Imperial Consort Mei – The sorrowful poems from the consort who loved plum blossoms




mei
Chi Huaqiong as Imperial Consort Mei in The Legend of Yang Guifei (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Imperial Consort Mei’s love story with Emperor Xuanzong was very tragic, but it resulted in the creation of beautiful poetry. She was once the favourite concubine of Emperor Xuanzong. However, when the infamous Imperial Consort Yang Guifei arrived at the palace, Emperor Xuanzong neglected and banished Imperial Consort Mei. While Imperial Consort Mei suddenly lost favour with the Emperor, she managed to pour her sorrow into her poems. Her poems so deeply touched Emperor Xuanzong that he composed one of them to music. While Imperial Consort Mei did not win the heart of the Emperor, her poetry continues to live on and win the hearts of her readers.

Imperial Consort Mei was born around 725 C.E.[1] Her original name was Jiang Caiping. Her father, Jiang Zhongxun was a doctor. It was said that Jiang Caiping fostered a love of poetry and when she was five years old, she could recite the most difficult poems.[2] She also had an aspiration to be a woman of virtue.[3]

When she was fifteen years old, she joined Emperor Xuanzong’s harem.[4] Emperor Xuanzong was immediately smitten by her beauty.[5] She swiftly became his favourite concubine and was promoted to Imperial Consort.[6] Imperial Consort Jiang had a love of plum blossoms and planted them at her residence.[7] Her residence became known as “The Plum Pavilion” [8]. In the winter, she would gaze at the plum blossoms long into the night.[9] Therefore, Emperor Xuanzong named her Imperial Consort Mei and often called her “Plum Fairy.” [10] Imperial Consort Mei danced as beautifully as a wild goose, and she could play the jade flute.[11] Everyone at court loved to watch her dance and would cheer with delight when her dance was finished.[12]

When Yang Guifei entered the imperial palace, Emperor Xuanzong began to lose interest in Imperial Consort Mei and gave all his attention to Imperial Consort Yang Guifei.[13] Yet, Imperial Consort Yang Guifei was jealous of Imperial Consort Mei because she was Emperor Xuanzong’s former favourite.[14] Imperial Consort Yang Guifei demanded that Emperor Xuanzong banish Imperial Consort Mei to the remote Eastern Palace of Shangyang.[15] Emperor Xuanzong still had some feelings for Imperial Consort Mei, but he nevertheless agreed to banish her.[16] He did try to see Imperial Consort Mei again, but when Imperial Consort Yang Guifei learned about the Emperor’s visit, she burst in upon the couple.[17] That meeting was the last time Consort Mei ever saw Emperor Xuanzong. He never visited her again.[18]

Imperial Consort Mei felt lonely at the Eastern Palace and was sad that she would never see the Emperor again.[19] She wrote the poem “East of the Tower”, in which she described her sorrow, loneliness, and depression at never seeing the Emperor again.[20] An excerpt of “East of the Tower” goes:

“The emperor was attached to me,

His love deep and unending.

He vowed it was as constant as the mountains and the sea.

And, like the sun and the moon, it would never end.

Alas, what could I do about a jealous and mediocre woman

Whose overpowering jealous energy robbed me of my love?

I was expelled to a remote palace,

I miss my past happiness but cannot have it again.”[21]

Imperial Consort Mei’s poem, “East of the Tower”, reached Emperor Xuanzong and Imperial Consort Yang Guifei. After Imperial Consort Yang Guifei heard the poem, she said, “Consort Jiang exaggerates her complaints. I wish Your Majesty would order her to kill herself.” [22] Yet, Emperor Xuanzong did not reply to Imperial Consort Yang Guifei’s comment.[23] Instead, Emperor Xuanzong was deeply touched by Imperial Consort Mei’s poem and felt guilty for neglecting her.[24] He secretly sent Imperial Consort Mei a bushel of pearls.[25] Imperial Consort Mei refused Emperor Xuanzong’s gift and returned them with the poem called “Thanks for the Gifts of Pearls”.[26] The poem goes:

“Long since I have stopped painting my willow-leaf brows,

Tears stained with stale makeup wet my red silk dress.

Banished to Changmen [Palace], unwashed, unkempt,

How could pearls comfort me in my loneliness?”[27]

After Emperor Xuanzong read the poem, he was deeply touched and saddened about his consort’s tragic circumstances.[28] He ordered the music bureau to compose the music to Imperial Consort Mei’s poem.[29] It was called “A Bushel of Pearls.” [30]

During An Lushan’s rebellion in 756 C.E., Emperor Xuanzong and his entourage fled the capital. Imperial Consort Mei was not among Emperor Xuanzong’s retinue.[31] It was said that she was killed during the rebellion.[32] When Emperor Xuanzong returned to the capital in 758 C.E., he ordered a search to find her body.[33] His officials searched everywhere but still could not find her.[34] Legend has it that while Emperor Xuanzong was asleep, Imperial Consort Mei appeared to him in a dream.[35] In the dream, she told him that she had been killed by rebel soldiers, but kind strangers have buried her body near a pond under a plum blossom tree.[36] Emperor Xuanzong awoke from his dream and told the officials where her body lay.[37] Once her body was recovered, Imperial Consort Mei was buried with the rights appropriate for a consort.[38] Regardless of whether the recovery of Imperial Consort Mei’s body was a legend or a historical fact, Emperor Xuanzong did not forget her. His official, Li Shi, presented Emperor Xuanzong with a portrait of Imperial Consort Mei.[39] Emperor Xuanzong wrote a poem on her portrait.[40]

Imperial Consort Mei was once the favourite of Emperor Xuanzong. However, her happiness was short-lived when the Emperor turned his eye on the infamous Imperial Consort Yang Guifei. She was banished and neglected by the Emperor. When she realized that she could no longer depend on Emperor Xuanzong’s love, she turned to her poetry. It is a pity that except for “East of The Tower” and “Thanks for The Pearls”, the rest of the ten poems that Imperial Consort Mei has written have been lost.[41] Yet through these two poems, the reader can see how talented a writer Imperial Consort Mei was. The reader can feel The Plum Blossom Consort’s loneliness, sorrow, and longing for the Emperor. It is no wonder that Imperial Consort Mei’s poems have moved the hearts of Chinese readers for centuries.

Sources:

Chi, P. (2015). “Jiang Chaipin”. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. (B. B. Peterson, Ed. B. Qiyu, trans.). London: Routledge. pp. 211-213.

Lee, L. X.H. (2014). “Jiang Caiping.” Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming 618 – 1644. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge. pp.  168-170.


[1] Lee, 2014

[2] Chi, 2015

[3] Chi, 2015

[4] Lee, 2014

[5] Lee, 2014

[6] Chi, 2015

[7] Chi, 2015

[8] Chi, 2015, p. 212

[9] Chi, 2015

[10] Chi, 2015, p. 212

[11] Chi, 2015

[12] Chi, 2015

[13] Chi, 2015

[14] Lee, 2014

[15] Lee, 2014

[16] Chi, 2015

[17] Lee, 2014

[18] Lee, 2014

[19] Chi, 2015

[20] Chi, 2015

[21] Lee, 2014, p. 169

[22] Lee, 2014, p. 169

[23] Lee, 2014

[24] Lee, 2014

[25] Lee, 2014

[26] Lee, 2014

[27] Lee, 2014, pp. 169-170

[28] Chi, 2015

[29] Lee, 2014

[30] Lee, 2014

[31] Lee, 2014

[32] Lee, 2014

[33] Lee, 2014

[34] Chi, 2015

[35] Lee, 2014

[36] Lee, 2014

[37] Lee, 2014

[38] Lee, 2014

[39] Chi, 2015

[40] Chi, 2015

[41] Chi, 2015






About Lauralee Jacks 109 Articles
I am a third grade elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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