Empress Dowager Yang was a person with a firm determination and liked to make her own decision. This might have something to do with her past. Empress Dowager Yang could be said to have a very smooth life. As a girl, she was born into a well-off family and grew up with no worries. Later, she was chosen to enter the palace during the palace selection, and continued to live in luxury.
After entering the palace, although the previous Emperor’s favor was mediocre, she had good luck. After a limited number of visitations, she became pregnant, and later gave birth to the eldest prince. Mother’s status rose with her child, and thus Yang family’s daughter was named Empress. After a few years, the arrogant and domineering Noble Consort1, who was most favored by the previous Emperor, also gave birth to the second prince.
The second prince was titled Rong Wang at a young age. The previous Emperor loved this child so much, and even thought of making him a crown prince. However, due to the ancestral rule that said, “When there is a di son, make the di son the heir. In the absence of a di son, make the eldest son the heir” and a large number of protest from scholar-officials, this idea was delayed. After giving birth to the eldest prince, Empress Dowager Yang, who was still an Empress at that time, quickly adapted to the palace’s cruel means. She vigorously promoted her younger brother and started a fierce battle against Noble Consort and Rong Wang’s faction.
When deities fought, mortals suffered. Even among imperial princes, there were differences in status and treatment. Kang Wang Li Huan, whose biological mother was just a low-ranking palace maid, was obviously of low status. Empress Yang originally never paid attention to Kang Wang, who was merely an unfavored prince with no talents. He was titled early, then departed to the vassal land to start a family, which was his greatest contribution to the court.
But no one expected the thing that happened next. The crown prince who fought hard against Rong Wang suddenly died in an accident. The previous Emperor was furious. Both Empress Yang and her brother Yang Fucheng were unwilling to give up. They made a fuss, and the result of the investigation finally showed that the crown prince’s so-called accident was actually an assassination by Rong Wang.
As a result, Rong Wang was demoted to a commoner, and the powerful Noble Consort also collapsed. The previous Emperor lost his two sons one after another. After dealing with Rong Wang’s aftermath, his body collapsed.
Empress Yang finally got her revenge against the enemy of the greatest half of her life, but her son would never come back. After some contemplation and upon Yang Fucheng’s suggestion, she summoned Kang Wang, who was living in his vassal land at the time, back to the capital.
The throne shouldn’t fell into the hands of others. Instead of letting the ministers choosing a prince with a strong maternal clan as the next Emperor, it was better to choose herself and made the next Emperor owe the Yang family. Empress Yang finally chose Kang Wang Li Huan. But before he arrived in the capital, the previous Emperor couldn’t hold it anymore and passed away without seeing this unfavored third son for the last time.
After that, Empress Yang arranged the previous Emperor’s funeral and Li Huan’s enthronement ceremony, and she was also promoted to Empress Dowager. Her power in the inner palace quickly expanded, and reached its peak when another Yang family’s daughter, her niece, became the current Empress.
At the same time, the Yang family’s people also received rapid promotions. Yang Fucheng controlled the cabinet and basically became the actual master of the country, standing above millions and only below one person.
Although Empress Dowager Yang had experienced many twists and turns in her life, everything generally developed according to her expectations, so she became obstinate and stubborn. Once she made her decision, no one dared to refute her.
Empress Dowager Yang had made her words. She wanted to visit the temple in person to offer her gratitude to the Boddhishattva. Regardless of the feasibility of going out of the palace during the winter of the twelfth month, regardless of how much money and material resources it would take, and regardless of how many people would be involved, since she said so, it had to be done. And this time, even the Emperor also followed Empress Dowager’s whim and wanted to accompany her to the temple. Both the Ministry of Rites and Yulin Army2 had to work in a hurry to prepare the travel plan and clean the road before the twelfth month.
A few days into the twelfth month, the Empress Dowager and the Emperor’s procession set off grandiosely from the palace towards the Xiangji Mountain Temple.
When the Empress Dowager traveled, her procession expanded for ten miles, with all kinds of retinue, servants, guards, and countless belongings. The Imperial Regalia Guards3, who were tasked with opening the road ahead, had already left the city. But the carriage that brought Her Majesty Empress Dowager was still in the palace gate. All the accompanying madams and young misses had to wait in the palace since early in the morning. When the sun shone high, they only moved a few steps forward.
The Empress Dowager herself was accompanied by female officials, palace maids, and eunuchs. The accompanying madams and young misses also brought their own servant girls. But those servant girls of high-ranking families were almost half a noble miss and didn’t do rough works by themselves. Therefore, they also had to bring rough work servants, handymen, etc…one personnel after another, plus various luggage. One could imagine how huge the final procession was.
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- A crash course on china’s imperial harem system. The details vary from dynasty to dynasty, but the system mostly adapted into novels or other fictions is: One Empress on the topmost, continued by one Imperial Noble Consort (Huang Guifei) and four Consorts: Noble Consort (Guifei), Shu Consort (Shufei), De Consort (Defei), and Xian Consort (Xianfei). Below them, there are a few dozens of lesser-ranking concubines. In theory, the four consorts have equal rank, but Noble Consort is generally the leader of the four, especially in the absence of Imperial Noble Consort position.
- Yulin Army: Troops responsible for protecting the capital or the Emperor.
- Imperial Regalia Guards: Imperial bodyguards