Lament at Changmen Palace chapter 1

Chapter 1 (Oneshot)

– Notes –

This novel narrates the true story between Emperor Han Wudi (Liu Che) and his first wife, the deposed Empress Chen Jiao. Their story has been encapsulated into a chinese idiom called “金屋藏娇” (jīn wū cáng jiāo), which literally means ‘putting (Chen) Jiao into a golden house’.

This saying originated when, in his childhood, the Emperor Han Wudi declared that if he could marry his beautiful elder cousin, Chen Jiao, as his wife, he would treasure her with all his heart to the extent of building her a golden palace to live in. Later, though Han Wudi married Chen Jiao, she eventually lost his favour. After being accused of dabbling in witchcraft, she was deposed.

Although Chen Jiao was often portrayed as a jealous Empress, this novel attempts to view history from her perspective.

Changmen Palace, literally translated, means Long Gate Palace.



The breeze was soothing; the sun hung high in the sky.

Within the majestic walls of the Han imperial palace, some corners were chilly and desolate while others bustled with activity.

Perhaps you would never experience such loneliness. Because you are the Heaven admired by all the common people, the most desired man in the hearts of all women in the imperial palace.

I stood at the terrace of Changmen Palace, my gaze far into the distance as my eyes followed your figure.

At this moment, the affection within your eyes could not be concealed as you stared intently at Wei Zifu. I was not sad, neither was I angry nor jealous. Only, a coldness had sunk its claws into my heart, melding with my increasing hopelessness.

Slowly, I began to believe the words my mother had once said: the more you loved, the more you stood to lose.

And I – I have already lost you.


Changmen Palace was the golden palace you built for me. I had always thought that it was a castle representing our love story – a fairytale where we had a lifetime of happiness ahead of us.

Then, you were still a young man. So young. It was during my father’s banquet at Guantao Palace where we first met. Your mother held onto your hands as you observed the entire room, your eyes lit with childlike curiosity.

Eventually, your stare landed on my face. A pair of clear and bright eyes met yours, reminiscent of the lakes in the imperial gardens.

My mother, the Elder Princess Guantao, was a woman with great ambition. She viewed me as a tool in her bid to vie for more power and influence.

She told me that my face was enough to subdue the hearts of all men.

Except, in one early morning, my face was powerless in conquering the woman named Li Ji. Li Ji was the mother of the Crown Prince, Liu Rong. When my mother proposed for Liu Rong and I to wed, I was rejected owing to the longstanding enmity between my mother and Li Ji.

If I hadn’t been rejected in such a manner, my mother would never have been so angered and humiliated. Neither would she have joined hands with Wang Zhi, your mother. Then, we would never have met.

Many years later, as I stood within the cold palace of Changmen and stared in the direction of Changle Palace, I still remembered, that year, you once promised to built me a golden palace and treasure me with all your heart if I gave mine to you.

You must have forgotten your words.

When you said to me that you wanted to make Wei Zifu your consort, you must have already begun to forget.


Everyone said that our marriage was merely a political wedding. Your mother wanted to become the Empress while mine wanted me to become the future Empress. Together, the two of them schemed and calculated, until they finally succeeded in pulling the Crown Prince, Liu Rong, off the throne.

Liu Rong died a tragic death. He was humiliated and he died with untold grief and injustice. All he wanted was just some water, yet no one within the entire palace dared to serve him a cup of it.

When I had gone over, his eyes were still bright and shining. In a small voice, he whispered something into my ears.

No one ever knew that Liu Rong’s last words to me was that he loved me.

He loved me, but he could not.

Back then, the real reason his mother rejected my hand in marriage was simply because she could not allow her son as the future Emperor to possess love – a weakness.

As he said his last words to me, the resentment within his eyes faded away. It was with serenity that he accepted his death.

I cried loudly. The four walls of his room bore witness to my sorrow.

That was the first time I came face to face with death. I looked at Liu Rong as his body began to still, until there were no longer any more movements.

I think it was that day where you held me in your arms. For a long time, you did not say a word. Without question, you were grieving. You had lost an elder brother, even if the two of you had never been on close terms. You murmured that the Crown Prince should have gone to Heaven for he did no wrong.

His only mistake was to be too kind and guileless.

That day, we sat under an old tree, staring quietly at the moon within the skies. The both of us were unwilling to return to the unfeeling palace. You said, were it not for the fact that you were born within the imperial family, life would have been much simpler. You would have been able to watch the sun rise and set each day, without having gone through the struggles for power.

Everything would be calm; at peace.

We sat there from nightfall until dawn arrived the next morning, when we were discovered by the palace servants.

Not long later, I married you to become your Crown Princess. I remember that on the day of our marriage, thousands of commoners lined the streets of Chang’an as they celebrated our joining.

As I sat within the imperial palanquin, I had a long and beautiful dream. I dreamed that when I had finally become an old woman, you were still the man who held my hands. In my dream, you had also aged into an unrecognizable old man, your face lined with wrinkles.

But you smiled at me as you called my name: Ah Jiao, Ah Jiao.

When I woke up, you were standing next to the palanquin. With a soft voice and two eyes filled with tender affection, you said to me, Ah Jiao, from now on, you will be my only consort.

You brought me to Changmen Palace.

My eyes were greeted with gold, shining so brilliantly under the sunlight. You turned to me and said that you have finally fulfilled your promise – you have built me a golden palace.

Without warning, my tears fell. It turns out, the words you had said so carelessly that day were from the bottom of your heart.

I asked, why did you still remember?

You said that you remembered every promise you have ever made towards me.

That you have never forgotten them.

You said that I was the only woman you, Liu Che, have ever loved.

That I was your only consort; that in the future, I will be the only Empress of Great Han; that you will love only me in our lifetimes.

The promises you made then were heartfelt.

They were heartfelt, so they were also heartless.

In the first place, I should not have treated them as a vow for eternity. Except, we women often thought of things as being set in stone. To you, a promise could be carelessly given, just as a lie could be carelessly uttered. In the end, our love was built on carelessness.

In those days, the stories of our love spread like wildfire through the country. Within Great Han, which woman did not envy me, a person who lived within the golden palace you, the Emperor, had built for me?

Indeed. Just like you the way you had vowed, you devoted all your love towards me.

When you finally ascended the throne, I became your Empress.

All was well.

Except, my mother, the person who conspired to put you onto your throne years ago, continually tried to obtain credit for her achievements.

She was arrogant, and had been raised as such. She thought that everyone would endure her vile temper and wilfulness the way my father had. Countless times, she reminded you of her role in your ascension, demanding for you to treat me well, or she would just as easily be able to pull you off your throne the way she had aided you to kingship.

She said these words only to threaten you.

But she never knew that what you hated most was to be threatened.

Perhaps, this was the reason why you began to distance yourself from me.


Changle Palace.

Changle Palace was traditionally the place of residence of the Empresses of Great Han. Except, I was much more willing to continue living within Changmen. So, in those few years when I was still the Empress, Changle Palace remained empty.

I did not know how grand or luxurious Changle Palace was. I did not care about that, the same way I did not care about my title as the Empress of Great Han.

The only thing that mattered to me was you.

I stayed in Changmen Palace only because it was the fairytale castle which you had created for me. I thought that if I remained within this fortress, our fairytale would last for a lifetime.

Until one day, the bubble burst and another woman moved into Changle Palace.

Only then did I finally begin to understand just how fragile a man’s love could be.


It all began in the manor of Princess Pingyang.

It was there where you first met Wei Zifu. Back then, I was sitting right next to you. When that beautiful songstress dressed in colourful silk weaved an enchanting dance for us, your soul was hooked in an instant.

I looked at your hands, which had unconsciously reached out.

I froze, then asked you, was everything fine?

You retracted your hand and said that all was fine.

But you never knew that the expression within your eyes betrayed you.

When the song and dance was finally over, you anxiously asked Princess Pingyang for the name of that songstress.

It was at that moment when I first understood that in the story of love, there existed a word named jealousy.

I was jealous of that songstress, jealous of the way she was able to seduce you. I envied her youth, envied the way she was able to do as she pleased, to use all sorts of tricks befitting her low-born status to gain your favour.

You never knew that I was also an excellent dancer. Better, even, than that songstress. Except, she danced only to obtain your affections, while I could only dance for myself.

My mother had never allowed me to dance. She said that girls who danced were lowly, and as aristocrats, how could we lower ourselves to partake in such an inferior sport?

So, I had never danced for you.

If I had known then that you would be so easily captivated by a woman who could weave an enchanting dance, I would have abandoned all propriety to dance for you.

That day, I lost my temper with you. Crying as I used hate-filled words in demanding an explanation from you.

If, at that time, you had patted my shoulders, or simply stayed by my side, then perhaps I would have continued to believe that your love towards me remained unchanged.

But you turned and left without a second glance.

You said that I was becoming increasingly unreasonable. You warned me to never forget that you were the Emperor. That the world was yours for the taking.

That night, you returned to Princess Pingyang’s manor.

You spent the night with a songstress named Wei Zifu.

Just like that, you betrayed our promise.


Not long after, with an impassive voice, you told me that you would be conferring Wei Zifu the title of your consort. You were firm and you were resolute. I was not given a chance to protest.

In that instant, the hatred and injustice which had accumulated with my heart exploded. I shouted at you. I said, what kind of person was she? She was merely an inferior woman, a vixen with a bag of tricks to enthrall you. I said, did you love her because she could spin a captivating dance? But so could I. Did you want to see?

Never had I seen your expression become so twisted. You said that you were disappointed with me. That with such a narrow heart, I was unfit to be the Empress. That no matter if I agreed or otherwise, your mind was set.

When you left, it was with a heart full of anger – an Emperor’s wrath.

I chased you, asking if you wanted to see me dance. Did you? Do you?

You did not even bother to respond.

But you did not realise that that was the first time I had lowered my pride to plead with you.

That night, I shut myself within the room and danced till dawn.

In the end, I finally understood why a dance was meant to be performed for another.

Because without another person to appreciate, even the most enthralling dance would also became a picture of loneliness.

Very soon, Wei Zifu became your new favourite within the palace. When that happened, you stopped coming to Changmen Palace. All the servants and slaves huddled together in groups as they laughed at the miserable end of the woman who lived within the golden palace.

It came as no surprise when the newest topic of discussion was when the woman named Wei Zifu would become the new Empress.


The 4th year of the Yuanguang era of the Han Dynasty. Snowfall.

I stood at the terrace of Changmen Palace and watched as the snow accumulated on the grounds. Even as I held the lute within my hands, somehow, I was unable to play a single tune.

One day, I met Zhuo Wenjun, the daughter of Zhuo Wangsun.

Zhuo Wenjun was a beautiful and elegant woman. Though her face blossomed with happiness, it did not conceal the sorrow within her eyes.

She played a song of Two Phoenixes. I had never heard such a melodious song before, as though it were a gift from the Heavens.

Zhuo Wenjun told me the stories about Sima Xiangru.

She said that there will never be a person who would be able to move her heart the way he had. When she said these words, there was no trace of bashfulness within her demeanour. She was a confident and stubborn woman.

She said to me, Your Majesty, I envy you. The Emperor really treasures you – for you, he built a golden palace.

I told her that love was like a beautiful piece of cloth. When you wanted to treasure it by hiding it away, it would only hasten its crumple into innumerable folds.

The more you tried to hold onto love, the faster it slipped through your grasp.

Liu Che, I only knew all of these, because it was a lesson you taught to me.


Everyone said that Wei Zifu was an easy-going and humble woman, as generous as she was benevolent.

Even you.

So I never once told you that it was Wei Zifu who framed me for practicing witchcraft.

I had been wronged beyond salvation, and you were convinced that I was the mastermind.

In the grand arrest which swept across the country, I was seized.

Throughout it all, your expression was colder than ice.

Beside you stood Wei Zifu, delicate and pretty.


The 5th year of the Yuanguang era of the Han Dynasty. Spring.

By the fifth year of the Yuanguang era, Changmen Palace had long fallen from its days of resplendence to become a cold palace.

The Spring which arrived that year brought with it the most bitter cold I had ever experienced in my twenty-six years of life.

You arrived at Changmen Palace, bringing with you the entirety of the harsh iciness of Chang’an city. You said that my heart was as vicious as a serpent’s, and I was incapable of benevolence. You said that I was unsuitable to be an Empress, the virtuous Mother of the country.

You announced the decree to depose me.

I accepted your scroll from the hands of the eunuch.

Slowly, I said to you: if you announce this decree once more, I will accept it.

If – you – announced.

I thought that a silver of compassion would have risen in your heart. Even if I became a disgraced, deposed Empress, I would still have a place within your heart.

A position which could never be replaced by another.

How could you not know that from the beginning till the end, I did not care for that precious crown belonging to an Empress? I was only afraid that from then on, I would lose you forever.

But I still lost you.

You had that one moment of hesitation. I saw the tears in the corners of your eyes.

Then you turned your head away.

With your back towards me, you repeated that decree once again.

I asked, would you still come to Changmen Palace? Would you?

That day, for the first time, I danced for you.

Yet my very first dance accompanied my abandonment. Your desertion.

That day, everyone within the city of Chang’an was crying.

The accusations of my dabbling in witchcraft implicated hundreds of people, and you gave an order for all of them to be executed without exception. I heard that at the execution grounds, even the most hardened executioners were visibly struck by the bloodbath.

That day, Wei Zifu was named the new Empress of Great Han.


It has been a long time since you last visited Changmen Palace.

I should not have harboured any hopes, yet I still continued to hug my lute every day, awaiting your arrival. As the days passed, I began to wither away. The imperial physicians said that my illness was a sickness of the heart. They were afraid that if this went on, I would…

I wanted so much to see you once again. But it was only when I stood at the terrace of Changmen Palace did I manage to get a glimpse of you. From the terrace of Changmen Palace, I was able to see the insides of Changle Palace. I saw you, staring tenderly at Wei Zifu as the both of you stood within Changle. Occasionally, you would look in the direction of my palace, yet your palanquin never once arrived at Changmen.

Finally, I put my pride down and pleaded with Sima Xiangru to create a poem for me. To use the most sincere words to narrate my heartfelt feelings.

Before I wasted the last of my youth and beauty away, I wanted to see you for the last time.

The Ode of Changmen was Sima Xiangru’s gift to me.

It propelled him to fame, but in the end, it did not bring you to me.

Sima Xiangru told me that you had written a letter to me, promising to meet me in the Southern Palace at noon the next day.

I retrieved the rouge which I had left untouched for a long time and began to draw my face. Beyond the cold palace of Changmen, the flowers had blossomed, their colours enchanting. Huge petals, as striking as the red of blood.

I waited for a day –

You did not arrive.

I waited for three days. I did not eat and I did not sleep.

And you – you did not come.

Later, I heard from the whispers which spread that Wei Zifu had used her child’s illness to stop you from turning up. It was clear to all that she had a motive. In every second of her life, she was constantly on her guard to protect the happiness which she had snatched from me, afraid that everything would return to the way it once was.

I heard that for three days and three nights, you remained in Changle Palace by the bedside of your Prince, your child with Wei Zifu.

I heard that Wei Zifu placed your child into a cold bath water for over two hours, causing him to contract a severe cold.


A long time later, I began to understand the value of a golden palace.

If Wei Zifu loved you, then her story could only have ended the way mine did.

People often said that the limits of love lay in one’s ability to endure – to endure the fact that the man we loved would have three wives and four concubines.

Wei Zifu managed to tolerate. So, she accompanied you by your side for thirty-eight years.

She could accomplish this because she did not love you.

All along, what she wanted was never love.

If, from the beginning, all I wanted was only the precious throne belonging to an Empress, perhaps I would not have lost you as quickly as I had.

But I wanted to be your only, just like how Zhuo Wenjun was Sima Xiangru’s one and only.

I wanted a love like theirs.

I was destined to never receive it.

Because I had forgotten that I wanted the love from a man who could never love me.


Later, a great fire broke out within Changmen Palace. The blazing fire burned for an entire day. The luxurious golden palace which was once so resplendent was reduced to ashes within a night.

I stood there and laughed. Laughed until the tears fell from my eyes.

What the fire destroyed was a love that everyone had envied. An empty love, built on gold.

Many people gathered around the ruins of Changmen Palace. They cried. I saw my mother amongst them, her eyes stricken with anguish. In the years that have passed, the arrogance within her had long been smothered by you, and she had been reduced to a frail woman.

My mother clung onto your sleeves, the way any mother would have, crying as she pleaded for death to release its hold on me.

She said, return my daughter to me.

My beautiful, clever, obedient daughter.

That day, you were not angered.

Even as my mother forgot her status and pulled at your robes in her grief, you were not angered.

Because you were as grief-stricken as she was. You fell to your knees on the grounds outside the ruins of Changmen Palace.

Wei Zifu said, Your Majesty, don’t be sad.

She patted you on the back.

You pushed her away even as you continued to spiral down the depths of sorrow and unbearable solitude, murmuring feverishly to yourself.

You said that you had let Ah Jiao down –

That within this vast palace, the only person who truly understood you was only Ah Jiao.

That all the other women loved you the way they loved an Emperor, but Ah Jiao was the only one who loved you the way she loved her husband.

You said, of course you understood. How could you not have?

But you were the Emperor, and an Emperor was forbidden from loving.

Love was a weakness no Emperor should have.

You said, if there were truly a second life, to let the both of us be reborn as common people, away from the power struggles of the imperial palace.

In the end, you did not allow them to close my coffin.

With the grandeur befitting an Empress, you held my funeral.

For a long time afterwards, you remained inconsolable. Like a lost child, you stared at the ruins of Changmen Palace. You made Simia Xiangru repeat The Ode of Changmen over and over to you.

You said that you had only deserted me, treated me so coldly then, because you wanted to subdue my prideful self. You said that I was too cold and aloof. That I had never once bowed down to you. That you only wanted to change me.

Wei Zifu’s existence was your attempt in subduing me. If I had learned to acquiesce with your wishes, you would never have brought Wei Zifu back to the palace.

You said Wei Zifu was me –

A substitute compliant to your every wish.


You knelt, covering your face with your hands.

You seemed to have heard my voice, lingering with sorrow. You turned your head to look, your eyes searching, but you could not see me.

As the birds sang and the flowers bloomed, a butterfly fluttered in the skies, gently falling.

You never knew that I once flew by your side.

That I stopped by your shoulders, blowing your tears away.

The breeze, light and gentle.

Then, I was only a small butterfly, using the entirety of my life to let you remember a woman named Chen Jiao.


The Buddha said that butterflies did not have souls.

So, when I transformed into a butterfly with a pair of black wings and limpid eyes, I thought that I would never experience love nor sadness ever again.

A long time later, I finally withered away by your shoulders. I had flown over the great mountains and the vast seas only for you – to see you for the last time.

But the Buddha had never warned me that butterflies were forbidden from longing for their past lives –

The price we paid was to be eviscerated, never to be reborn.

But even as I faded away, I heard your voice, softly whispering:

In our next lives, let us begin afresh.  

– End –

Some thoughts: 

As mentioned, this was based on the true story of the deposed Empress, Chen Jiao.

Although this story was a tragedy from beginning till the end, I felt that the author was very kind. She chose to spin the story in a way which hinted that, at the bottom of his heart, Liu Che did truly love Ah Jiao, but in history, this was likely not the case.

Chen Jiao died alone and was buried far away. There was no salvation for her, even in death. Liu Che never turned back. The fact that this was a true story and actually happened to a real person makes it so much heavier.

In history, Wei Zifu did not have a happy ending either – she later committed suicide when her son, the then Crown Prince, Liu Ju, was forced to suicide after being falsely accused of treason. After Wei Zifu, Liu Che also favoured other women, including Lady Zhao, mother of Liu Fuling, the future Emperor Zhao of HanSidetrack: Tong Hua’s Song in the Clouds (云中歌) does a wonderful job in portraying the political landscape in Liu Fuling’s reign, interspersed with his romance with Yun Ge. 

Knowing all these, you may think that Liu Che was a descipable man, but what if I told you that the later generations held him in high regard due to his achievements as Emperor Han Wudi? Han Wudi was thought to be one of the best Emperors, leading many reforms.

In ancient China, an Emperor was expected to have many wives. New pleasures replace old affections – to them, the fate of these deserted women were not a big deal.

But many of these women withered their entire lives away within the imperial palace, their stories untold.

Chen Jiao was just one of them.

It isn’t fair, I know.

But history is rarely pretty.

Lament at Changmen Palace

Lament at Changmen Palace

Changmen Yuan, Lament at Changmen Palace, Lament at Long Gate Palace, 长门怨
Score 8
Status: Completed Type: Author: , Released: 2006 Native Language: Chinese
A long time later, I began to understand the value of a golden palace.If Wei Zifu loved you, then her story could only have ended the way mine did.People often said that the limits of love lay in one’s ability to endure – to endure the fact that the man we loved would have three wives and four concubines.Wei Zifu managed to tolerate. So, she accompanied you by your side for thirty-eight years.She could accomplish this because she did not love you.All along, what she wanted was never love.If, from the beginning, all I wanted was only the precious throne belonging to an Empress, perhaps I would not have lost you as quickly as I had.Note: This oneshot narrates the true story between Emperor Han Wudi (Liu Che) and his first wife, the deposed Empress Chen Jiao. Their story has been encapsulated into a famous chinese idiom called “金屋藏娇” (jīn wū cáng jiāo), which literally means ‘putting (Chen) Jiao into a golden house’.


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