These People Once Lived and Breathed......

Emperor T’ang Minghuang 

Beloved and benevolent he was, his name symbolic of a time of great expansion, peace and artistry. A ruler of extraordinary humanity, a musician and a painter, his sense of justice and compassion are legendary. His generosity extended to his own family and beyond, all the way to the everyday people, as he implemented such programs for the common good as flood control and grain storage to prevent famine. His humanity, as it turns out, is also his weakness; he is as susceptible to the power of love as any ordinary man.

Li Lin-fu

Twelve hundred years after he lived, his name can yet deliver a chill. Diminutive, sickly and ugly, he has only to summon men into his presence to turn their blood to ice. The highest official in the great bureaucracy of China, he enjoys many titles—Chief  Minister, Grand Councillor, Father—but his personal favorite is The Lizard. Commander of vast armies of spies and a system of internal intelligence rivaling anything in the modern world in reach and ruthlessness, dabbler in astronomy and mathematics, and ultimately more powerful than Minghuang himself, he is a man with a singular focus: unity of the empire at any cost. The Borgias would have trembled.

Kao Li-shih

Chief Eunuch and best friend to the Emperor, he is as loyal as he is shrewd, astute, brilliant and independent. A “Pure From Birth,” meaning he was “cut” before puberty, he is the ultimate outsider philosophically and temperamentally, but he perfectly sublimates all that he lost and all that he might have been and directs it toward service to Minguang. This does not mean subservience; he is one of the few mortals who speaks to the Emperor as an equal. He is six feet tall, freakish for that era, a truly imposing figure who radiates the integrity and authority of a deep, self-disciplined man.

Yang Kuei-Fei

She is the Precious Consort who turned an Emperor’s head and the course of history. From an aristocratic family, she was betrothed early on to one of the Emperor’s countless sons. Confined to a nunnery at puberty, she was trained for the life of a royal consort, including extensive “hands on” lessons in the art of pleasuring. The betrothal to the princeling is cancelled when Kao Li-shih chooses her as a gift to the Emperor. But all that she has studied—the trained sexual moves, the feigned bliss, the calculated cries—is abruptly discarded when the Emperor and the Precious Consort wander into territory neither had anticipated: actual love.

Lady of Kuo

The Precious Consort does not come to court alone. Here is the eldest of her three older sisters—all talented beauties, all intent on restoring the Yang family name to its rightful place at the Imperial court. No passive China dolls are they; all have ambition, all defy the era's sexual and social constraints of onerous convention dictating the place and behavior of women. The Lady of Kuo is literate, educated, and athletic, plays ferocious polo, daring to beat the Emperor himself in their first match. A major participant in hedonistic court frolics early on, the Lady of Kuo casts frivolity aside when her talents are needed to try to save a floundering dynasty and a shaky peace.

An Lu-shan

His name reverberates down through the centuries. Once an orphan and a slave, this illiterate but highly intelligent offspring of the far northern Mongolian Steppes and the legendary Silk Road ascends, via only his wiles, native talent, and ambition, to undreamt-of heights. Bearded, sensual, and with great physical strength and almost inhuman stamina despite being notoriously fat, he seduces the court with his crude playful charm and chest-thumping loyalty, presenting himself as son and protector. But he is a man of dark appetites, which eventually get the better of him; it is how his name, spoken aloud, came to sound like the hoofbeats of an approaching army.

Yang Kuo-chung

AKA “The Fox." In the words of one historian, he was a “…poorly educated, vagabonding, but handsome, eloquent and clever rascal…” Another dazzling Yang, this cousin of the Precious Consort and her sisters quits his bleak military post in the north, where he has also made a small fortune as a trader, the instant he gets a perfume-scented invitation to court from the Lady of Kuo. They resume a scandalous, high-profile, quasi-incestuous affair and partake lavishly of sybaritic court life; the papparazzi would have hounded them. But the dashing playboy grows abruptly out of the fun and games when, perforce, his many ceremonial titles turn deadly serious.

Ming Wu

Shape-changing Taoist Immortal, in her thousandth year of walking the earth, belt of bones and talismans clacking, single tooth glinting in her impudent lascivious grin, mocking, interfering, amusing herself among the mortals...or crazy old woman? The lines of reality and myth converge and dissolve in smoke and fever dreams. Do you smell earth, wet dead vegetation, rotting wood?  Has a silky female creature crept through the window and into your bed in the dark, had her way with you, keened her animal ecstasy in your ear, then revealed herself in the light as a desiccated hag, shaking with mirth, in the seconds before the lantern crashed to the floor? Watch out what you wish for, and whom you summon…..


You’ve been introduced to the major players of our story. But there is a vast and varied cast of supporting characters without whom, as they say, none of this would have been possible. Some are real names from history, others were dreamed into being. All are equally real to the authors: servants, eunuchs, soldiers, the T’ang poets Li Bo and Tu Fu, who were the real-life chroniclers of much of this tale; exiled officials going slowly mad in the heat and disease of the tropics, generals, criminals, scholars, physicians, a dwarf, a child prostitute, Tibetan monks, Madames, Silk Road thieves, hucksters, peasants and phantasmal creatures of delirium. And more. So many more. They await you.

Latest comments

08.03 | 09:51

Checking whether the domment replies have been fixed

12.02 | 19:49

I've always held a special pace in my heart for your the "Court of the Li...

18.11 | 00:53

Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Byrnes. It was indeed a shock, ...

14.11 | 14:10

Terrible shocking news. R I P, Mr. Altieri. Condolences to Mrs. Altieri , yo...