Saturday, June 14, 2014

Historical Profiles - China's Four Beauties

古語有云: 中國四大美人「沉魚落雁,閉月羞花」
According to legend, China's Four Beauties sunk the fishes, downed the birds, eclipsed the moon and shamed the flowers.

Xi Shi (Sonija Kwok) and Fan Li (Chen Kun) in The Conquest
Xi Shi (西施) was the beauty that sunk the fishes. Allegedly, whenever she looked into a pond, the fish will forget how to swim and sink to the bottom. Xi Shi lived during the Spring and Autumn period, at a time when her home state, Yue, was subordinate to the neighbouring State of Wu. In a bid to weaken the State of Wu, King Goujian of Yue (越王勾踐) asked his minister, Fan Li (范蠡), to present a group of beauties to King Fuchai of Wu (吳王夫差). Xi Shi was selected as part of the group and Fuchai instantly became so infatuated with her that he completely neglected his state affairs. Fuchai ordered palaces and parks to be built for her, eroding the wealth of the state. Eventually, Goujian was able to easily defeat the weak State of Wu and Fuchai was forced to commit suicide. After the fall of Wu, the common belief was that Xi Shi eloped with Fan Li to live a peaceful life on a fishing boat.

Wang Zhaojun (Rain Li) and Huhanye (Gallen Lo) in Lady Wang in Exile
Wang Zhaojun (王昭君) was the beauty that downed the birds. Legend has it that on her journey away from her hometown, she played sad tunes that caused the birds to look down. The birds were so dazed by her beauty that they forgot to flap their wings and fell to the ground. Wang Zhaojun was a candidate to be the concubine of Emperor Yuan during the Han Dynasty. However, because she had refused to bribe the imperial artist, the artist presented the Emperor with an ugly portrait of her and she was not selected as concubine. Later, Wang Zhaojun volunteered to marry the Xiongnu leader, Huhanye (呼韓邪), to secure friendly Han-Xiongnu relations. Before departing, she appeared before the Emperor who saw her true beauty for the first time. Although he could barely stand to part with her, he could not cancel the political marriage. With the marriage, the two nations were able to coexist peacefully for 60 years. In accordance to Xiongnu tradition, she married the next leader after her first husband’s death.

Diaochan (Chen Hao) and Lu Bu (Peter Ho) in Three Kingdoms
Diaochan (貂蟬) was the beauty that made the moon hide itself in shame. She was the adopted daughter of the Han Dynasty minister Wang Yun (王允), who used her in a plot to defeat the evil warlord Dong Zhuo (董卓). She was simultaneously offered to Dong Zhuo and his adopted son Lu Bu (呂布), causing rift between the two men. Seizing on the opportunity, Wang Yun convinced Lu Bu to murder Dong Zhuo. Diaochan’s fate afterwards is unknown, with accounts varying from her being killed by enemy forces to being released by Guan Yu and becoming a nun. There is actually little historical evidence to support the existence of Diaochan; most of the details about her were from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, historical records did mention that Lu Bu had an affair with Dong Zhuo’s maid.

Yang Guifei (Anne Heung) and Xuanzong (Kwong Wah) in The Legend of Lady Yang
Yang Guifei (楊貴妃) was the beauty that made the flowers shut. She was initially married to the son of Emperor Xuanzong (唐玄宗), however, her beauty caught the eye of the Emperor and he decided to take her for himself. The Emperor went to great extents to please her. For example, he ordered the fastest horses to run in relay style to deliver fresh lychee, her favourite fruit, from a thousand miles away. He also bestowed great honours on her family, including naming her cousin Yang Guozhong (楊國忠) as chancellor. The Emperor became uninterested in state affairs and as a result of Yang Guozhong’s manipulative tactics, the dynasty was soon sent into disarray by the An-Shi Rebellion. The Emperor fled the capital, along with Yang Guifei, and was later forced to put her to death in order to pacify his angry soldiers, who saw her as the reason for the dynasty’s decline.


  1. Nice post! You always manage to make awesome historical posts, maybe some famous empresses like Wu Ze Tian?

    1. Thanks, will definitely look into writing a post about her :)

  2. Looking forward then!