Friday, March 4, 2016




Blurb; Caroline Wong, one of Ipoh’s grandest tai-tai cum socialites, Calvin Lee and Lim Ai Juan organised a fun for fund charity dinner called ‘Dynasty Women’ inspired by Empress Wu Zetian, China’s first and only female emperor!

Dedicated fund-raiser Caroline Wong watched the entire 96-episode ‘Empress of China’s series on ASTRO and was bedazzled by the elaborate, exquisite and exotic costumes worn by the Tang court.

“I and my friends were fascinated by both costumes and lavish hair-dos and like little girls, felt it would be great fun to dress up like Tang dynasty women. So we organised a charity dinner called ‘Dynasty Women’,” explains Caroline Wong. “Calvin Lee is Malaysia’s most famous impersonator of Anita Mui and has organised many singing contests. He invited previous winners to sing in homage to the emperor.”

Ai Juan runs AJ Training Centre for hair and make-up and got 40 of her students to participate and pay for their own costumes and headgear which cost RM 500 to RM 1,000. The Emperor and Empress costumes and accessories cost RM 2,000 each. All were imported from China.

Says the charming Caroline Wong. “We purposely sold each table at low prices at RM 1,000 to fill Kinta Riverfront hotel ballroom.”

“We not only had to dress the part but played the part! Tang ladies of high rank tended to be overweight as this was seen as a mark of beauty and wealth as the rich could eat good food! But of course none of us purposely put on weight though those with extra kilos were pleased!

 “My make-up took 2 hours and my hair 1 hour. Even in Tang days, the hair was a wig but arranging the various ornaments, flowers and jewels took time.”

Forty three tables were sold and RM 3,000 was presented to New Horizons Early Intervention Centre and RM 3,000 donated to PMA Chan Meng Khor MAA Medicare Charity Dialysis Centre.
It was pomp and pageantry on a poetic scale.

Once guests were seated, the emcee announced the arrival of high-ranking consorts, concubines, court ladies and maids-in-waiting followed by the emperor and empress which left everyone gasping.

Caroline Wong and Calvin Lee insist they were not playing the roles of Empress Wu Mei Niang and Emperor Gao Zhong. “These historic characters are too strong for us to impersonate and  we could not carry the role. I also feel ‘pantang’ (superstitious) to claim I was playing Wu Zetian! Officially the 40 Ipoh ladies wore ancient Chinese costumes inspired by Tang dynasty and I was wearing an empress costume with no claim to anyone though anyone can assume anything!”

Singer Marcus Kam as master of ceremony played the role of Prime Minister to great aplomb and was very witty with his banter and off-the-cuff remarks.

Singers representing various ethnicities then performed. “We decided not to have Chinese songs exclusively as these singers represented various countries like England, France,Japan and even Egypt paying homage to Emperor Gaozong.”

After the grand entrance and singing, Emperor and Empress took leave. Later the Emperor appeared on stage surrounded, as expected, by flirtatious concubines pandering to his whims while trying to line their own pockets!

One concubine told the emperor she possessed the private part of a dinosaur and offered it to the emperor for a ‘little’ token. Another claimed to have a magic light shining from her headgear which she hoped to light up the emperor’s heart. The third asked for a new robe of gold and silver thread lined with pearls while the fourth wanted a new palace.

Of course the empress stormed into this soiree and gave a ticking off to each concubine.

Laughs Caroline Wong, “I admonished the first concubine for implying the Emperor needed help to increase his libido and strengthen his manhood. I scolded the second for not using her so-called magic light to shine on dark places that really required illumination.

“As for the third concubine who asked for expensive and ostentatious robe, I advised her to turn that big dress into many small ones to clothe poor children. As for the greedy fourth concubine who asked for a new palace, I ordered her to build a hospital, orphanage or even a temple where she could pray to Buddha for the good of the Tang dynasty!’

The audience lapped it up as the conversation was in Cantonese, a language laden with innuendos, double meanings and puns!

Most know Empress Wu Mei Niang as Wu Zetian. How this came about is the stuff of legend.

After her sickly husband Emperor Gaozong died, Empress Wu became Dowager Empress and tried to rule. Her eldest son took a swipe at the throne but was derailed by his mother who sent him into exile. She installed her second son, knowing he was not emperor material nor did he want to rule so Empress Wu cited his speech impediment as excuse and announced herself as Emperor of China.

In Chinese, ‘Emperor’ was interchangeable with ‘Empress’, ‘Empress Consort’ or ‘Empress Regnant’ but as she had no husband, this meant she was effectively Emperor.

This caused a mega sensation. Not only was she a woman (and a bossy one at that), she entered court life as a lowly 5th rank concubine though she rose to become the consort of Emperor Taizong, the father of Emperor Gaozong! She had slept with father and son! A scenario never seen before!

After Emperor Taizong died, by custom Wu was sent to be a nun in a temple for the rest of her life. It was her great good luck the new Emperor Gaozong had secretly been in love with her since he was a teenager and promptly brought her back to the palace!

Upon her self-declaration as Emperor/Empress, many courtiers revolted, declaring the ruler had to be a Son of Heaven, not a daughter as this was the Mandate of Heaven.

In front of everyone, Empress Wu Mei Niang uttered the immortal words, “Heaven? I (Wu) am Heaven!”

‘Tian’ means ‘heaven’ and ‘ze’ is ‘am’ so ‘I am Heaven’ became ‘Wu Zetian’ or ‘Wu is Heaven’!

A thousand years later, French King Louis XIV did a Wu Zetian. When his courtiers asked him to consider the welfare of the state instead of his interests, he shouted ‘L’Etat? C’est moi!” which meant ‘The state? I AM the state!’

As for the 2015 TV series ‘Empress of China’ starring Fan Bing Bing as Empress Wu and Aarif Rahman as Emperor Gaozong, so many records were established a book could be written. At a staggering cost of RM 220 million for 96 episodes, it is the most expensive TV series in Chinese history.

The spectacular costumes alone beggar the imagination. As Empress Wu, Fan Bing Bing wore 260 sets of clothes and accessories while the crew had 3,000 outfits. The most expensive was the dragon robe costing RM 310,000! Shooting all 96 episodes took only 10 months but the writers laboured 3 years to complete the script.

One week after Hunan TV broadcast ‘Empress of China’, it was abruptly taken off the air. The Chinese government was shocked at the plunging necklines and seductive cleavages! Though the costumes were historically accurate, the producers had to cover the bosoms with digital fabric!

Incredibly, main male star Aarif Rahman who played Emperor Gaozong is Malaysian! His father is a Malay and mother Hong Kong Chinese. Growing up in Chinese dominated Hong Kong, he used his mother’s surname and was known as Arif Lee. But it is said a feng shui master predicted he would be a world famous superstar if he reverted to his original Malay name of ‘Arif Rahman’ and added an extra ‘a’ to ‘Arif’ to be ‘Aarif’. 

This unusual spelling has never been used as it is either ‘Arif’ or ‘Ariff’. But the feng shui master said his name should have 4 ‘a’, hence Aarif Rahman! Names containing double alphabets are good feng shui as seen in ‘Lillian Too’, ‘Jennifer Too’ and ‘Kee Hua Chee’!

After shooting ended, Aarif Rahman flew to Xian to visit the tomb of Emperor Gaozong who has made him a household name in the Chinese world. That’s paying proper respects!


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