No one holds better high-society parties than courtesans throughout history, and in no period in history of the Chinese were courtesans held in such high regard by court official and literati alike than the Tang dynasty China.
To commemorate this special tribute project to the forgotten courtesans of East Asia, my hanfugirls and I have gathered to produce this set of calendar for 2020, based on ancient dates in the 8th century Tang dynasty which we imagine that they would be using to organise their days and parties around! And of course, like all respectable entertainment houses of the great era, we have a name–Swallow Pavilion (Yanzilou 燕子楼). This was the name of an actual pavilion owned by renowned courtesan of the Tang dynasty, Guan Pan Pan (my namesake). Yes, it’s real in history! Except that it wasn’t so much of an entertainment house, but more of a love nest her husband and her. 😛 (What? Courtesans have husbands? oh yes~ will share more in time to come).
For a start, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang dynasty in the 8th century was like the FIRST emperor to formally institute public/national holidays into the state law and calendar! And he is also the first emperor to officially add a 3-day holiday into the national calendar for nation-wide celebration–obviously subsequent emperors in Chinese history then readily adopted/continued it to perpetuate their narcissism. The less narcissistic ones would reduce it to one day, others would have it for 3. If the emperors do it, of course everyone else would start to follow, so emperor Xuanzong’s probably also the guy who started the concept of birthday leave.
The Tang dynasty (7-10th Century China) is probably (or arguably) the period with the best parties in Chinese history that fuses Persian and Indian music and dance with that of the Chinese. And the greatest party organiser and goer was none other than Emperor Xuan Zong (Emperor Illustrious August) himself! I have records to prove it:
In his 43 years of reign, he created the highest record of organising/hosting large parties and celebrations–23 of them (although each spanned just 3-5 days). Whereas the famous female-emperor Wu Zetian (his grandma) was ranked second at 20 parties within her 25 years of reign (but her parties spanned over 2 weeks!). The two of them probably defined what it means to be party emperor and empress (emperor>king, empress>queen, cos we’re Chinese :P).
So, we all know that the Chinese has historically been an agrarian society, and they follow the seasonal celebrations for farmers really closely like the 24 solar terms that breaks the year into 24 season-related parts. But what happens to the city folks in its capital during its heyday of Tang dynasty where a million of residents from all over the world gathered without the need to farm? Well, as it turns out, important farming dates to the city folks are just excuses to party!
One of the funnest day to party would be the Spring Lantern Festival (falling on 8 Feb 2020). Traditionally during the Tang dynasty where the streets between different neighbourhoods are close everyday without fail after the night curfew sets in. It was on this special occasion that the curfew was removed, and residents could roam the streets freely till the wee hours, admiring the beautiful lighting installations in town and hanging out. A lot of love stories in traditional Chinese tales also were set on this date as men and women incidentally bump into each other and fell in love while out at night. It is also that one party that is supposed to end all parties during the Spring Festival–kinda like your parents telling you, ok time to wrap-up! Last hour of craziness and it’s time to get back to work!
So yes, it’s always on the last day of the Spring Festival celebration. Singapore has the Chingay parade towards the end of the Spring Festival celebration where extravagantly decorated floats parade through the streets with dancers and musicians. In a way, now that we know how it was traditionally celebrated, it gives the event a lot more meaning than just a parade. Kinda like the Karneval parade tradition in the Rhine region of Germany.
Since we are talking about parties, we definitely need to start introducing our Tang courtesans, who were the predecessor of Geishas, Oirans and Gisaengs who are probably much better known in today’s world than the Tang courtesans. While many Chinese shows and readers would mistake courtesans for prostitutes, in the coming months, I will be sharing a lot more about these talented women who sat as equals with top men of their time, and who inspired a large part of the Tang and Song poetry. While there were strict hierarchy to adhere to in terms of dressing and accessorising oneself, when one’s in the courtesan’s entertainment house, rules are meant to be broken. So we would see them in lavish silk wear and gold accessories, and they were always inspiring the latest fashion trends in society when they adopt new foreign influences in their dressing.
A Tang courtesan was both a muse and an artist in her own right. While Tang women were known for their extremely daring eyebrow styles, the courtesans were the ones who lead the trend, thus, they were also known as the “Brow Ambassadors” of their period.
We’ve listed all the celebratory events throughout 2020 based on the imagined life of a courtesan and court official so that you can always look forward to a party day to unwind! The only occasion where the courtesan’s entertainment house is closed for business is when it falls on the death anniversary of an emperor or empress. Otherwise, anytime is a good time to visit!
Since we’re in the final month of 2019, we’ll open orders for this special edition calendar until 15 Dec so we have enough time to get them printed and mail them to you by 2020! (fingers crossed)
To order, you may go to THIS PAGE. It’s S$25 including postage within Singapore, and S$30 including postage to anywhere else in the world!