The Palace of Eternal Youth (1688) by Sheng Hong (1645-1704), a kunqu classic, weaves an epic tale of political corruption, military revolt, and social unrest into the love story of Emperor Minghuang and Lady Yang.
Known for her beauty and artistic talents, Lady Yang is favored by Minghuang who indulges himself in the leisure and pleasures of Lady Yang’s companionship, neglecting his duties and responsibilities as a political leader. He appoints Guozhong Yang, Lady Yang’s brother, as Prime Minister and grants him and Lushan An, an ambitious general, so much power and privilege that Lushan gains enough force and influence to stage a military coup. Unaware of the coup, Minghuang is absorbed in song and drink with Lady Yang when Lushan approaches the capital. Fleeing in haste, Minghuang is protected by his imperial guards who, in a furor, kill Guozhong and demand the death of Lady Yang, for they two are deemed responsible for the coup and societal tumult. Minghuang, though unwilling and in anguish, consents and allows Lady Yang to commit suicide. After the coup is appeased, Minghuang returns to the capital with much remorse and grief, longing for Lady Yang. Helped by the Moon Goddess, they are eventually reunited as Minghuang visits and meets her one night at the moon palace.
The Pledging of Love
In The Pledging of Love, Minghuang, in a time of peace and prosperity, indulges himself in leisure and pleasure. Among the countless beauties chosen for the court, he is especially struck by the beauty and talent of Yang Yuhuan, whom he makes his consort and names her Lady Yang. Minghuang and Lady Yang pledge eternal love, with a gold pin and a jewel box as their witness.
Chamber of Frivolous Commotions
Chamber of Frivolous Commotions portrays Lady Yang’s unannounced visit to Minghuang the morning after he secretly summoned his former favorite consort for an overnight tryst. Through a series of arias, Yang conveys her anger, frustration, self-pity, and sadness, an expression of devotion which eventually leads Minghuang to admit his infidelity and resume his favor for her.
A Banquet for Two
A Banquet for Two is the first part of “Startled by Rebellions” and depicts the drinking and singing merriments of Minghuang and Lady Yang before Minghuang is made aware of Lushan’s military coup. Greatly pleased by Mady Yang’s singing and dancing, Minghuang urges her to drink more than she can handle. In a total stupor, Lady Yang is carried off to rest.
Startled by Rebellions
Startled by Rebellions begins with the Minghuang and Lady Yang drinking and singing in merriment. After the drunken lady is led away to rest, Yang Guozhong the Prime Minister hurries in to report An Lushan’s mutiny. In haste, Minghuang orders the court to depart for theWestern Shuregion the next morning.
Jade Buried depicts the entourage of Minghuang resting temporarily at the station of the Ma Wei County while fleeing to the Western Shu region. The court guards, in great furor and clamor, kill Yang Guozhong and demand the death of Lady Yang before they will agree to continue the journey. Seeing Minghuang caught in much distress and anguish, Lady Yang begs to be allowed to end her life for the good of the country. She leaves the pin and box with Gao Lishi, a trusted eunuch, and hangs herself from a pear tree. Minghuang, heart-broken, is pressed to resume the journey.