The second day of the eleventh month of the twenty-third year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era (the first year of Southern Chu’s Zhihua era), the Prince of Yong returned to court victorious. The King of Southern Chu, Princes, Royal Harem, and Royal Clansmen in front, and Southern Chu officials behind, were presented as prisoners at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine.…
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong1
I did not see the grand and majestic welcome that the Prince of Yong received from all of officialdom, as my current status was that of a guest. Unpleasantly, I was a captive, but I did not have the mind to be presented as a prisoner at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine nor did I have the honor. As such, I was accompanied by Gou Lian and entered the city in a carriage before the army arrived. After passing through the Gate of Illustrious Virtue,2 I opened the window of the carriage and saw a grand avenue that was forty zhang3 wide. On each side of the avenue was a row of locust trees. But because it was winter, there was no greenery. On either side of the avenue were small gutters as wide as small brooks. Where these gutters intersected with other gutters, they were covered by small stone bridges. Although it was the dead of winter, one could feel the heat emanating from the gutters. Water did not stop flowing. In comparison, the snow and ice accumulated on the trees clearly displayed the severity of winter.
In a low voice, I recited, “A country formed by a thousand li of mountains and rivers, the Imperial City’s walls have nine layers. / Not seeing the robustness of Emperor’s residence, how can one know the Son of Heaven’s honor and prestige?”4
Gou Lian smiled and said, “Since antiquity, the land within the passes has been the territory of monarchs. Chang’an collects historical relics and lies in a strategic location. To the south, there are the many peaks of the central section of the Qinling Mountains. To the north, the roads wind endlessly through mountains, echoing the remote Qinling Mountains. The Jing, Wei, and six other rivers encircle Chang’an. The eight hundred li long plains of Guanzhong possess the resources of a monarch. Great Yong rules Chang’an as its capital, possessing the atmosphere of a sovereign. Great Yong will unify the world; its might cannot be stopped. Southern Chu established its capital at Jianye. Jianye does not possess sufficient imperial aura. Establishing the capital in such a location is frequently the sign of a country’s decline within one generation.”
I merely smiled and did not reply. I was clear about the feebleness of Southern Chu. I was also clear about Great Yong’s power. But this was not the reason why I must surrender and pledge allegiance to Great Yong. A flash of bewilderment passed across Gou Lian’s face. Never before did he have such a headache. Regardless of how he tried to persuade and reason, this young man before him would either simply agree or smile without saying anything. However, from beginning to end, he could nothing to convince this young man to serve the Prince of Yong. Gou Lian wondered if he was too anxious. But if he weren’t able to convince this young man, if the Prince of Yong found the situation intolerable and decided to execute this man, wouldn’t it be a great pity? Gou Lian had suggested earlier that Jiang Zhe be placed under house arrest and attempt to slowly convince him. Alas, the Prince of Yong only bitterly smiled and did not say a word. It seemed as if time was of the essence. Why was this the case?
I pointed outside the window at the passing sights to Xiaoshunzi. “Look, this is the Vermillion Bird Avenue. This avenue is the longest road in Chang’an, going from north to south. The Vermillion Bird Avenue ends at the northern limits of the city. Great Yong’s Imperial Clan resides in the Palace City and the Imperial City. The official government offices of the Six Ministries rest within the Palace City. Our current location is the Outer City. Chang’an’s Outer City borders the Palace City and the Imperial City to the east, west, and south.5 The Outer City has eleven avenues traveling south to north and fourteen avenues traveling east to west. The avenues crisscross the Outer City and divide the interior into one hundred ten residential wards. Among these, the three north-south and three east-west avenues pass through the city gates, serving as the city’s main transportation arteries. As for the current Vermillion Bird Avenue that we are traveling on, this avenue is the most important roadway in and the central axis of the city. The Vermillion Bird Avenue terminates at the Vermillion Bird Gate.6 From there, one can travel through to the Palace City.”
“Hearing Sir Jiang’s words spoken in such a way,” replied Gou Lian with a smile, “Almost makes it seem like your distinguished self was the host.”
I replied casually, “If we were to discuss Jianye’s situation, I fear that brother Yongquan would know more than this one.” Gou Lian could only smile wryly again.
I looked at crowds bustling with activity outside the window of the carriage. This city’s prosperity was even superior to that of Jianye. However, in comparison, Jianye was filled with scholars and ladies indulging in luxury and opulence. Here in Chang’an, the city was filled with impassioned scholars and imposing and heroic warriors. One could detect the air of prosperity everywhere. I smiled. I was really fond of this city. Although I was fond of Jiangnan and it was my homeland, I would not use this as a reason to dislike Chang’an. Southern Chu was now something in my memories.
The carriage quickly arrived at the Vermilion Bird Gate, and Gou Lian lifted open the screen and revealed the command medallion of the Prince of Yong. Upon catching sight of the medallion, the imperial guardsman guarding the gate respectfully stepped down. Just as Gou Lian was about to give the order for the carriage to continue, a clear and bright laugh could be heard from in front of the carriage, before a voice could be heard to say, “Sir Gou, is there an honored guest of Elder Imperial Brother within the carriage?”
Gou Lian raised his head and looked out, seeing that there was a luxurious carriage in front. The carriage was embroidered with golden dragon brocade. Behind the raised screen of the carriage, one could see a young and handsome youth accompanied and attended by two dainty concubines. This youth was waving towards him. Greatly astonished, Gou Lian replied, “Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, why are you not attending the celebratory feast and instead leaving the city?”
Li Xian, under the support of his concubines descended from his carriage, responding, “The celebratory feast hasn’t even started. It must wait for Imperial Father to offer sacrifices at the Imperial Ancestral Shrine. This prince had called in sick long ago. I have heard that second brother brought back an honored guest. I believe that he must this Prince’s old friend. No matter what, I must come welcome him. Is it Jiang daren? This prince is Li Xian.”
I had no alternative. Although I clearly knew that he was here to disrupt things, his urgency was beyond my expectations. I stuck my head out and replied, “So it is Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. Have you come to mock this prisoner?”
Li Xian walked closer and in a clear voice, proclaimed, “What rubbish … Jiang daren is an exceptional, gifted scholar. Let alone Elder Imperial Brother, even my Imperial Father would not allow Sir be bound and imprisoned. Although the document submitted by Elder Imperial Brother contained daren’s name, when Imperial Father saw the list, he not only crossed out daren’s name, but also ordered Elder Imperial Brother to take good care of daren without any slights or neglects. After a few days, Imperial Father even wishes to call daren for an audience. I have managed to ask Imperial Father for a decree. If daren is willing, the residence of the Prince of Qi waits respectfully upon daren’s arrival.”
Gou Lian’s brow furrowed. No wonder the Prince of Yong had difficulties. So he knew that someone would come to fight over Jiang Zhe. Hurriedly, Gou Lian stated, “Your Imperial Highness, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has long ago commanded me to take good care of Jiang daren. The Prince of Qi must not snatch the opportunity to play the host.”
Li Xian retorted rudely and unreasonably, “Even if Elder Imperial Brother were here, he would not make things difficult for this prince. Jiang daren, formerly in Southern Chu, you entertained this Prince under orders. This time, it’s this Prince’s turn to play the host.” So speaking, he extended his hand to grab me. Afterwards, Li Xian felt his wrist gripped by an icy hand. Turning, he saw Xiaoshunzi’s frosty smiling expression. Li Xian could only choose discretion and withdraw his hand. In a light and quick voice, he said, “Since Sir Gou insists, this Prince can only let it be. After a few days, Jiang daren must come and stay for a period of time at my residence.”
I smiled faintly and nodded my head, acknowledging, “If there is the opportunity, I will naturally impose upon Your Imperial Highness.” Deeply worried, Gou Lian looked at me, wanting to say something, but hesitating.
At this moment, the Golden Hall was filled with the revelry of liege and vassals. After the captives had been presented to the Imperial Ancestral Shrine, Li Yuan, according to the ceremony formulated by the Ministry of Rites, cleansed his body, announced a general amnesty, received the customary deference from all of officialdom, reviewed the troops, and other elaborate and convoluted ritual ceremonies. Finally, the celebration feast at the Golden Hall began. After the feast began, Li Yuan issued a decree ordering Zhao Jia and Princess Changle to enter the hall. To this Zhao Jia who continuously begged for forgiveness, Li Yuan only indifferently said a few words, “Between a father- and son-in-law, there is deep and profound affection. There will not be any additional offenses.” So saying, he allowed Zhao Jia to reside temporarily in the posthouse. When Li Yuan saw Princess Changle, his cheeks were covered with tears. After Princess Changle had paid her respects, he grabbed Changle’s hand and regarded her up and down. Seeing her thinned appearance, and no longer innocent and unaffected, Li Yuan was greatly distressed. Towards Changle, he expressed, “Imperial Daughter, you have suffered hardships. Imperial Father has let you down. Your mother and others are waiting for you in the palace chambers. You should first pay them a formal visit. Imperial Father will come see you a little later.” Escorted by a crowd of court ladies and eunuchs, Princess Changle was brought back to the palace chambers.
Only then did Li Yuan raise his wine cup. In a loud voice, he announced, “Today, the Prince of Yong has returned victorious! Although We are happy with the Prince of Yong’s meritorious service in attacking the guilty, We are even happier that he brought back Our beloved daughter, Changle. We do not have a good capacity for alcohol. All honored subjects should toast the Prince of Yong on our behalf. Today, a ruler and his ministers revel. If you are not drunk, you are not allowed to return home!” The ministers within the hall all loudly proclaimed “long live the Emperor!” Simultaneously, they raised their golden cups, all of them beaming with happiness. Li Zhi had already washed away the dust of his journey and was seated just after Crown Prince Li An, accepting the toasts of the ministers. Although Li An, placed in the seat of honor, did not cease to talk and laugh, disdain repeatedly flickered in his eyes. He absolutely detested Li Zhi to the bottom of his heart. Originally, he had arranged for the Prince of Qi to attack Southern Chu. Who knew that the Prince of Qi would suffer heavy casualties? He had no choice but to allow the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, to gnaw on this hard bone. Unexpectedly, the Prince of Yong launched a sneak attack against Jianye, capturing the sovereign of Southern Chu, causing Li Yuan to become wild with joy, while causing Li An to become endlessly indignant.
Especially painful for Li An was that Liang Wan had returned a complete idiot. With great difficulty, he had gained the allegiance of the head of the Southern Chu intelligence network, Liang Wan. All of the effort he spent on Southern Chu had vanished like smoke. How could Li An not be dejected and embittered? Looking at Li Zhi filled with pride over his success, Li An maliciously thought, If this Prince cannot obtain the Imperial Throne, you, Li Zhi, will also not gain one’s desires.
Just as Li An was gnashing his teeth in anger, the palace chambers were in chaos. The Empress, Lady Dou, was the mother of Crown Prince Li An. Noble Consort Zhangsun was the mother of Princess Changle. There was also the mother of the Prince of Qi, Noble Consort Yan. Lastly, there was Noble Consort Ji. These four had gathered as they had learned that Princess Changle’s carriage had entered the Imperial City. These women were waiting there anxiously. Over the last several years, Noble Consort Ji had cried her eyes out. Her sons had all died, while her only daughter was wed to distant Southern Chu. Hearing that the Prince of Yong had brought back her daughter, Noble Consort Zhangsun had long ago become restless. Not long afterwards, the sound of footsteps could be heard coming from outside. Several eunuchs and court ladies entered the chambers to report that the Princess was waiting outside. The Empress, Lady Dou, eagerly ordered, “Waiting for what? Quickly have the child come in.”
After a short moment had passed, Princess Changle entered, wearing unadorned clothing. Holding back her tears, she paid her formal respects to the Empress. Afterwards, she dived into her mother’s embrace, crying heavily. Noble Consort Zhangsun was also crying her heart out. She looked at Princess Changle’s wan and sallow countenance, and she spoke, her words filled with grief, “My Zhen’er,7 you were wed to Southern Chu at the age of fifteen. For six years, mother has burned incense and prayed every day. On the one hand, I hoped that my child’s marriage would be harmonious. On the other, I worried that war between the two countries would bring disaster to you, child. Now, you have finally returned safely. Mother’s heart is finally calm and orderly. Zhen’er, rest at ease, Your Imperial Father has agreed to choose another worthy husband. This time, mother will personally take responsibility and will definitely find a husband that has everything one can wish for.”8
The Empress, Lady Dou, shed tears as she spoke, “Good child, you have suffered much hardship while in Southern Chu. We have also been extremely worried and troubled.9 This time, we have already spoken with the Emperor. You have sacrificed too much for Great Yong. No one will be allowed to involve you in any plans. If you settle upon someone, we will help you with the choice.”
Covering her face, Princess Changle voiced, “Your Imperial Highness, Mother Consort, Changle complied with an imperial order to wed to Southern Chu. Although I have now returned, I am still the Queen of Southern Chu. Even if this child has no honor and shame, how can I remarry while my husband is still alive? Would Your Imperial Highnesses and Mother Consort make the decision and allow this child to remain beside my mother peacefully for a few years so as to properly display my filial piety to Imperial Father and Mother Consort.”
The Highnesses looked at one another. The situation was indeed awkward. Regardless of what they thought, Changle had married the King of Southern Chu. They could not just simply have her remarry. Noble Consort Zhangsun could not help but remember her two deceased sons and now her only daughter whom had experienced such hardships, and cry bitterly without end. At this moment, Noble Consort Ji walked over to Changle’s side. In a soft, consoling voice, she soothed, “There is no need for Princess to be so sad, the Emperor will naturally arrange everything appropriately and satisfactorily, and will not permit Princess to be embarrassed.” The Highnesses knew that Noble Consort Ji took part in matters of state. Seeing her speak thus, they were all relieved. All of them were women of the harem and had seen all kinds of treacherous and murderous acts. Since the Emperor intended to take care of the matter, then Zhao Jia would naturally not have long to live. Hearing these words, Changle could not help but feel her intestines twist. Although she had no affection for Zhao Jia, he had always treated her with respect. Now that things had reached this stage, she had become an evil and poisonous married woman who harmed her husband. She could not help but shed tears like a gushing spring.
Noble Consort Ji had a carefree temperament, bantering at will, and at long last was able to eliminate Princess Changle’s worried countenance. A smile across her face, Noble Consort Zhangsun said, “Zhen’er, mother has already reorganized and cleaned the Jade Phoenix Hall that you used to live in. Come, bid farewell to Her Imperial Majesty and the Highnesses. Let’s go take a look at your home.”
The Empress and the others all smiled, allowing Noble Consort Zhangsun to help Changle settle down. Noble Consort Ji said, “Aiyah! Having only elder sister take care of things by herself makes it seem as if we don’t also love Changle dearly. This younger sister is still young, allow me to help.”
Noble Consort Ji was originally the most arrogant and proud. Seeing that she was deliberately ingratiating herself, Noble Consort Zhangsun naturally could not refuse. The three bade their farewells and walked towards the Jade Phoenix Hall. Everything within this palace hall had been changed. Noble Consort Zhangsun’s personally selected court ladies and eunuchs were already there waiting for their mistress to arrive. Princess Changle’s luggage had already gone ahead long ago. Under the guidance of the female attendants who had accompanied the Princess to Southern Chu, everything had been unpacked and stored. Changle supported Noble Consort Zhangsun, listening to her mother’s chatter. Together, mother and daughter enjoyed domestic bliss. Noble Consort Ji followed them to the side, uttering a few words of consolation from time to time. She knew exactly what to say, not leaving the mother and daughter pair feel the discomfort of being accompanied by an outsider.
After some time, due to her age and to her excitement, Noble Consort Zhangsun was exhausted. Worried about her mother’s health, Princess Changle wished to escort her back to her bedchambers. Empathizing with her daughter’s toil, Noble Consort Zhangsun refused her offer, having her rest well, returning to her chambers by herself. Making an excuse, Noble Consort Ji remained behind. The Princess had misgivings. Although she had lived in Southern Chu and she lived an uncomplicated life, the position and environment could change the temperament of people. In her position, she had long acquired the temperament to lead the world by her womanly example. As such, she calmly waited for Noble Consort Ji to reveal her true intentions. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Noble Consort Ji dismissed all the servants and solemnly asked, “Princess, Liang Wan has attended to Princess for many years. How did she return like this? My niece rushed about for years. For her to befall such a fate, how can it not cause us pain?”
Changle’s heart jumped. Her older brother, Li Zhi, had interrogated her about Liang Wan for a long time. She had long heard that Noble Consort Ji originated from jianghu. She also simply knew that Liang Wan was recommended by Noble Consort Ji. As such, she did not hide anything, explaining what she had experienced.
Noble Consort Ji listened intently. When she heard that Liang Wan had sneak attacked the black-clothed man and had been captured in one move, her face revealed a strange look, as she inquired, “Princess, are you saying that Liang Wan did not even have the opportunity to retaliate?”
Apologetically, Princess Changle replied, “We also could not understand. It felt like that man only extended his hand and was able to capture older sister Liang.”
“Did this man in black have any special characteristics?” asked Noble Consort Ji.
Princess Changle recalled her memories. At the time, she was terrified to the bottom of her heart when she saw Liang Wan captured. Afterwards, the spies were forcibly bound one by one. Then the man in black had walked before her. With a gesture, he killed her maid, who had murderous intentions. As the man in black stood before her, Changle clutched her golden hairpin tightly, ready to commit suicide. But she heard a feminine voice nonchalantly say, “There is no need for Your Majesty to worry. We are not from Southern Chu. Would Your Majesty please follow us to someplace? Afterwards, we will deliver you to see the Prince of Yong.”
So speaking, the man had supported her. At the time, the only thing she could think of was the death of her maid. In addition, unrelated men weren’t allowed to touch her noble body. As such, she extremely frightened. To her, the man’s voice was like that of a devil. She shivered as she thought about shoving her golden hairpin through his throat, but was stopped by the man. With a grudging voice, the man instructed, “Relax, Your Majesty. My master has no malice towards Your Majesty. I am a eunuch, and cannot profane Your Majesty’s purity and innocence.”
So speaking, he hit Princess Changle’s pressure points and covered her eyes. The Princess lost all feeling. While she was under house arrest in the secret chambers, she was attended to by this man in black. She was convinced that this man was castrated, so much so that she could tell from his familiarity with etiquette that he was someone from the Southern Chu Palace. As a result, she did not believe his promise of freedom, until that day she finally saw the spies who were protecting her. They had kneeled before her, begging for forgiveness. Beside them was the infantile Liang Wan. Under their protection, she was able to meet her Older Imperial Brother. She could only stare blankly as they committed suicide, their blood splattering all over the palace hall.
From start to finish, she did not know what had happened. While she was being escorted back, no matter how she questioned, they only begged for forgiveness. Gradually, she understood that their suicide was a demand from the man in black. They had agreed only to protect her. Reasonably speaking, she should despise the man in black, but strangely enough, there wasn’t a trace of hatred, because those people were not disrespectful in the least. For them to leave her alive was a risky matter, since at the very least, she had heard their voices and knew that there was a eunuch amongst them. But she did not reveal this information to her brother. Although they had made no demands of her, by not killing her, they had extended their kindness.
Seeing Princess Changle deep in thought, Noble Consort Ji became somewhat impatient. But she knew it was likely that the Princess had remembered something, so she continued to wait patiently. After some time, when the Princess spoke, it was as if she was in a dream. “We only remember that they seemed to operate like an army unit. They maintained strict discipline and scrupulously abided by etiquette towards Us. Other than that, there weren’t any special characteristics. That man in black wasn’t too tall. His eyes were unsympathetic. That’s it …”
“Were those people from Great Yong or from Southern Chu?” asked Noble Consort Ji quietly.
Princess Changle gave a strange look to Noble Consort Ji before replying, “They shouldn’t be from Great Yong, as they did not seem to be as tall and lofty as the people of Great Yong.”
A distant and bare smile appeared on Noble Consort Ji’s face, as she said, “Princess has had an exhausting trip. Please rest well. We bid Our farewell.”
太宗, Taizong – lit. Great Ancestor, a posthumous name, likely refers to Li Zhi
明德门, Mingde Gate – lit. Gate of Illustrious Virtue; this was the main southern gate of the city of Chang’an, modern-day Xi’an
丈, zhang – ten Chinese feet (3.3 meters); about 132 meters wide
This is a poem by one of the four greatest poets of the Tang Dynasty, Luo Binwang (骆宾王), entitled “On the Imperial Capital.”
Chang’an was divided into three sections – the Outer City, the Imperial City, and the Palace City. The Outer City was main residential and commercial areas of the city. The Imperial City was the administrative center of the city and of the empire, containing the residences of important officials and imperial clansmen, as well as the official government offices. The Palace City housed the Imperial Palace and served as the home of the Emperor and his immediate family.
朱雀门, zhuque men – Vermillion Bird Gate; this was the southernmost gate of the Imperial City
Princess Changle’s name is Li Zhen
称心如意, chenxinruyi – idiom, lit. after one’s heart; gratifying and satisfactory, everything one could wish
寝食难安, qinshinan’an – idiom, lit. cannot rest or eat in peace; fig. extremely worried and troubled