Zhao Feiyan

Emperor Cheng (37-2BC) of the Western Han Dynasty was highly impressed by the grace of two dancing girls who performed in the home of his sister, Princess Yang'a. The two girls were twins. The elder sister was especially light and fragile, like a swallow. To the emperor, she seemed as if she could perform her wondrous dance on the palm of his hand. He was enchanted. When the banquet was over, Emperor Cheng took the two girls to his palace and gave the elder sister the name Feiyan which means "Flying Swallow."

The twins' father was an impoverished music teacher named Feng Wanjin. His wife bore him two daughters; the elder named Yizhu and the younger, Hede. Following the death of their father, the twins and their mother became vagrants. They travelled to Chang'an, the capital, where they were taken in by a servant, Zhao Linsuo from the household of Princess Yang'a. They adopted his family name. Yizhu and Hede grew up to be women of great beauty and grace. As their natural father had nurtured their musical talent and dancing skills, they were able to work as dancing girls in the princess' residence.

Dance is a magical art which can dazzle, enchant and awe the audience. Zhao Feiyan and her sister made full use of their charms to gain the undivided attention of Emperor Cheng. Before long, they were both awarded the title Jieyu, meaning  "Beautiful Companion" denoting that they were concubines of the second rank. After Emperor Cheng had cast out his former favourite, Zhao Feiyan became his empress and her younger sister was given the title Zhaoyi, making her a concubine of the first rank. It is said that for the next decade, the emperor favoured only Zhao Feiyan and her sister. He kept company with them every day but, unfortunately, neither of them bore him any children.

Emperor Cheng died suddenly as a result of his dissipated lifestyle. His younger brother accended the throne, and he too became besotted with the sisters. Throughout his reign, he was always at their side. When he too, died asudden death, Zhao Feiyan and her sister were immediately stripped of their positions.

Having received imperial favour for two reigns and having been appointed mothers of the nation; the sisters were mortified by their sudden fall from grace. Ashamed to show their faces in public, Zhao Feiyan and her sister committed suicide together.

The common folk, however, had little sympathy for the sisters for it was widely believed that they had used their dancing to bewitch the emperors and brought harm to the country. Few realised that the emperors had brought the destruction upon themselves.

Zhao Feiyan video clips