Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Friday, January 12, 2018

Water resources in Ancient China, part 2: Hot springs in Xi'an

In Xi'an over New Years. Xi'an was a former capital of China during several dynasties, particularly the Tang Dynasty, at which time it was known as Chang'an. There is a reconstruction of what the city looked like during the peak of the Tang Dynasty, when it was the most populous city in the world.

Water, was of course, of paramount importance, and I seem to recall that the capital had to be moved numerous times because of drought. Building canals was one of the solutions over the past millenia.

Xi'an (then Chang'an) had something that other potential capitals, such as Luoyang and Xuchang lacked--natural hot springs. What could be better in a cold climate (especially in winter) than an apparently inexhaustible supply of hot (43C) water? The Tang emperors knew a good thing when they saw it, and built a palace (the Huaqing Palace) on the site.

The palace complex is quite considerable, and includes a number of temples. It had been built on the site of earlier palaces as well, all of which took advantage of the hot springs.

The Emperor in question, Xuanzong, was renowned as a musician (and, according to the tour guide, was regarded as the most romantic emperor in history).

Being musically minded, it seems natural he would fall for a dancer.

The story follows that this same emperor really knew a good thing when he saw it, as he next built a special pool for the dancer--his favourite concubine. So the guide asks, "Do you know what made her so beautiful? It was because she was fat." This makes sense. Fat people are well-fed, and well-fed people are more likely to have healthy children.

Hot water bubbles up from the earth, emerging at the foot of Li Shan, and is conveyed by a series of pipes to a number of pools. Note the hot water emerging from the dragon's mouth in the above picture.

The imperial bath is octagonal, symbolizing the eight directions. The upper shape is that of a lotus, which is the symbol of purity.

Part of the imperial changing room

Yang Guifei's (the concubine) pool. The hole in the centre was not a drain--at one time there was a pipe there and the artesian pressure was high enough for a shower. Now that was luxury.

So after all this build-up about how fat the concubine was, we arrive at her statue.

Perhaps I am a bit jaded, but she doesn't seem fat to me at all. And I know fat--I'm from North America. Maybe she's fat by Chinese standards.

Modern Chinese woman in Shanghai.

And as for the "most romantic emperor" in Chinese history? Eventually, there was a rebellion, which he was too busy enjoying himself in the pool with his beloved to pay much attention to. They had to flee for their lives, and his soldiers blamed the young lady for the troubles of the state, telling him that they would not defend him anymore unless he disposed of her. And what does a romantic emperor do? Off with her head! In the struggle between love and power, there can only be one winner. It's a disappointing ending, but not as disappointing as it must have been for the young lady.


  1. Was there not another Emperor's concubine who asked to be punished because she had distracted him from urgent affairs of state?
    Some of these ladies were very smart, as well as beautiful.

  2. I'm not sure about your story, but of course there was the famous Wu Zetian, who started out as a concubine during the Tang dynasty and eventually became emperor. Her story is told in a ballet which is shown nightly in Xi'an. Unfortunately, they leave out all the good parts: the seduction, bribery, blackmail, backstabbing, and poisoning she used to get to the top. Instead, the story shows us a sweet young girl who, through her love of the emperor and purity of heart, rises to imperial power.

    After her, numerous other concubines thought they could repeat her performance, but none ever did, probably because emperors became more suspicious of their concubines, pre-emptively beheading them if they seemed to be currying too much favour with important officials. Sad, but you can always replace a pretty face when you're the king.