As we know, those lengthy dramas about Qing Dynasty concubines are very popular. I find myself rather engrossed in those dramas as they have so many plots and sub-plots, some concubine is always planning the downfall of another concubine as all of they vie for the affection and attention of the Emperor, which may lead to being the most favourite concubine or even being crowned Empress should the current Empress fall out of favour, whether it’s of her own doing or someone else’s machinations. All very interesting. The Empress Of Bright Moon By Weina Dai Randel is a 362 page novel which I finished in 2 days because I couldn’t stop reading. It’s about a young Wu Zetian, the one and only female Emperor in all of China’s thousands of years of royal history.
Actually, this is the second instalment of The Empress Of Bright Moon duology, the first being The Moon In The Palace. We know that Wu Zetian was born in A.D. 624. The Empress Of Bright Moon begins in A.D. 649 when Emperor Taizong is on his deathbed. Wu Zetian was one of Emperor Taizong’s concubines, her birth name was Wu Mei or Wu Meiniang and “Mei” is the name she is known as in the novels.
Mei fell in love with Emperor Taizong’s heir, Li Zhi known as “Pheasant” in The Empress Of Bright Moon (later Emperor Gaozong) while still Emperor Taizong’s concubine. Of course this kind of relationship was frowned upon as it was considered incestuous. When Emperor Taizong passed away, Mei along with all the late Emperor’s childless concubines who numbered in the hundreds, were sent to various monasteries.
In The Empress Of Bright Moon, Mei spends a few years in a monastery, each day hoping she will meet Pheasant again. One day, she escapes to another temple where the Pheasant and his Empress Wu (who hates Mei) is paying obeisance to his late mother, Empress Wende. Phesant smuggles Mei back into the palace without Empress Wu’s knowledge but all hell breaks loose when Empress Wu discovers the lady hidden away in a corner of the palace, especially when she finds out it’s Mei who is already pregnant.
The novel is rich in detail, it’s like watching one of those concubine dramas but at least it doesn’t take 80 episodes to get to the end of the story. Empress Wu has the backing of most of the court officials/courtiers and it’s difficult for Mei to survive when the powerful Empress wants her dead. The matter is compounded by the fact that Empress Wu doesn’t have Pheasant’s affections and despite being married for many years, she is still barren.
The Empress Of Bright Moon describes the death of Mei’s second child, a daughter. History tells us that in A.D. 654, the baby died not long after Mei had given birth to her. Mei’s servants claimed that Empress Wu was alone with the baby before she died. Thereafter, Pheasant is all the more determined to depose or divorce Empress Wu.
This is an excellent novel for anyone interested in Chinese history, particularly about Wu Zetian’s life. It ends when Wu Zetian is crowned Empress in A.D. 655. It’s a fascinating insight into the Tang Dynasty during Emperor Gaozong’s reign. It makes me want to look for The Moon In The Palace so that I can read about how Mei came into the palace.