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The Palace of Eternity

The story of "The Palace of Eternity" contains all the elements of a powerful drama: a grand empire, a war, a well-accomplished emperor, a great beauty, and a love tragedy. These elements are exquisitely woven into a Kunqu masterpiece by the poet and playwright Hong Sheng. "The Palace of Eternity," with its 50 acts of beautiful songs and poetic lyrics, has mesmerized Kunqu audiences for more than 300 years while Hong Sheng established himself as one of the greatest dramatist in Chinese history.

The love story of the Ming Emperor of the Tang dynasty and his favorite consort Lady Yang has been a popular subject of plays and poems. History recorded that the Ming Emperor started his reign as a dedicated ruler, and the Tang Empire enjoyed peace and prosperity for a while. However, the emperor's early accomplishments are overshadowed by the corruption and disturbances in his later years. The Emperor turns out to be better known for his infatuation with the beauty. In composing his play, Hong Sheng chose to portray the Emperor as a passionate man with true love for a special woman in his life. From this angle, "The Palace of Eternity," unravels a moving story and takes us through the joys and tears of the Emperor.

Ding Qing (The Pledging of Love)

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Yang Yu-huan, a beautiful palace maid, catches the eye of the emperor. The emperor takes her for a concubine and gives her a title of ladyship. As a token of love, the emperor gives Yang a gold hairpin along with a jewel box. Yang carries this gift with her, and makes good use of it, for the rest of her life.

Xu Ge (A Lovers' Spat)

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The emperor stays with Consort Plum for a night. Stunned at the new, Yang wastes no time to draw him back. She runs to the quarters of Consort Plum and maneuvers the emperor away from Plum.

Jing Bian (A Disrupted Party)

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Emperor Ming and Lady Yang stroll hand in hand among the lovely autumn foliage in the imperial garden. The Emperor orders Gao Lishi, a eunuch in his court, to set a banquet for two. Lady Yang sings and dances to a song based on Li Bai's poem "Tunes of Lucidity and Serenity." Surrounded by such enchantment the Emperor urges Lady Yang to drink with him until she is intoxicated. This is the most significant episode of this masterpiece, in that this scene of unbridled passions and high display of 'la joie de vivre' is followed immediately by a coup d'etat which causes the tragic death of Lady Yang, the downfall of Emperor Ming, and ultimately, it marks the beginning of the decline of the Tang dynasty.

Mai Yu (Burying the Beauty)

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On their journey to Sichuan, the emperor takes a rest at the Ma-wei station just to find his escort troops turning into a mob. The troops slay Prime Minister Yang, Lady Yang's brother, and demand that Lady Yang be put to death. While the emperor refuses to comply, Lady Yang sees no way out and agrees to sacrifice herself to exchange for the emperor's safety. Having no choice, the emperor, torn, gives in. Yang hangs herself with a white silk cord.

Wen Ling (The Chiming Bells)

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After the death of Lady Yang, the emperor and his escort troops move on. Caught by a rain, they take shelter in a tower. Sitting in the tower battered by the wind and rain, the emperor is drowned in sorrows. The bells under the eaves chime in, only to sink him deeper.

Ku Xiang (Grieving over the Statue)

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Taking refuge in Sichuan, the exhausted emperor abdicates the throne. Missing Lady Yang, he has a shrine built and places her statue in it. Viewing the statue, the emperor is overwhelmed with both the sweet and the bitter memories.

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