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A Royal Concubine’s Tragedy

Drunken Chicken

By Tim Hazell

China and Japan are inextricably linked together. Japan evolved rapidly after legendary Emperor Jimmu founded the first dynasty in 660 BC, marking the consolidation of Japanese society and style. China’s older culture and aesthetics reflect deep refinement and awareness of beauty. This vast and ancient land with its cloistered emperors and teeming population dominated oriental philosophy, art, and letters for thousands of years. The Tang dynasty (AD 618–905) opened new directions in Chinese literature. One of its prominent women, Empress Yang Kwei-Fei (719–756), author and consort of Emperor Xuangzong, led a life of intrigue and ultimate betrayal at the hands of the country’s Imperial army.

In the wake of the Anshi Rebellion, soldiers accompanying the royal entourage who believed that she was responsible for China’s upheaval demanded her death. Yang Kwei-Fei hanged herself rather than surrender to the army. Her talents and fame were marred by alcoholism. She is remembered today in poems like the following verse by Po Chu-Yi (772–846) and one of her favorite recipes, Royal Concubine Chicken.

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow

China’s Emperor yearning, for beauty that shakes a kingdom,

Reigned for many years, searching but not finding,

Until a child of the Yang, hardly yet grown,

Raised in the inner chamber, unseen by anybody,

But with heavenly graces that could not be hidden,

Was chosen one day for the Imperial household.

If she turned her head and smiled she cast a deep spell;

Beauties of Six Palaces vanished into nothing.


Royal Concubine Chicken

(Tender chicken with ginger cooked in a casserole)

Serves 4


1 chicken, about 3 pounds

4 slices ginger root

1 medium onion

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp ground black pepper

2 spring onions

Oil for frying

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

3 level tsp salt

3 1/2 cups white wine


Chop ginger and onion coarsely and place in a bowl. Add soy sauce and black pepper. Stir to blend the ingredients, then rub the chicken inside and out with the mixture. Marinate for three to four hours. Cut the spring onions into half-inch pieces. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, remove the ginger/onion coating from the chicken and reserve.

Brown the chicken in hot oil for several minutes. Immediately immerse the chicken in the boiling water to remove all the grease. Lift out the chicken, place in a casserole and pour in the stock.

Add reserved ginger/onion mixture, spring onions and salt. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to a preheated 375 F oven for 45 minutes.

Skim the surface of the liquid to remove all fat and impurities. Turn the bird over, return to the oven and cook a further 30 minutes. Skim again, add wine and place casserole back into the oven for a final 45 minutes. Serve in the casserole.

This dish was renamed after Yang Kwei-Fei and is also called Drunken Chicken. It tastes strongly of wine but is pure in flavor and very tender, symbolizing her personality and tragic life.


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