Yang Yuhuan, known as Yang Guifei (the highest-ranking imperial concubine), was one of the Four Beauties* of ancient China. Yang, the favorite concubine of Emperor Tangxuanzong, was one of the few beautiful women, who made their masters wallow in sensual pleasures, and therefore caused the downfall of their states.
After Emperor Tangxuanzong had established a strong empire, with a cosmopolitan capital in Xi'an, in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, he ordered his flunkies to find the most beautiful woman in the land. One day, at the Huaqing Hot
Springs, Yang, the 18-year-old concubine of Li Mao, one of the emperor's sons, caught Tangxuanzong's attention. Despite his son's protests, Tangxuanzong took Yang as his concubine.
Like most of the beauties during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Yang was a plump woman. To please her, the emperor had the palace at Huaqing Hot Springs enlarged. Yang spent hours bathing there to keep her skin fresh. Every week, fresh lychees, her favorite fruit, were delivered from Guangzhou, in South China's Guangdong Province. Many of Yang's relatives were given important positions at the imperial court. Emperor Tangxuanzong, who spent most of his time enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, neglected the state affairs.
To win Tangxuanzong's trust, An Lushan, a general of Turkish origin, acknowledged Yang as his mother, although she was 16 years younger than him. Yang helped An win power at the imperial court. In 755, An headed a rebellion. He marched into the capital, which caused Emperor Tangxuanzong to flee southwest. The emperor took Yang.
As the imperial army held Yang responsible for the empire's decline, they demanded that she be executed. The emperor watched his beloved woman hang herself. Yang was 38 when she killed herself.
The rebellion, which dragged on for several years, was eventually crushed. The emperor, however, never recovered from the loss of his favorite concubine. He died a broken man a few years later. The Tang Dynasty survived, nominally, but fell into a steady decline. It never returned to its former glory.
In 806, Bai Juyi, one of the most famous poets of the Tang Dynasty, wrote "Song of Everlasting Sorrow," a long poem, which depicted Emperor Tangxuanzong's love for Yang, and his perpetual grief over her death. For thousands of years, it has been one of the most widely read Chinese love poems.