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Four Beauties of China

Guest Author - Caroline Baker

Studying women in Chinese history, one must start with the Four Beauties. These are legendary females celebrated in Chinese history for how they used their looks to help a greater cause. Most of the time, the downfall of some evil tyrant. Thus, their stories are not just of their beauty but of their cleverness as well.

These four women have been depicted in literature, art, screens, music, and stories to young girls. Many paintings from China have tried for centuries to depict their true beauty in their portraits. Movies, Chinese Operas, and even songs have been written about their lives.

Xi Shi - The first of the four beauties, lived during the period of time known as the Spring and Autumn Period, 722 BC - 481 BC. The period got its name from writings by Confucius and is a time of many warring states. The king of her land was not long imprisoned but humiliated by King Fu Chai, the gregarious ruler of a neighboring state. In a plan for revenge, he recruited the most beautiful woman of his lands, Xi Shi, trained her in the ways of espionage and seduction. With her help, King Fu Chai rule was brought to an end.

Wang Zhaojun - Living during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220AD), Wang Zhaojun is believed to have lived around 30 BC. The time was known for many problems with the "barbarians" to the West, known as the Xionghu and later Hun tribes. The Xionghu chief demanded to marry one of the concubines from the Han court. Wang volunteered, sacrificing herself for the peace of the land. The Emperor agreed to send Wang, finding out only too late that she had been his most beautiful concubine rather than his most ugly. Because of her courage, the China and Xionghu existed in relative peace for 60 years.

Diao Chan - Believed now to simply be a character written in a story called Romance of the Three Kingdoms during the Ming dynasty, this fictional character continues to hold a place in Chinese history. During the later part of the Han Dynasty, a tyrant warlord named Dong Zhuo destroyed many parts of the land, including causing the death of Diao Chan's parents. She was adopted by an official named Wang Yun. But when Dong Zhuo threatened the life of her new father, she stepped up and used her beauty to become a concubine to Dong Zhuo and a wife to his best warrior, Lu Bu. Through manipulating jealousy between the two, she convinces Lu Bu to kill Dong Zhuo and the warrior is killed for his betrayal.

Yang Guifei - Her story resembles star-crossed lovers of Western plays. As wife to the son of the emperor in the Tang Dynasty, she came in contact with Emperor Xuanzong. Now, it should be noted that it was not unusual for Chinese custom to have a very young son, especially a Prince, marry a woman several years his senior as his first wife. The Emperor fell in love with Yang but could not technically show affection for his daughter-in-law. So instead, he declared she becomes a nun and through his right as Emperor, he brought her into his court and eventually made her his top concubine. Unfortunately, there was unrest in the country and while the Emperor spent his time thinking about Yang Guifei, his empire was falling apart. Yang was blamed for his downfall and the Emperor's men and advisors demanded she be killed or they would no longer protect him. He gave into the demands and Yang Guifei sacrificed her life so that the Emperor and the empire might continue.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Caroline Baker. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Caroline Baker. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Inci Yilmazli for details.

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