Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Review of "The Fragrant Concubine" by Melissa Addey - an Uygur legend and a conflicting Chinese one.

The novel is based on a Chinese and an Uygur legend from the days that China invaded the Uygur region. Even today we see people applying from asylum blaming to be oppressed by the now communists Chinese government but in those days it was also a battle of beliefs where a Buddhist empire conquered a Muslim principality.


Lets start with a look at Wikipedia:


Fragrant Concubine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Khoja Iparhan/Fatimah binti Ali Khojam
和卓.伊帕爾罕
Consort Rong dressed in Manchu Clothes.JPG
Portrait of the Fragrant Concubine by Giuseppe Castiglione
Born11 October 1734
Died24 May 1788 (aged 53)
SpouseQianlong Emperor
HouseXojam (by birth)
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
The Fragrant Concubine (Chinese: 香妃; pinyin: Xiāng Fēi; Uyghur: ئىپارخان‎ / Iparxan / Ипархан) is a figure in Chinese legend who was taken as a consort by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century. Although the stories about her are believed to be mythical, they may have been based on an actual concubine from western China who entered the imperial harem in 1760 and received the title "Imperial Consort Rong" (容妃; Róng Fēi). Han Chinese and Uyghur tellings of the legend of the Fragrant Concubine diverge greatly, and her experience represents a powerful symbol for both figures. The story became greatly popular during the early 20th century and has since been adapted into several plays, films, and books.

Chinese legend

Although accounts vary as to some details, the basic story among Han Chinese recounts the discovery by the Qianlong Emperor of a Uyghur woman named Iparhan ("Musky Woman"), the granddaughter of Afaq Khoja, a local leader in the oasis city of Kashgar. Even more remarkable than her beauty was the scent her body naturally produced; captivated, the emperor sought her as an Imperial Consort for his harem. She was given as a gift to the emperor and carefully escorted all the way to the imperial palace in Beijing, washing every day along the road in camel's milk to preserve her mysterious fragrance.
Upon her arrival at the imperial palace, the Fragrant Concubine was given a garden and a luxurious room as a sign of the Qianlong Emperor's devotion. Homesick and distraught, she remained disconsolate as the emperor made ever-increasing efforts to recreate her distant village, building her a mosque, miniature oasis, and bazaar outside her windows in an effort to bring her happiness. Finally she relented and came to love him when he sent messengers to Kashgar to return with a jujube tree bearing golden fruit, and the Fragrant Concubine became the emperor's cherished consort until her death. An enduring symbol of national unity and reconciliation, her body was brought back to her home of Kashgar, where she is now entombed, in a procession of 120 bearers in a journey that took over three years.

Uyghur legend

Contemporary Uyghur renditions of the legend are considerably less romantic. She was the child of the ruler of the Yarkent Khanate and her name was Nur Ela Nurhan.[1] Taken away to the imperial palace in Beijing by the Qianlong Emperor, Iparhan arms herself with daggers up her sleeves, on guard against the hated advances of the emperor, until finally she was poisoned.[2]

Apak Khoja and Fragrant Concubine Tomb

Imperial Consort Rong's tomb in the Eastern Qing tombs
The Afaq Khoja Mausoleum (mazar) located outside Kashgar was built in 1640 and, in addition to encompassing a larger complex that includes a functioning mosque and madrasa, houses the coffins of five generations of the Afak Khoja family, including what is purported to be the body of the Fragrant Concubine. In fact, the real Imperial Consort Rong died of illness on 24 May 1788 and was buried in an imperial tomb in Beijing; the legend of the Fragrant Concubine first became closely associated with the Kashgar tomb in the late 19th century, and the connection has since been officially established and endorsed through a proliferation of signs and guided tours.[citation needed]

Source Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fragrant_Concubine

The Novel "The Fragrant concubine" by Melissa Addey

Writer Melissa Addey wondered how both legends could be so vastly different even when you consider the political implications of the era. She wondered if there could be a version in which both are true.

In the story Iparhan is a Muslim princess who sees her country invaded by the Chinese on the eve of her wedding and in no time she looses her home and her parents. Longing to take revenge on the emperor she hopes to swap places with a cousin who is sent to the Chinese court as a concubine for the emperor. But when that is no longer possible she captures a beggar girl who looks remarkably like her.

Someone once said that revenge is a double-edged sword. Her drive for revenge turns Iparhan into a crazy woman, I think, who destroys everyone who cares for her, and becomes a ruthless killer.

The girl she captures is dead poor and in the beginning does not object that much to the idea of a life in luxury but then is more and more scared by the madwoman.

Things get really complicated when Hidligh is at court and realises she loves the emperor and made good friends and wants to do everything to keep them save but on the other hand will lose her own life if it ever comes clear she was send to the palace to spy. The result is a very thrilling tale with dangers lurking everywhere.

I am not so familiar with Chinese history so the whole setting was intriguing as well. The Forbidden City is nothing like a Middle Eastern harem: all the concubines have their own palaces and most of the time the emperor will come to have dinner there and some horizontal sport. The women are also less secluded. What sounded so alien to me was that one's name changed with promotions and the emperor was not mentioned by his name after he had become emperor.

Life could be tragic or blissful depending on what the women wanted: some are completely forgotten by the emperor and really lonely and miserable others share a happy lesbian life glad he is not paying them any attention. Others cling to power because they want their child to be the next emperor. Or like the Empress and Hidligh are in love with the man but that is not necessary mutual.

In the end the writer composed the solution for both legends.

I really liked the novel. The story is thrilling and nerve-racking and the cultural setting is interesting.

A 5 stars out of 5.







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