau, now renamed Zhongshu Sheng (中書省)- the modern equivalent of a vaguely defined "Defense Minister" which empowered him to hold simultaneous military powers as well as direct legislative powers over the Imperial ministry. Many believed she was also physically intimate with him. 


In all manners this Zong was a duplicate of Wu Sansi, a consummate showman and flatterer, who- once even charmed the master charmer Wu Sansi himself. This inducted him to Wu and Empress Wei's clique. Zong would spend the next 3 years securing his power by endlessly flattering the Emperor by fortune-readings, flowery speeches, and sycophantic mass theatrics in the Emperor's name. In such a small circle of power, this particular sycophant only needed an audience of one.

By 709, the entire ministry consisted almost exclusively of Wu Sansi's former henchmen.


THE UNRAVELING



In 710, a strange thing happened. An utterly minor and uncouth official named Lang Ji (郎岌) from Dingzhou (modern Hebei) wrote directly to the Zhongzong Emperor in a fiery report that outright accused Empress Wei and Zong Chuke of explicit fornication and plotting to assassinate him. 

When Empress Wei recieved this news, she made a tearful scene in front of the emperor, who was hesitating to accept the information. She kept imploring the emperor until the emperor consented that Lang should be executed for slander the imperial household. It should be pointed out that by now Emperor Zhongzong had been hearing this exact same rumor for over four consecutive years and was doubtlessly tired of illustrious men and complete strangers feeding him this same old lie. For Heaven sakes, how many has there been now, he must have fumed. 


But right when Zhongzong was about to legitimize Lang Ji's sentence, another letter came that stopped him in his tracks, the frontier General Yan Qinrong (燕欽融) of Xuzhou (in modern Jiangsu) also wrote directly to the Emperor warning him of the same complaint. At the end of his equally plain and abrasive letter the general lamented in plain terms, "Our society has been seriously damaged both by the Empress, who is interrupting state affairs and is loose in morals and that her partisans, including Princess Anle, her new husband Wu Yanxiu, and Zong Chuke are planning to harm the imperial household. If we- your Majesty do not stop them, all of this will jeopardize the very Dynasty's future."

This time, Zhongzong hesitated, and instead summoned Yan to his presence in the capital and interrogated him personally, but when Yan appeared, he redoubled his accusation. This again stunned the Emperor- for like Lang Ji, Yan knew well that this equaled death yet still came anyway.


While Emperor Zhongzong was mulling over the matter, Zong Chuke raced to Yan's quarters in the capital and had him killed on the spot. Zhongzong did not punish Chuke for this dire breach of an imperial investigation, but was immensely displeased about the conduct of his defense minister-  In fact, many recorded that the Emperor gave him such a long, cold "ugly" look that it would seemed the Emperor did not entertain any of Chuke's excuses for what he had done. This instantly caused Empress Wei and her faction to become apprehensive. Could it be that Zhongzong was finally re-contextualizing the endless reports about the conduct of his wife and her ministers?


After all, the five coup officials who supposedly accused her of fornication was cut down on their exiles for it. Then came that Wei Yuejiang fellow in 706 with the same accusation on his lips and was cut down on his exile too...And now this...again? From two separate officials on two different part of the Empire to come forward each risking his own beheading and to have Yan killed so criminally by Zong's hands with the same accusation on his lips?

And if Zhongzong had been paying even closer attention to Zong Chuke's secret centralization of power under his own control he might be be further alarmed. 


On the morning of July 3, 710, Zhongzong Emperor awoke late but worked hard enough through the early morning hours so that by noon he was able to pave through the appropriate workload for the day. He looked around and felt somewhat proud to have caught up his paperworks, to maintain his pace he continued to leaf through memorials, drafts, and  edicts and told his servants to skip a formal lunch altogether. Instead he opted to have a snack of 蒸饼 steamed cakes- his favorites. 


He took a bite, and was rather pleased by its taste. But as soon as he finished the first cake Zhongzong's body convulsed and he instantly clutched his belly, sweat beaded from his forehead and dripped during his intense labor. The stunned eunuchs and attendants instantly became alarmed and began to shout for the imperial doctor. They found the Empress in another part of the palace and called for her. She came- with several guards and tried to ask Zhongzong as to what had happened, but by this point Zhongzong was hugging his stomach on the imperial couch and unable to speak or mouth words at all.


Minutes later, Zhongzong was dead, his hands still clutched his pained stomach, by then he was vomiting dark blood. Historians did not know how soon order was restored to the stunned room, but what they did know was that Empress Wei soon ordered a general lockdown of the Daming Palace and ordered travel restriction of all personnel to and from the palace.


LOCKDOWN

Wei did not initially announce his death, but instead summoned her lovers- Yang Jun (楊均,) and Zong Chuke (宗楚客) to the palace to receive her orders- Ma Qinke (馬秦客) was already in the Palace- in fact he led the guards that came with her when she received news of Zhongzong's condition. Empress (now Empress Dowager) Wei immediately ordered a number of her own nephews in charge of the imperial guards.

Above: Map of Chang An during 710, Red circles indicates city guard garrisons, Bureaus of Defense as well as various imperial guard's quarters. The Daming Palace is the trapezoid shape on the north western portion of the screen that juts beyong Chang An's square design. 

These actions seemed extremely nebulous to the casual observers- among them included many ministers who lived outside of the palace and had no idea what had transpired. That same day- before the stupefied faces of thousands of exasperated onlookers- columns of imperial guards and city militia marched out in full battle gear were ordered to each of the separate barracks guarding 4 of Chang An's districts, all of them were carrying huge ornate chests.



When the hesitant garrison commanders opened these chests, they all contained great quantities of jewelry of all sorts. Gold that worthed millions were displayed before the troops and with these "provisions" was attached an imperial edict that required each commanders to swear an oath to the Empress, to obey Empress's loyal henchmen, and to perform whatever duties demanded by "their (new) Emperor." Some were directly placed under the command of Empress Dowager Wei's lovers and Empress Dowager Wei's nephews Wei Bo (韋播) and Gao Song (高嵩), who had recently been put in command of imperial guards and who had tried to establish their authority by dealing with the guards harshly over the smallest infractions they perceived.


It was two days later, after they were sworn in as official commanders of the guards did she finally announce Emperor Zhongzong's fate to the citizendy. Of course- by then, she had already had a replacement Emperor at the ready, by an edict Princess Taiping and Consort Shangguan drafted (and later revised by Empress Dowager Wei's cousin Wei Wen), she had installed one of Zhongzong's sons (by one of his concubines) Li Chongmao on the throne (as "Emperor Shang"), but in reality, all who knew Empress Wu and knew how Tang politic operated knew that Wei retained power herself as the Empress Dowager and regent. This Emperor Shang was officially made ruler of the realm on July 8th.

The Empress Dowager Wei had acted decisively. But it was also this sudden ploy to secure her power that aroused suspicion from almost everyone. If anything this looked like a direct repeat of Empress Wu's rise to power.


Did Empress Dowager Wei knew that right when her bribes were left to those garrison troops they spat on her gold behind her herald's backs? Did she knew that all the soldiers knew that it was her lovers- lovers who probably poisoned her cuckolded husband that she's sending to bind them to her new regime? Did she knew that virtually all were whispering that she had poisoned Zhongzong with some concoction stuffed within his cakes? 


Within the same week, it was becoming apparent to all the long term arc of this militarized regime change. Just like many of the revolutionary regimes of the 20th century, the plotters sought out to first secure the capital- to extend their control into the media and the armed forces- in this case the Imperial Censorate and the army. After they were able to control the official narrative and the central command center of the empire- they would quickly purge all elements within the city and the capital's province that resisted their supremacy until they became the new status quo. 

Already, the ambitious Princess Anle and several of Empress Dowager Wei's clan members, along with Zong Chuke, Wu Yanxiu, and other officials Zhao Lüwen (趙履溫) and Ye Jingneng (葉靜能) advised her to take the throne like Wu Zetian did. To do so- of course, they also advised her to eliminate Li Dan, Princess Taiping and all of their children.


However, this is where one of Princess Taiping's agents proved his worth. The official Cui Riyong- who was attributed to be on Princess Taiping's payroll was made aware of this brewing purge, and quickly became fearful that if the plot to eliminate Li Dan and Princess Taiping backfired, he too would be incriminated along with the rest of Empress Dowager Wei's party, and therefore, through the Buddhist monk Purun 普潤 and the Taoist monk Wang Ye 王瞱, he wrote secretly to Li Dan's son Li Longji.


THE CROUCHING TIGER


If you remember anything from this entire chapter, you should remember the name of Prince Li Longji. For in the entirety of Tang dynasty there wasn't many who could compare to him. And yes, just as Princess Taiping deserve of the moniker of a hidden dragon, Prince Li Lonji was nothing less than a yet-silent crouching tiger.


When Prince Longji was informed of the details of the brewing purge, he was greatly shocked. Among the list of those who would be eliminated not only included his father but him as well as well as his five brothers and two sisters. The extent of the purge horrified him to his bones, though, in many ways, he also knew that if there was any response from father's subsection of the Li Clan, it would all rest on his shoulders. Things...always have a way of resting on his shoulders. 

Li Longji was many things, handsome, athletic, and he also possessed a cultivated mind rooted in the classics of ancients. A fine youth, considering his bitter origin. Specially for a son who endlessly fought alone for his father. 


Like most characters in this story, Prince Li Longji was also a victim to the brutality and extreme capriciousness of Empress Wu. Though his father Li Dan was Wu's blood born son, just like with her other son- Li Xian (our recently departed Zhongzong Emperor) She had no problem using him as a mere puppet Emperor, and when she was tired of ruling through him, she simply discarded him and forced him into retirement so she could rule as sole "Emperor" of her own dynasty- in the grand scheme of events it was probably not as bad as her other sons- Wu's eldest Li Hong was poisoned under her orders, Prince Li Xian (spelled differently) was forced by her to commit suicide, her third son Li Xian (Zhongzong) was exiled along with his entire family. But that initial "clemency" was only the beginning of the nightmare Li Dan's family endured. 


Wu soon became paranoid of all her remaining Li blooded sons and their extended family (mainly due to her enduring hatred of that Wei Woman married to Li Xian) and would destroy what little young Prince Longji had forever.

When Li Longji was only 8, Wu summoned his mother- the Consort Dou (his mother was not the chief wife of Li Dan) and Li Dan's chief wife Princess Liu were summoned into the Daming Palace under the Empress' orders and both were killed by Wu Zetian inside the palace- it had turned out, that one of Wu Zetian's lady in waiting Wei Tuan'er (韋團兒) had falsely accused them of using witchcraft against Wu Zetian- and the extremely superstitious Empress had them killed right within the palace. 


For the young Prince Longji- who had loved his mother greatly, and also had also seen the Princess Liu as another of his "mothers" this was a devastating blow. For their bodies were buried inside the palace, and the location was (even now) forever lost to history. It should be noted that to loose- to dishonor- to allow the dishonor of one's parent's remains is considered an extreme sacrilege to Chinese culture as it will forever hurt their parent's spirits in their afterlife. Li Longji- who was both loyal and a filial son was never the same again and realized then that just a shadow of a whisper could take all he loved away for all eternity. 



But the pain did not stop there, soon, Empress Wu threw Longji and all of his brothers with the orphans of other Li Princes- his cousins and nephews were locked inside the palace and not allowed to have contact with any outsiders- there he worried daily of being killed. For while he was imprisoned within the palace, Wu was daily tearing apart his father's estates trying to find any kind of "evidence" to justify her executing Li Dan. Daily, her inquisitors would torture Li Dan's house servants to "root out" traitors. 

All of it only stopped when one of Li Dan's loyal servants An Jinzang- while being tortured, broke free and in front of all his torturers and grabbed a knife and sliced open his own guts so his bowels hung to the ground- while loudly swearing and proclaiming to the Heavens of the innocence of Li Dan's clan. This very act of desperation and extreme loyalty saved not only Li Dan but also Longji as well. And it could be reasonable assumed that it was then that Prince Longji learned the importance of how a few minutes of decisive action could change an infinity of variables.

ECHO


In 699, Longji was released from capitivity- along with the other Li princes. Apparantly, Wu had recalled her exiled son back from his banishment- along with his wife the Princess Wei and daughter Li'Gou'er- exactly where out story began. That same year, his father Li Dan officially abdicated his throne to the restored Crown Prince Li Xian. 

In the intervening decade, Longji had became an active individual and proactively acted as an arm and ear for his father's sub-clan, and enrolled with his uncle Emperor Zhongzong's patronage first as a regional governor, then under the imperial guards- during which he mingled with the enlisted officers and established relationships with the senior commanders. 

In 710, he was recalled to the capital Chang An to attend to Zhongzong when Zhongzong was sacrificing to heaven and earth. There the two men talked and toasted to each other- after the celebrations, Zhongzong entered Li Longji's mansion and feasted there. Thus when Longji recieved the news Zhongzong had died suddenly that summer, and heard the ensuing promise of another "Empress" and another purge it must have seemed like an echo, Li Longji~ who had until now only been a footnote and a bit player in the grand scheme of Tang history, would soon be thrusted into the heart of this strenuous conflict. He would not be alone though. For in the busy capital few truly are. 


Music: ← Isa Runaljod

The air was thick and sweltering on the pre-dawn twilight of July 21st 710- hinting of a storm that never came. From the way things have been going- it looked like it was going to be a busy day full of drafting edicts and securing the loyalty of many fringe elements within Chang An. Like the last two weeks it was going to be a day full of bribes and intimidation until all who had not officially declared for Wei and Princess Anle show their true colors. Princess Anle rose and spent the morning hours before her bronze mirror putting on the extravagant makeup demanded of Tang ladies. Good heavens it was going to be a busy day. 



She can't hear the wind, but the canopy of the poplars swayed and rustled against each other in the balmy air. The palace was like a giant living organism, and this early in the morning, there was only the measured paces of the palace guards, the Eunuchs- who were always mindful of the sounds they made, never made much noises, especially this early in the morning. 


Soon, though, the kitchen maids would be woken in the thousands and proceed to fire up the boilers, the Taoist ritualists would wake and perform the rituals honoring the Heavens and-


Honestly, which fool could be making such a hideous raucous this early in the morning? It was as if a drunken rhino had stumbled across the palace floors. She must have fired a look of annoyance- as she always does. But the noise did not stop- the footsteps- metallic footsteps only banged closer and closer.

 

She heard the doors of her huge royal apartments open, a rush of apprehension surged within her, and for the first time she became worried. The dozens of hanging curtains shifted in the dim room, yet she knew well that the door still remained ajar as the wind tossed her many curtains- she called out to whoever opened the door, but no answer came, then she ordered one of her young pages- only a boy to check on the matter, 


Then she saw him, saw the armor under his cloak, and the look of his eyes. She wanted to scream, but only half a scream came- for in that same moment her head tumbled upon the lacquered floor boards, bouncing violently until it bled across her room- only his gory sword and the dim bronze mirror shone in the room as the gongs of the infamous 玄武門 Xuanwu Gate of the northern palace rang. Her killer simply strode over to the overflowing head, picked it up in a rough bag and rushed out as her servants screamed at their ill-starred mistress' remains. 

THE ATTACK


Anle would have never knew that three of her uncles, her mother's nephews Wei Bo (韋播) and Gao Song (高嵩) and Empress Wei's cousin Wei Gui (韋璿) were already corpses and had long lost the command of their imperial guards.

Li Longji~ that scion of that old man Li Dan had contact each of the 3 commander's respective sub-commanders officers Ge Fushun (葛福順), Chen Xuanli (陳玄禮), and Li Xianfu (李仙鳧) to join this plot.

As Princess Anle's attendants screamed at her decapitated body, Xuanwu Gate (the northern-most gate of the trapezoidal Palace) rang its alarms. At once, a dozen guards from within the Daming Palace- ones who must have been bribed by Longji's men- opened the cranks of the massive gate- and at once, thousands of imperial guards rushed into the Daming Palace. 


They attacked the palace- or more correctly rushed into the palace- not in their dense well drilled formations with synchronized interchange of raising of great pavises and letting loose volleys of arrows. Not, it came like a many headed hydra. Each band of fully armored guards had an assigned target in a specific wing of the Palace. The confused palace guards, most of whom are not even geared with heavy armors appropriate for military campaigns crumbled against this fully armored foe, but thousands still put up a fight in the bloody slaughter. 

Amidst the shouts and the sound of killing, came 2 armored square formations, at the center of the first square of men was Li Longji, slowly advancing forward- shouting commands with his ensigns and heralds while a ring of shield bearers protected him from every side, at the center of the other square was none other than Princess Taiping's son Xue Chongjian (薛崇簡) 

Above: Northern Chang An, the very fact that the Daming Palace was designed to project well outside of the city wall's defenses like an isolated trapezoid caused endless headaches to the ruling elites of the Tang dynasty- in fact- it was at this very gate that Taizong Emperor ambushed and murdered two of his brothers. In 710, Prince Li Longji led a large detachments of bribed royal guards into northern Chang An and breached within the royal palace in merely an hour- slaughtering most of Empress Wei's faction during the bloody purge.

A slew of bloody heads were soon brought back to him by the troop captains, first the head of Princess Anle and her husband, Wu Sansi's nephew Wu Yanxiu (武延秀), then Empress Wei's lover Ma Qinke and Yang Jun. Zong Chuke (宗楚客) tried to put on mourning clothes (which included a white veil, thus covering his face) and tried to ride a donkey to flee. When he got to Tonghua Gate (通化門), one of Chang An's city gates, the guard at the gate recognized him and tore off his veil. Zong was arrested and executed, as was his brother Zong Jinqing. At last came the heads of Princess Anle's elder sister Princess Changning, Empress Wei's Lady-in- Waiting Lady Helou, and finally, the head of the fabled beauty Shangguan Wan'er. Longji examined them all but there was one single head conspicuously missing from the pile- that of the Empress Dowager Wei.


THE EMPRESS' ESCAPE

Family, Dynasty, Daughter, Empress, Empire. A family she had, a family she lost, a family she rebuilt, a dynasty that she wanted. A giant face etched into stone, the same face she spent her her entire life hating, the same privilege- of stone and lineage she had spent her entire life wanting.


The night wind tugged the loose fitting sleeping robes of Empress Dowager Wei, sweat came in rivulets from the burning sticky air and her leaping heart raced down her face and stung her dilated eyes. Gilded jewelry tumbled and clinked behind the hooves-steps behind her. She did not know if her daughter escaped or not, she only knew when the slaughter began at the banging of the Gong, she had shot up like an arrow from her bed and ran barefeet into her private stables with as much jewelry as she could carry. The palace was a swirling of slaughter, the morning sun was coming in the distance. She despised the beams of its prying light with all the tenseness of her being.  

From the distance, the camp colors of her saviors appeared. The garrison of her elite 飞骑 "Flying Rider" guards. She only prayed and prayed again as she rushed into their barracks that the usurpers have not bribed them yet. 


The guards were alarmed at seeing her, and only after she revealed her face did they reluctantly let her in. But she could easily see from their tense faces that even without words, they all knew what had probably happened in the Daming Palace to have her rush to them...like this. No, thank heavens they have not been bribed- at least they have not officially sided with anyone, or else they would be acting as a part of the coup, but none of them seemed eager to charge out and fight a loosing battle just so they could die a traitor's death against a rising regime. A loud argument soon erupted between the guards. 


Dozens of suspicious guards promptly began to call out to return her to the victors in the palace, after all, if what people are saying are true- that she indeed poisoned her husband and would purge the sitting Li imperial clan- she deserved death on a dozen accounts. Equally loud shouts rose from the other side, screaming that the Empress in innocent, that her very power and relevance lay with the health of her husband, that if she wanted to exert any control in the affair of the dynasty that she couldn't possibly betray him like that. Then the accusations became more heated and more desperate, soon echoes of "traitor" and "coward" were thrown around the barracks, tension crackled and it seemed the two camps came close to blows. 


Wei rushed between them and raced between the guard captains- for she had knew some of them as her bedfellows and in turn took out the various trinkets and treasures she had pilfered from the palace, promising that if they would all be promoted with further riches if they would just- As she did so, one of the guards rushed to her and smote her head off her shoulders. 


The stunned guards were shocked by this spectacle, in the intervening silence only the sound of leaping blood was heard in the stone hewn room. But as soon as the room shook off its stupor from the stunned silence, all of them to a fault raced out of the barracks and- while unarmed, marched in the direction of the Daming Palace. 

Under a flag of truce, they announced their intentions and met with the by-now exhausted Prince Longji, who was in the process of questioning the captured prisoners. When he greeted their captains, they presented the fresh and bloodied head of Empress Dowager Wei. The Reign of the Wei- clique was over. Zhongzong Emperor- who yet lay unburied was thrice avenged. 



THE SECOND RESTORATION


July 21st indeed proved to be a busy day. It seemed many within the capital knew that something dire had transpired so many simply kept to themselves within their households. The heat still lingered, yet many shutters remain closed. When Prince Longji made sure the Palace was secured, he posted his loyal guards over the Daming Palace and raced with hundreds of his bodyguards to the mansion of his father Li Dan- located right outside Chang An. There he sought forgiveness from his father for acting without his knowledge and stated the reasons for his rebellion.


Li Dan, being a shy man who had always shunned both power and confrontations reluctantly pardoned his son. Knowing full well that although an immediate harm was averted, this chain of events would probably force him out of his long retirement and reenstate him as the restored Ruizong Emperor again. 

As he examined the bloody affair- somethings had became quite apparent. However talented his son was- even with the imperial inheritance of Li Dan's family, it was nothing to raise a corp, much less than an army with. In all matters Longji had only been a bit player- one of hundreds of male- royal blooded Princes out there. It was quite apparent that all of it was only made possible with the extraordinary wealth of the Princess Taiping- if her son's personal involvement in the palace attack was not already self evident. 

TRIBUTES


This does not bode well- for Li Dan was never his own man when it came to ruling, but now- now with his son openly consorting with Princess Taiping- it would seem she was the real winner in the entire affair- of disposing an entire faction while gaining a newly indebted "glove puppet" in him. In truth, Li Dan had always feared his sister- and feared that now that blood has been drawn, she would only influence him with greater direct control after he ascends the imperial throne. 

Prince Longji made a second visit outside the Capital, this time, he wiped off the blood that covered him and cleaned his scars, and made himself presentable and rode to the mansion of Princess Taiping. There, he presented the heads of the two fallen women to her. His aunt greeted him warmly, then suggested that the head of the mother and daughter to be displayed to the public.


It was an act of cruelty, but one must remember that there was an intend "method" to this cruelty: It should be pointed out that as of the early morning and early noon of July 21st 710, both Prince Longji and Princess Taiping did not fully know how many factions, how many guard garrisons within Chang An had Empress Wei and Princess Anle had coerced to serve their faction. That what had transpired over the last 7 hours was still unclear to all within the city who might still think the ringleaders are still alive- Prince Longji had- for all intents and purposes snuck his small army into a hostile- bought- and- paid for city that for the last two weeks had been commanded by Empress Wei's own kin. In all manners- Longji and Taiping had only scored a decisive- but all thing considered, purely "local" victory, and it was only with the exhibition, indeed the corporal "proof" that the ringleaders are dead, that whoever suppose to "direct" the various pockets of the city are all dead, that a true and lasting stability could come out of this bloody episode.


后诛逆韦,并杀安乐,斩首悬于竿上,改为悖逆庶人。”《资治通鉴》是这样说的

It was thus recorded in the Song dynasty chronicler Sima Guan's Zizhetongjian 《资治通鉴,》that after their slaying, the head of Princess Anle and Empress Dowager Wei were exhibited upon bamboo spears over the mammoth drum towers of Chang An's east square along with the heads of Wei's lovers Ma Qinke, Yang Jun, and Zong Chuke.


After the gibbeting had served its purpose, the two women were buried according to the status of royalty. Empress Dowager Wei was posthumously reduced to the rank of commoner. Though she was still buried with honors, but not with honors due an empress, rather with honors due a concubine of the first rank. Same goes for Princess Anle, Li Guo'er was further reduced to the unusual rank of "rebellious commoner." However, she was still buried with honors due an official of the second rank.

However, all of the Wu clansmen's tombs, that of the elaborate tomb of Wu Sansi, and two of Princess Anle's respective husbands, Wu Chongxu and Wu Yanxiu were all destroyed. 


LONG LIVE HER DYNASTY


But there was still the issue of the sitting emperor, the teenager Li Chongmao, who was raised, who was legitimized as Emperor only weeks ago by none other than the edict of Princess Taiping herself and the late- Shangguan Wan'er. What about this rebellious 16 year old who still flaunted all the attempt to displace him and for four days by now held court in his own name and surrounded the Dragon Hall with his bodyguards, with him still sat defiantly on the Dragon Throne? 


The answer- as most answers in this age came from his aunt (almost everyone's aunt) Princess Taiping- who simply came into the Palace and dragged the crying, screaming brat struggling and moaning from the Dragon Throne while all of the prince's own exasperated bodyguards and all of the hundreds of ministers gathered found quaint distractions in all things that were not- him.

Then, only minutes after this most embarrassing of dethronements, Princess Taiping led her shy brother Li Dan forward and in front of the thousands of ministers gathered, loudly proclaimed Li Dan their new Imperial sovereign and demanded them to bow before the monarch. Thousands of knees touched the lacquered floor, and thousands rose  in unison "Long Live His Imperial Majesty." It should be noted that through out Li Dan's second enthronement, most of the ministers that would become his new cabinet had long sworn personal loyalty to the Princess Taiping.


She had always been the most dangerous beast in this cage. After all she was her mother's favorite daughter. If only the poor fools knew they were messing with a dragon




ADDITIONAL NOTES

Chaos struck the House of Li in 710. With the death of the Zhongzong Emperor Li Xian, the interests of Empress Dowager Wei and Princess Anle were cast adrift as they lost their sole blood relative upon the imperial throne. They raised the teenager Li Chongmao (by one of Li Xian's concubines) as a temporary Emperor while they consolidated power behind the scenes. For to truly preserve their power in the event that Li Chongmao would one day establish his own lineage, in the long term they must to have a powerbase solely answerable to them- Wei could imitate Empress Wu by trying to create her own dynasty and name Anle her successor- utterly bypassing the tradition of agnatic primogeniture. To do so- would of course meant the elimination of all of the Li Clan that still remained.

The respective houses of Li and Wu after Li Lonji's bloody palace assault. During merely two hours of violence, a new paradigm rose within the highest stratas of the Tang Dynasty. With virtually everyone wiped out, Prince Longji and Princess Taiping effectively made Li Dan the sole candidate for Emperor left.


WHY DID I CHOOSE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS AFFAIR?

I have always believed the importance or reexamine society's so called "bad women,"- in fact I have always regarded such fallen women as fascinating anti-heroes who at least deserved a platform to share objective events from their perspective.

Empress Wei was certainly one of the prime (and very little known) examples of a bad woman and a bad, cankered sovereign- exhibiting both the characteristics of adultery and husband killing- the like of which must have overwhelmed Pan Jinlian many folds (a classic villainess in Chinese lore who was lustful and killed her husband with her lover) but also equivalent to classic western femme fatales like Jezebel, Athaliah, and Messalina. Which brings me to my second point.

The disembodied skull of a Tang dynasty noblewoman, the Duchess Li Chuan. The many encircling gems displayed the elaborateness of Tang women's haircuts- this specific form was referred to as the "beehive" style. Chemical analysis has concluded that most of the jewels she wore came from distant places well outside of the Tang empire, including lapis lazuli from Persia, diamonds from Sri Lanka, and silver from as far as the Byzantine Empire and Arabia.

I wrote this story because it is at its core interesting. Considering how bloody, how dramatic this tale ended in, considering how rife with scandal and intrigue this tale was wrapped in- it was a tale that simply must be told.

As I read through the lives of the various characters, I was struck by how it reminded me of the scandals of the Roman Empire~ Zhongzong reminded me of the gullible Claudius Caesar with a splash of Tiberius Ceasar, Empress Wei reminded me of the nymphomaniac Empress Messalina and Aggripina the Younger- who poisoned her husband Claudius to make room for her son Nero. Wu Sansi- our Grima Wormtongue character easily reminded me of Sejanus- the Praetorian guard and sole confidante of old Tiberius who while he feinted with praise and flattery was in reality was purging all of his personal enemies and planning to assassinate Tiberius. So as to say that this tale was not only fascinating on a post- modern level, rife with darkness for the modern audiences, but also classic. Which leads to my third point.


When I first read of the life of Empress Wei I was struck by how utterly saddened I was as I read of all of her losses at the hand of Wu. Though Wei in all matters was only a footnote of a historical being, It was that initial sympathy that riveted me to tell this story from her perspective- there is a saying in storywriting that stated- out of all the characters in a giving event, find the most interesting one, and tell the story from that character's perspective.

On a meta level- this examination of the post- Wu Zetian world was most definitely Wei's tale- she simply had lost the most, gained the most, had most to loose, the most to gain, the most power at her disposal, and the most brilliant of gossip surrounding her- her total destruction at the hands of Princess Taiping also serves- like Ned Stark of the first season of "Game of Thrones" showed how immensely powerful her entrenched foes are, and upon final inspection, we can see how she was a roadmap of mistakes, a character- a fatal example that climbed back from ruin and nothingness, a woman who nearly lost all, a woman remade, hardened, full with purpose- just to fail due to her ignorance of the Tang game of thrones and end up as but a rotting head alongside the heads of all she had loved above thousands of prying eyes: such a lesson.


Finally, speaking of "Game of Thrones," the more I read of Empress Wei, I was more and more inspired to think of Empress Wei as a more sympathetic version of Cersei Lannister- Like Cersei, Wei was: beautiful, ruthless, and extremely ambitious to the point that she not only long wished to rule directly herself but also would do everything to achieve her goals- despite ultimately being a fool. There is a classic saying in Chinese "haste makes mistakes" it would seemed that both Wei and Cersei had spent way too much time making enemies then proceeds to utterly try to wipe off such enemies that they failed to build anything enduring except a bloody wake of corpses of all who had crossed their path.


It's just too bad Empress Wei never realized that she was messing with the Tang dynasty equivalent of Azula the still- living duplicate of Empress Wu in almost every way. 

Rest in peace Empress, thank you for the lesson.



Comments

  1. معنا نحن شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام فقط سوف تجد الراحه والامان فى تحقيق احلامك وطموحاتك فى القضاء على الحشرات بشكل نهائى وغير قابل للعوده وكل هذا من اجل راحتك وراحة اسرتك والحفاظ على صحتهم من وجود الحشرات وكل هذا يتم من اجل تحقيق اعلى درجات الامان والصحه والسلامه لك عزيزى العميل ولاسرتك فعندما تقضى علي الحشرات قبل ان تتوغل فى شقتك او منزلك فانت تقضى على الامراض والوباء قبل ان يتفشى ويكثر وتكون اضراره كثيره واثاره السلبيه اكثر من اكل للاخشاب وعمل الثقوب والجحور والتاثير على الحمامات والمطابخ والاطعمه التى بها وكل هذا لاننا نمتلك اجود وافضل مبيدات حشريه تقضى على الحشرات بشكل نهائى غير قابل للعوده وذلك على اكمل وجة لضمان صحتك وصحة اسرتك التى هى امانه يجب الحفاظ عليها من اى اثار سلبيه قد تصيبها كما ان المبيدات تكون مصاحبه للبيئه فلا تضر بالانسان نهائيا فنقوم بعمليه الرش مع عدم مغادره المنزل وذلك لضمان استمرار حياتك وعدم ازعاج النمط الذى تعيش فيه مع ضمان القضاء على الحشرات فى كافه الاماكن الخاصه بها ونتعامل نحن شركة رش مبيدات بالدمام مع كافه انواع الحشرات الزاحفة والطائره السامه والغير سامه نستطيع التعامل مع كافه الانواع كل هذا من اجلك عزيزى العميل فقط تواصل معنا وستجد كل ما تحتاج اليه .
    لمزيد من خدماتنا
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالخبر
    للتواصل
    0537772829
    لزيارة موقعنا
    https://forsan-dmm.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. صديقي، أنا لست مهتما في المبيدات التجارية

      Delete
    2. هل يمكن أن نبقى على الموضوع؟

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts