The Consort of Closed Fists

Lady Gouyi (Zhao Jieyu)

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The Consort of Closed Fists
by Lixin Foo

When the Emperor banished her in chains, her fingers moved on instinct.

As a child, she’d made a habit of clenching her fists in the face of adversity. Any blow by her stepmother could be borne with her joints locked tight. When her father arranged for her to become the local landlord’s ninth concubine, she clenched them bone-white; defiant.

The legend of her fists spread far and wide. Until one day, an augur whispered it into the ear of the most powerful man in China. At the old Emperor’s touch, her fist fell open — revealing a jade hook left as her grandmother’s only heirloom.

Lady Gouyi, they called her then. The Consort of Closed Fists.

Now, the once-beloved concubine glanced down at what the eunuchs had delivered to her prison door.

Beside the poisoned wine lay a single sheet of paper parchment, inked in an intimately familiar hand. Countless nights had she spent, grinding ink blocks into liquid sludge for the same man to craft royal decrees by candlelight.

For a son to prosper, his mother must perish.

So her husband had left her one last consolation before execution.

Had he agonized over this decision? Would he think of her at all, when they spirited her coffin away to be hastily buried as a disgraced concubine?

Phantom muscles pulsated in her fingers; the old impulse returning. But Lady Gouyi did not clench her fists now.

After years within the Palace’s gilded cage, desperately vying for royal affection, all to bear a child for fourteen months —

Perhaps death, with the promise that her favoured Fu Ling would ascend the throne one day, would mean freedom.

As her silhouette cast flickering shadows across the ornately patterned palace walls, Lady Gouyi felt the weight lift off her body.

She would depart as a sweet scent on the wind, leaving behind only a pair of shoes as proof of her worldly presence.





她紧握的双拳成为了扬名四海的传奇。直到有一天,术士将此事传到了中土里权贵至尊的男人耳里。在老皇帝的触摸下,她的拳头松了开来 —— 从而露出了掌心中祖母遗留的玉钩。








这么多年来,在皇宫瑞丽的笼子里绝命地争夺龙宠、只为了怀胎十四月 ——





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Lixin Foo is a Psychology undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. She co-founded and is the current design director for PLAYSET!, a literary magazine for youths, by youths.

You can connect with Lixin via her podcast on ancient history here:
Twitter: @ancientparallel; Instagram: @ancientparallels
Illustration of Lady Gouyi (Zhào Jiéyú / 趙婕妤) via Wikimedia Commons from the Qing dynasty book, Bǎi měi xīn yǒng / 百美新詠, edited by 顔 希源、王翽.