梅楊爭光各自悲 Plum and poplar each vying for the light; both ended in sorrow.
人生短短何時了 Life is short, when will it all end?
雲鎖盧山有日晴 Clear days there will be, even on cloud locked Mt. Lu.
The plum represents Mei Fei, 梅妃 the Plum concubine a title that Emperor Hsuan Tsung of the T’ang Dynasty bestowed on her because of her love for plum blossoms. While she was the favourite, different species of plum trees were sent to her from the ends of the empire. She was a slim beauty. The poplar is the surname of the infamous beauty, Imperial concubine Yang who caused an empire to collapse around her skirts. Known to be plump, the beauty standard of the time. There’s a popular saying, “skinny plum and fat poplar” (梅瘦楊肥). The light alludes to Emperor Hsuan Tsung. When Imperial concubine Yang (poplar) became the favourite, it was Lychees that were brought to the capital on an 800 mile journey from Canton daily on special dispatch.
Each had a tragic end. Concubine Mei was reputed to have committed suicide by throwing her into a well during the An Lu Shan rebellion. Other sources claimed that after the rebellion her corpse was dug up from a plum tree and there were blade marks found at the side of her body. The aggrieved emperor reburied her with the rank due to her status. Still others claimed that she was never found despite the huge rewards given by the Emperor. Neither Taoist priests could locate her in Heaven or in Hades. Most probably she just wanted to get away from that heartless emperor.
Imperial concubine Yang on the hand was forced to commit suicide by hanging during the flight from the capital city with the emperor looking haplessly when the escort soldiers rebelled refusing to proceed further to Szechwan until she is dead.
Mt. Lu is a famous mountain in China, often shrouded in mists and clouds. Rarely does one get a clear view of it.
The last 3 characters of the last line when orated in Cantonese sounds like友日情 meaning “one day there will be friendship”. Of course it is impossible between the two now that their fates had been sealed by history.
Note: There is another similar saying, Slender swallow full figured ring (燕瘦環肥). This one however is of a more complimentary tone, comparing two beauties. Flying Swallow (趙飛燕) Empress of Han Cheng Ti (漢成帝) reputed to be so slender that once when she was dancing and the wind blew, she flew like a swallow and the emperor had to grasp her skirt for fear of being blown away. Jade Ring is the personal name of the ‘fat poplar’ – Imperial concubine Yang.