In Japan, she is known as Yokihi 楊貴妃. And everyone knows the sad story of the emperor, whose desire for her beauty was so great that he allowed his glorious empire to fall.
The emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.
Li Palace rose high in the clouds.
The winds carried soft magic notes,
Songs and graceful dances, string and pipe music.
He could never stop himself from gazing at her.
Their flight into the mountains of Shu was immortalized by Tang poet Bai Juyi (Po Chu'i 白居易) in his poem, Song of Eternal Sorrow. And, this poem, finding its way to Japan is said to be the inspiration for the Tale of Genji.
There is a famous painting in the Met, Emperor Hsuan-tsung's Flight to Shu, painted by a Tang artist, which depicts their sad end.
A line of horses-- a typical Tang processional painting-- slowly moves along the mountain path. The horsemen are carrying imperial banners and weapons (swords and bows and arrowｓ)-- except for one lone rider. Drsssed in crimsone robes, it is the Emperor. He turns back-- perhaps to try and get one last glimpse of his love, strangled to death right there on the side of the road.
Her white horse now rider-less is led forward-- there on the hard road to Shu.
But the Earth reels. War drums fill East Pass,
Drown out the Feathered Coat and Rainbow Skirt・
Great Swallow Pagoda and Hall of Light,
Are bathed in dust - the army fleeing Southwards.
Out there Imperial banners, wavering, pausing
Until by the river forty miles from West Gate,
The army stopped. No one would go forward,
Until horses・hooves trampled willow eyebrows.
Flower on a hairpin. No one to save it.
Gold and jade phoenix. No one retrieved it.
Covering his face the Emperor rode on.
Turned to look back at that place of tears,
Hidden by a yellow dust whirled by a cold wind.
As Shu waters flow green, Shu mountains show blue,
His majesty's love remained, deeper than the new.
White moon of loneliness, cold moon of exile.
Bell-chimes in evening rain were bronze-edged heartbeats.
So when the dragon-car turned again northwards
The Emperor clung to Ma-Wei dust, never desiring
To leave that place of memories and heartbreak.
Where is the white jade in heaven and earth turning?
Similar to our Prince Pirooz, in Japan, there is a legend that Yang Guifei did not die on that hard road, but rather made her way East-- to Japan--that land where all treasures seem to find a safe haven. And for that reason, in Japan you can find her grave in Yamaguchi Prefecture (for example) as well as various shrines (for example) dedicated to her here and there around the country. Right down to today, in fact, aristocratic music and dances associated with her story are still performed.
This romance that rocked the Empire-- it was a romance not merely based on physical love as they shared a love of music, dance, poetry and art. He on the Kuchan drum and she performing her beloved Central Asian dances, the two lovers spent their days as if they dwelled within a beautiful poem.
The dance most associated with Yang Guifei has to be the famous Rainbow Dance 霓裳羽衣舞. Michel Beurdeley, writes:
Her most beautiful dress, a gown "shimmering like sunlight" was made of rare feathers brought as tribute to the Emperor. It was a fairylike robe which she wore to perform the famous Rainbow Dance (still preserved in modern Japan) before the Emperor. A dress of feathers was the dream of every woman of the Tang Court.
The dance is still performed in China today as well. However, much like Tang music, what is performed is a creative reproduction (based in part on murals-- like the one at the top of the page-- of dancers found at Dunhuang). When Beurdeley says, the dance is still "preserved" in Japan, what he means is that the dance which arrived "real-time" in Japan during the Tang dynasty, was slowed down and preserved "as is" within the Imperial Court all the way down to today in an unbroken line.
One of the Three Famed Beauties of Noh Theater, according to Noh actor Minoru Shibata, it is Yang Guifei alone who is able to move between the world of the living and the world of the dead. (Usually, the dead are depicted as ghosts, or are part of a dialog of times past). And, like the scattering cherry blossoms, rather than the splendid flowering of their love, it is the Emepror's unbearable lonliness after she is gone that serves as the central theme of the plays dedicated to her story.
Images of Yang Guifei and Genji also seem to overlap--- so that when the Rainbow Dance is performed in the Noh play, Yang Guifei, the dancer dances to the words of Genji-- when he danced another Central Asian dance, Waves of the Blue Ocean:
"Through the waving, dancing sleeves could you see a heart
So stormy that it wished but to be still?"
These words, of course, were those sent to his lover (who is also his father's wife) the morning after the dance. She is pregnant with his child.
A terrible crime, and yet she cannot resist the letter and answers,
"Of waving Chinese sleeves I cannot speak.
Each step, each motion, touched me to the heart.
The Noh dancer playing the part of the Concubine, dances to the music of the Emperor's flute, images of Yang Guifei, who was at first the wife of the Emperor's son (until the Emperor stole her away), overlap with those of Genji and his father's wife Fujitsubo...tangled webs....