China has one of the longest histories in the world and the one of the few Ancient Civilisations who have managed to continue to exist & preserve their original language and culture.
To pick 6 famous people is extremely difficult considering the number of people who have remained known through the tides of time. However the five men and their lovers mentioned in Ice Destiny Fantasy is a good way to start.
1) The Warlord Xiang Yu and Consort Yu Ji
Xiang Yu is most famously known to end the iron fisted rule of the last Qin Emperor (son of the 1st Qin Emperor), founding the country of Western Chu and who ends up killing himself and his consort Yu Ji when he loses the Gaixia battle against Liu Bang and his allies. He is perhaps one of the most ambiguous figures in chinese history. A heroic figure, overthrowing a cruel dictatorship but then his ignorance towards politics and how to run a country led to his tragic downfall.
He is known to be rash, did not pay attention to logistics and would kill anyone who did not say good things about him, causing many of his advisors to either leave him to help one of his enemy, Liu Bang or fear too much for their lives to say anything. Additionally, he had plenty of chances to kill Liu Bang except he never viewed him as a big enough threat, which was a big mistake, even giving Liu Bang back all his family members who he had captured before.
After signing a peace treaty with Liu Bang, he then started to mobilize his troops back to the Capital, however on the way, Liu Bang went back on his word and ordered his general, Han Xin to ambush Xiang Yu. In anger, Xiang Yu returned to seige Liu’s fortress. However, Xiang Yu’s army was already tired from a long battle so he decided to return to the capital. But Han Xin continued to ambush him along the way, trying to force him and his army to a canyon named Gaixia where they could easily finish his troops off but Xiang Yu who was an excellent strategist knew this and did not. But in one of these attacks, Han Xin’s army managed to capture his beloved wife Consort Yu who traveled with him in all his battles who was then moved to the canyon. With no choice, Xiang Yu ordered the rest of his troops back to the capital, taking 100,000 men with him to go to the canyon to save his wife and hopefully leave quickly.
But his wife had been moved too deeply in the canyon and by the time he saved her, he and his army was already entrapped. To reduce the morale of Xiang Yu’s troops further, Han Xin then ordered musicians to play songs from Chu on all sides, bringing about the chinese proverb (Chu Song from 4 sides (四面楚歌 which now means being attacked on all sides). This caused many of his troops to escape and leave the camp. Initially Xiang Yu wanted to kill the deserters in an attempt to force his army back to their ranks. But his wife begged him not to and he then allowed those who wished to leave to leave. On that same night, his wife committed suicide in guilt for causing his downfall. This broke Xiang Yu’s spirit. But it did not stop him from escaping from the canyon with only 800 loyal soldiers on horseback. But he would never be able to make it back to the capital. In the end, Liu Bang and Han Xin’s cavalry caught up with him at River Wu. He and his remaining 28 loyal soldiers fought to the death against the 5,000 enemy soldiers and finally after being heavily injured, he committed suicide.
2) Emperor Xuan of Han and Xu Ping Jun (in the Ep 16 of the drama, it was the 3rd couple that appears)
Emperor Xuan Han was the great grandson of Emperor Wu. However his great grandmother and his grandfather were framed for witchcraft practice and killed after a failed uprising. His father also died as a result. He was imprisoned but luckily the warden, Bing Ji who oversaw the prison he was in knew his grand father and great grandmother had been innocent and took pity on the child, even employing 2 female prisoners as wet nurses to look after him and standing up to the Emperor when he ordered all the prisoners in Chang’an to be executed due to one of the astrologists claim that there is the aura of a king in one of Chang’an’s prison.
It was later found that Emperor Xuan Han’s grand father was innocent and Emperor Wu pardoned him but banished him to live as a commoner. Bing Ji continued to pay to care for the child out of his own pocket and salary and later found Emperor Xuan Han’s mother, Consort Zhenjun who was still alive and returned her son to her.
Later his great uncle Emperor Zhao found out that he was still alive and ordered the Ministry of the Imperial Clan Affairs to care for him and the chief enuch who was responsible Zhang He did. Around 76BC, Emperor Xuan Han married Xu Ping Jun. Although it was arranged by Zhang He, there is evidence to show that he truly loved her, even going against all the officials at court and Huo Gang who was the regent of the country who immense power as he placed Emperor Xuan Han on the throne as a puppet Emperor to make Xu Ping Jun the Empress instead of his daughter Huo Cheng Jun.
However, Huo Gang’s wife was determined to make Huo Cheng Jun the empress and plotted to kill Xu Ping Jun after her pregnancy through poison. Emperor Xuan Han was then forced to make her his Empress. But after the death of Huo Gang, he gained much more personal power and created Prince Shi, his son with Xu Ping Jun Crown Prince and his wife’s father Marquess of Ping’an. Huo Gang’s wife was displeased and advised her daughter, Empress Huo to murder him which she attempted countless time but failed. Around this time, rumours that the Huo’s had killed the Empress Xu Ping Jun. In fear that the Emperor would gain proof of it, the Huo family conspired to overthrow the Emperor which led them to be executed. Empress Huo was also deposed of and she later committed suicide.
Although Emperor Xuan Han did not think Prince Shi would make a good Emperor and wanted to replace him with another one of his sons, out of regret and love for his mother, he did not and Prince Sh later became Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty.
3) Cao Zhi and Lady Zhen (In Ice Fantasy Destiny, they were the 2nd couple to appear)
Lady Zhen was known to be unique even from a young age, learning to read and study unlike the other girls at her time who focused on learning to weave and run a household. First, she married Yuan Xi, the son of Yuan Shao, a warlord who controlled most of Northern China. However, Yuan Shao lost to his rival, Cao Cao. When Cao Pi entered the residence of Yuan Shao, he fell in love with Lady Zhen and married her. Some say it was after her husband’s death but others claim that it was when her husband was still alive. She was loved by Cao Pi and would even comfort his other concubines when they were not favored by him and even urged him to take more concubines so that he will have more descendants. However, no-one knows why she fell out of favor from Cao Pi at the end of her life, some say it is because of Guo Nüwang and some claim she did something that upset Cao Pi and was executed. The historical text Han Jin Chunqiu mentions that Lady Zhen’s body was desecrated after her death with her face covered by her hair and rice husks stuffed in her mouth.
This something may be to do with Cao Zhi who was the brother of Cao Pi, Lady Zhen’s second husband who was a Prince of Wei and an talented poet. He is most famous for being able to create a poem in 7 steps. There are no records to show that they could have been in a relationship except several things. First, a poem that Cao Zhi wrote a poem now called the 洛神赋 Poem of Luo Sheng where Cai Zhi describes meeting a female goddess of great beauty known as Luo Sheng. Historical records show that this poem was actually named Poem to Thank Juan City 感鄄赋 but the character 鄄 at the time was often written as 甄 (Zhen) which is also the Lady Zhen’s surname. Furthermore, in this poem, there was no mention of the Juan city in the title, only descriptions of a beauty that he had fallen in love with.
And when Lady Zhen fell out of favor with Cao Pi, Cao Zhi wrote shortly afterwards a poem named Poem of the abandonded wife. And when she died, Cao Zhi was so drunk that he hit a court official , causing Cao Pi to banish him from the city. After Lady Zhen’s son ascended the throne, historical records show that Cao Zhi then wrote a decree to his nephew as an attempt to enter the court and in it there was a hint that suggests he may have had a relationship with Lady Zhen as he mentions a term “绝缨” which anyone from that era would avoid using as it suggests that you had a relationship with your leader’s wife/ woman due to they story attached to the term.
4) Prince of Lanling & Xue Wu
Prince of Lan Ling, Gao Chang Gong was a real historic figure. He lived in the turbulent times of North and South dynasties, his eldest brother was the 1st Emperor of Northern Qi. Legend has it he was as beautiful as a woman and in order to bring fear to his enemies, in battle he would always wear a mask. His most famous feat was during the seige of Jinyong where he led 500 cavalrymen and defeat an army of 100,000 soldiers of the Northern Zhou army who were attacking the city. A song and dance was created to tell of the victory and although this has been lost in China, after its introduction into Japan during the Tang dynasty, it can still be seen performed there.
Although Xue Wu is a fictional character, it is believed that he did love his wife Lady Zheng. It is known that to reward his military achievement, his brother Emperor Wu Cheng of Qi, Gao Zhan bought him 20 women as his concubines but he only accepted one of them. It was quite rare for men at the time with his position and power to only have 2 women, one of which he was forced to accept, therefore it is generally agreed that he had a good relationship with his wife. Furthermore, after Gao Chang Gong’s death, his wife instead of remarrying or remaining in their home, left to spend the rest of her life in a Buddhist temple.
5) Emperor Xuanzhong and Yang Guifei
The start of Xuanzhong’s reign ended the turblent period at the end of Empress Wu Zetian’s reign. First, Empress Wu Zetian was overthrown in a coup by her late husband’s offspring, the Crown Prince Li Xian who was also Xuan Zhong’s uncle and became emperor. But Li Xian died suddenly shortly after becoming Emperor. Many historians believed he was murdered by his wife and daughter so that his wife could become Empress like her mother-in-law and her daughter the heir to the throne.But in order for that to happen, they had to place a puppet Emperor on the throne first. However their plans were leaked to Emperor Xuandong who then conspired with Princess Taiping, his aunt. They attacked the Imperial Palace and removed Li Xian from the throne. Empress Wei tried to flee and but was beheaded.
Xuanzhong then put his father on the throne. By succession, he was not meant to be the heir but his elder brother declines to be Crown Prince and as he was the most accomplished son, after his father died, he became the Emperor. His reign did bring prosperity and a golden age to China as there was a period of political stability, economic prosperity and advancements in education, literature and the arts. However, during his old age, he began to turn his attention to beautiful young women, especially Yang Guifei/Imperial consort Yang who he doted on. This meant that he paid less attention to running his country and much of his power fell to powerful ministers who were corrupt and ambitious.
In fact, Yang Guifei was actually the wife of his son Li Mao before becoming his consort but the Emperor fell in love with her, so much that he arranged for her to enter a nunnery (just like his grandfather did in order to marry his grandmother, Empress Wu Zetian) so that in essence she would no longer be his daughter-in-law and would be free to become his consort. Afterwards, he gave high-ranking positions to her brothers, cousin Yang Guozhong and posthumous titles to her parents. The Emperor would appease her on every whim and giving more and more power to her cousin Yang Guozhong. However, Yang Guozhong did not get on with the Crown Prince and An Lushan an important military governor also favored by the Emperor. To get rid of his threat, Yang Guozhong arrested and executed An Lushan’s staff members. An, in fear rebelled and captured an important city, Louyang and started to advance towards the capital Chang’an. But Yang was no military strategist and he could not stop the advances of An. In desperation, he suggested to the Emperor to flee to Jiannan Circuit with Consort Yang, her family, the Crown Prince and their loyal subjects. But the following day, the Imperial Guards accompanying the royal party, angry at Yang Guozhong, rebelled and killed him demanded for the Emperor to execute Yang Guifei as well. In the end, Xuanzhong killed her. Shortly afterwards, the crown prince separated from his father and then declared himself Emperor Suzong without Xuanzhong’s knowledge. By the time news of his son’s ascension reached him, Xuanzhong accepted the arrangement and made himself Taishang huang (retired Emperor) and lived out the rest of his life alone although at times he would assert his influence on his son’s rule.
Despite the achievements he made at the beginning of his rule, he is often deeply criticized for causing political instability by promoting Yang Guozhang, An Lushan and the corrupt chancellor Li Linfu, causing the decline of the Tang Dynasty which led to the turbulent 5 Dynasties and 10 Kingdoms period.
6) Xiao Fengxian and Cai E
Although it is disputed whether they were actually a couple in real life, however there were a lot of rumors that they loved each other deeply; Cai E fought with his wife to be with Xiao Fengxian and Xiao Fengxian had helped Cai E to escape detention so that he could stop Yuan Shikai from dissolving the Republic of China and reverting the country back to a monarchy. It is probably highly unlikely that the two were a couple as Xiao Fengxian was a famous courtesan and Cai E had been the Commander-in-Chief of the Military Government of Yunnan before being placed in hour-arrest in Beijing.
Most of my references were translated from chinese texts and from chinese websites.
- Sanguozhi vol.5
- Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian volume 7
- Ban Gu et al. Book of Han Volume 31
- Old Book of Tang vol 8
- Zizhi Tongjian vol 209
- Book of Han Volume 8《宣帝紀》
- Book of Han volume 63 武五子传 Chapter 33
But if you want more details in English, the following websites can give you more details:
- Minford John ed (2000) An anthology of Translations Classical Literature Volume I: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty
- Sima Qian. Records of the Gran Historian