———Spoiler Alert (by reading this, you might figure out who will survive at the end of the show )——
The Background of the show
According to the 1st episode, the story happened in 天保三载 (the third year of TianBao era) which implied 天宝三载 (the third year of TianBao era, AD 744) in real history. TianBao era was the most prosperous time in Tang dynasty and was also the turning point of Tang empire. An-shi Rebellion which happened in the 14th year of TianBao era (11 years after the show) almost destroyed the whole Tang empire and Tang empire never fully recovered from this devastating rebellion. (This fate was implied in 1st episode by the timekeeper.)
The Emperor in the show was Emperor Xuanzong (AD 685-762). And the Crown Prince in the show was Li Heng (AD 711–762), the third son of Emperor Xuanzong, who declared himself emperor in AD 756 (Emperor Suzong).
The real historical figures behind the characters.
李必 Li Bi
Li Bi was implied 李泌 (Li Bi or Li Mi) (A.D 720-789) in real history.
Li Bi was a trusted advisor to Emperor Suzong (the Crown Prince in the show), his son Emperor Daizong, and Emperor Daizong's son Emperor Dezong. However, he didn’t have much ambition and didn’t like political struggles (unlike Li Bi in the show). He declined to formally serve in the government of Emperors Suzong and Daizong, lived like a hermit and spend most of his time on studying Taoism. But when the emperor needed him, he would answer the call and serve the emperor (and resigned when the job was done). Although he didn’t constantly stay in the government, due to the emperor’s trust, he often became more powerful than the chancellor when he joined the government.
Unlike the TV show, Li Bi officially met Crown Prince Li Heng (Emperor Suzong) in A.D.751 (7 years after the TV show). At that time, he accepted the invitation of Emperor Xuanzong to teach Crown Prince Li Heng, but due to the envy of others, he quitted the job a few years later. However, during this period, he established a very deep friendship with Crown Prince Li Heng which later let him full-heartedly support Li Heng through the An-shi Rebellion (one of the most difficult times in Tang dynasty).
He eventually accepted the invitation of Emperor Dezong to become the prime minister in the government in A.D. 787 when he was 67 years old, but died only two years later.
林九郎 Lin JiuLang (the chancellor)
Lin Jiu Lang was implied 李林甫 (Li LinPu) (AD 683-753) in real history.
Li LinPu was serving as the prime minister for 18 years (AD 734-753) in Emperor Xuanzong’s government. He was a very capable official and made several important changes on the tax system and the bureaucratic system of Tang to keep them efficient during his career. On the other hand, he was also known for his flattery of the Emperor and tactfulness in political struggles. To keep his status, he tried his best to get rid of all potential political challengers and secretly grant more power to the regional military governors to exchange their support and loyalty.
He died in A.D. 753 in illness. Due to lacking competent officials, the bureaucratic system in Tang empire began to crumble after his death. Two years later, the warlord An Lushan rebelled against Tang empire and declared himself emperor in Northern China.
Since he didn’t support Li Heng when Li Heng was chosen as the Crown Prince, he was afraid that Li Heng would revenge against him when Li Heng became Emperor. So he always tried to persuade Emperor Xuanzong abolish the Crown Prince Li Heng and choose another heir which made the relationship between him and Li Heng even worse. Ironically, he didn’t live to see Li Heng became emperor. But Emperor Suzong indeed tried to destroy his grave and body as a revenge, it was Li Bi who stopped Emperor Suzong.
姚汝能 Yao Runeng
According to the author of the original novel, in real history, Yao Runeng was the author of a historical record called 安禄山事迹(The Life Story of An Lushan). It was a very important historical record to study Anshi Rebellion (the rebellion of An Lushan). However, we know little about its author Yao Runeng. We only know that he was once the police commissioner of Hua Yin county.
In TV Show, Yao Runeng said that his grandfather was 姚崇 “Yao Chong”. Yao Chong (AD 651－721) was a very famous official of Tang Dynasty and Wu Zetian's Zhou Dynasty. He served as chancellor and other important position under four empress/emperors —— Empress Wu Zetian, her sons Emperor Zhongzong and Emperor Ruizong, and her grandson Emperor Xuanzong. Being respected by both Emperor and common people, he was granted the honorary posthumous title “文献” (means “erudite and dedicated”).
It was also true that Yao Runeng said his father disgraced his family name. Yao Yi, third son of Yao Chong, was once accused of corruption.
张小敬 Zhang Xiaojing
According to the author of the original novel, he picked the name “Zhang Xiaojing” from Yao Runeng‘s book The Life Story of An Lushan who appeared only once in that book. He was mentioned in the paragraph of hunting the notorious chancellor Yang Guozhong —— “骑士张小敬先射国忠落马” (It was the horseman Zhang Xiaojing who first shot Guozhong down from the horse).
Remember Yao Runeng told Zhang Xiaojing that he was writing stories to sell in the black market and he wanted to write Zhang Xiaojing as a characters in his book? He kept his words.
元载&王韫秀 Yuan Zai & Wang WenXiu
Yuan Zai (AD 713-777)
In real history, Yuan Zai was indeed working at the supreme court (Dali Court) during Tianbao era and he married Wang WenXiu, the daughter of general Wang Zhongsi. Although we don’t know when they get married, it’s likely that they were married before Yuan Zai came to Chang’an, when he was a nobody. Because there is a poem written by Yuan Zai called “别妻王韫秀”(Farewell my wife Wang WenXiu) which stated that Yuan Zai decided to seek opportunity in Chang’an and bid farewell to his wife Wang WenXiu (because he was a nobody at that time and his life in Chang’an would be very hard).
Interestingly, there is also a poem written by Wang WenXiu called “同夫游秦” (Accompanying my husband to Chang’an) which stated that Wang WenXiu decided to accompany Yuan Zai no matter what kind of life might wait for them in Chang’an.
Yuan Zai eventually became Emperor Daizong’s chancellor in AD 762. He proved to be a very capable official, however became corrupt and treacherous soon. In AD 777, Emperor Daizong lost his faith on Yuan Zai and gave an order to force him and his son (who was also corrupt) to commit suicide and confiscate his property.
Wang Wenxiu (?-777)
In history, Wang Wenxiu had a very good reputation (much better than her husband Yuan Zai). It said that she was very heroic and had a good insight when she was young. She married Yuan Zai when he was a nobody, and they had a very good relationship. When Yuan Zai became corrupt, she tried to talk him around, but failed.
In AD 777, Yuan Zai and his son were forced to commit suicide because of corruption. According to Tang’s law, Wang WenXiu, as Yuan Zai’s wife, would also be turned into a government-owned slave served in the Emperor’s palace. However, Emperor Daizong knew she was very erudite and asked her to be a librarian and recorder. But she didn't want to live alone and answered: “王家十二娘子，二十年太原节度使女，十六年宰相妻，死亦幸矣，坚不从命!” (I’m the twelfth child of Wang family. I have been the daughter of the warlord in Tai Yuan for twenty years, been the wife of the chancellor for sixteen years. Even if I die right now, I already had a happy life. I will never accept.) Officers tried to beat her to obey, but she refused till death. (some sources said that she was pardoned by Emperor Daizong.)
严羽幻 Yan YuHuan
Yan YuHuan was implied 杨玉环 (Yang YuHuan) (AD 719-756) in real history. She was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong during his later years, however her relationship with the royal family was a bit complicated.
In AD 736, Yang YuHuan married Li Mao, the Prince of Shou, the son of Emperor Xuanzong and his beloved Consort Wu (Yes, she first married Emperor Xuanzong’s son). One year later, Consort Wu died in illness and Emperor Xuanzong was in great sadness. During this period of time, Emperor Xuanzong met Yang YuHuan. It’s likely that their meeting was elaborately planned, because when Emperor Xuanzong met Yang YuHuan, she dressed up as a Taoist with a Taoist name ‘Taizhen’. (This is why she was often called Yan Taizhen in the show.) Emperor Xuanzong didn’t recognize her at first sight and quickly fell for her beauty.
However, her identity was soon exposed but Emperor Xuanzong still decide to take her as his consort. To prevent criticism, In AD 740, he asked her to be a Taoist nun to pray for his mother (who already died long time ago). Yang YuHuan accepted his request and moved into a Taoist temple inside the Emperor’s palace. Once Yang YuHuan moved into the palace, became the favorite woman of the Emperor Xuanzong. It is said that ‘Qing Pin Yue, A Spring Day in the Forbidden Palace’ we heard in the show actually was the description of their palace life. However, due to the public pressure, Emperor Xuanzong didn’t offer any title at first. (In the show, Yan complained that she already dressed up as a Taoist for seven years (737-744) still couldn’t get a recognition.)
In AD 745, the Prince of Shou married a new wife (hence officially divorced with Yang YuHuan) and a month later Emperor Xuanzong officially made Yang Yuhuan an imperial consort. Afterwards, lots of Yang’s relatives entered the high rank of government including his cousin Yang Guozhong who became a notorious chancellor (See the chapter of Zhang Xiaojing).
In AD 755, after An Lushan rebelled, Emperor Xuanzong, Yang Yuhuan and other royal family members escaped southward. When they and their escorts arrived at Ma Wei Yi (or Ma Wei Courier Station), the imperial guards became angry at Yang Guozhong who provoked this disaster. They proclaim that Yang Guozhong was planning treason and killed him. Emperor Xuanzong came out to comfort them, but the general of imperial guards publicly urged Emperor to execute Yang Yuhuan. Having no alternative, Emperor Xuanzong and his servant Gao Lishi (Guo Lishi in the show) strangled her in a Buddhist temple.
Pictorial explanation of Buliangren (不良人) - Chinese only, no English translation.
Pictorial explanation of Shouzhuolang (守捉郎) - Chinese only, no English translation.
不良人 (Bu Liang Ren) literally means ‘not good people’. Much like today's detectives and police officers, they were members of the law enforcement agencies in Tang dynasty who were in charge of detecting and arresting crimials.
It's not clear why they were called 'not good people'. One explanation is that they were once petty criminals or people had connection with local gangs so it's easy for them to collect news from locals. Another explanation is that it was original called 捕良人 (Bu Liang Ren) which means 'capturing citizens', however due to some errors in transmission, it became the 'not good people' we know today.
In real history, 守捉郎 (Shou Zhuo Lang ) were garrisons in frontier cities in Tang dynasty. According to the military system of Tang dynasty, 守捉 (Shou Zhuo) was a garrison troop of 300-7000 men. They were normally living in a castle or citadel called 'city of Shou Zhuo' with their families. Since the power of central government was declining in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, it's possible that some garrison troops became outlaws or bounty hunters in TianBao era.
Li Bai (AD 701-762) was the most famous poet in Chinese history, and a (probably good) swordsman. To be brief, he was the superstar of Tang empire in his day. In the show, it was the third time he visited Chang’an.
In AD 742 (two years before the show), after knowing Li Bai’s name from Princess YuZhen and He Zhizhang (He Zhizheng, the old director of JinAnSi, in the show), Emperor Xuanzong summoned him to Chang’an. Li Bai met Emperor Xuanzong in the palace and won his admiration. Emperor Xuanzong offered him a job in Hanlin academy, an academic institution founded by Emperor Xuanzong himself where elite scholars could perform secretarial and literary tasks for the court.
Li Bai happily accepted Emperor’s offer because he always wanted to serve the country with his talent. This was the peak of Li Bai’s life. He was often invited to high rank private parties. Whenever he made a new poem, it rapidly became popular among singers and common people just like today’s pop songs (In the 1st episode opening, the singer was practicing his poem 'Qing Ping Yue, A Spring Day in the Forbidden Palace'). Lots of people wanted to meet him, or meet other high rank officials through him (like Cheng Shen in the show, BTW Cheng Shen later became a famous poet in history). However, he later found that Emperor only wanted him to write more poems and beautiful articles. And when it came to politics, no one would take him seriously. On the other hand, he was too arrogant to stay in the bureaucratic jungle and made some enemies (since no one took him seriously, he didn’t get into too much trouble).
He wrote lots of poems and ballads about the life in the palace during this period and finally got tired in AD 744 (the year in the show). In the autumn of 744, he quitted his job and traveled to Luo Yang.
Almost all songs in the show (those hard-to-understand ones) were written by Li Bai himself in 1200 years ago, however it was the film crew who make those poems into music again because the original tunes have long lost.