So the most prestigious Entertainment House 燕子楼 (Swallow Pavilion) of Chang’an, the grand capital of Tang, is accepting applications for talented apprentices for a minimum commitment period of 1 year.
And who else but Hanfugirl is deemed to be worthy of this scoop!
If you don’t know already, the Tang courtesans were the OG (original) inspiration for Oirans and Geishas. The top Entertainment Houses during the 7-10th century China were hosted by extremely educated and talented women who were valued by literati for their artistic attainments above their beauty. The culture eventually spread to Korea and Japan, before taking on the form of Oirans and eventually Geishas (who were originally men btw!) which are what most people would be familiar with today.
And the rumours are true–Courtesans can choose the level of intimacy they want with their patrons, so if the said patron was not talented and didn’t court her properly by showering her with gifts and whatnot, they have no chance with the courtesans. There was even a book in later era on how to court a courtesan, pretty much like The Game (just ancient format).
Of course, like all apprenticeship in the 8th century, this is not paid. Payment by exposure, fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perspective) was very much practised in those days (nothing’s new I guess!).
Staying true to tradition, naturally, the Swallow Pavilion is no exception to this rule. Nothing delights Hanfugirl more than to write about a reimagined Tang apprenticeship with all its hybrid culture, arts, and fashion.
And did I mention? The Entertainment House is helmed by Mamapan, a former
beauty flower queen who has all the imperial and foreign connections one needs to get anything done in this city. Some say that she is half Sogdian and shares similar foreign ancestry as the Tang imperial family, others claim that she was cousins with Consort Yang who was also said to be of foreign descent.
Hanfugirl knows the truth behind her powerful connections.
Maybe I’ll tell you one day. But for now, you can try to find out for yourself by applying to be an apprentice.
Mamapan has high standards for her courtesans, and by extension, their apprentices. She believes that languages provide access to cultures and arts, and knowledge of Chinese and another foreign language is critical. No one can join her if they can only communicate in one language or culture, because her guests are from as far away as Da Shi 大食 (modern-day Middle East), as well-traveled as Sogdians (modern-day Iran), as spiritual as Tian Zhu天竺 (modern-day India) and as artistically acclaimed as top poets of her time.
She also prides herself on being able to poach the most talented courtesans and retain them for a long time (Human Resource 101). The knowledge and artistic attainment of her courtesans put them on the same level as scholars of their times, and they were often invited to sit as equals at banquets hosted by top literati.
When it comes to succession planning, her favourite quote is “Every respectable Geisha has a Maiko, and Every respectable Courtesan has an Apprentice”. Apprentices start from the bottom of the food chain. At the most basic stage, Apprentices do not host parties or drink with the patrons. They are dedicated to their artforms such as poetry, music, dance or painting. They shadow the courtesans to parties and do their biddings in what is commonly known today as “on-the-job training”.
And more important than talent is the ability to keep secrets as there are dark secrets lurking behind all the glitz and glamour.
If you are intrigued, try applying!
You can meet the courtesans at the interview, and find out about the life you never knew existed.
OR, you can wait for a year to catch a glimpse of it as a patron.