王昭君 (Wáng Zhāojūn)
Wang Zhaojun is one of the Four Beauties of ancient China
, along with Xi Shi
, Lady Yang Guifei
and Diao Chan
. Apart from her looks, she is also famous for marrying a tribal leader and going to live with him beyond the borders of China (which was a great deal at that time).
Wang Zhaojun was born Wang Qiang (王嫱 Wáng Qiáng) during the Han Dynasty
. She became one of the many girls who were candidate
s for concubinage
to the Han Emperor Yuan (汉元帝 Hàn Yuán Wáng). As a court lady, she was not allowed to wander around the palace
; instead, all these ladies were kept in a special part of the palace where the Emperor could be sure that they would not have contact with any men besides the court eunuch
For a court lady to be able to meet the Emperor was impossible if he did not initiate
the meeting. The only way they could arouse the interest of the Emperor was by having a flatter
ing picture of them painted, as the Emperor would choose his partner only by this mean
s. Therefore, the court painter
at that time, Mao Yanshou (毛延寿 Máo Yánshòu), was used to receiving bribe
s from the ladies for this purpose.
Legend has it that Zhaojun refused to pay him the bribe
he expected. To take revenge on her, one version of the story said that he deliberately painted a picture of her that pale
d in comparison
with the other ladies. The other version said that he painted her just as she looked, with the addition of a mole just below her eye (seeming to resemble
). When the emperor took an interest in her, Mao pointed the mole out and said that it was not an auspicious
sign, as it signified that the woman would cause the people close to her to suffer a tragic
The result of this was that the Emperor never paid any attention to Wang Zhaojun all the time she was in his court.
During this period of time, an interesting political
alliance had been made and was in the process of being cemented further. The predecessor
of Emperor Yuan had helped the current Khan
of the Hun
s, otherwise known as the Xiongnu Chanyu (匈奴单于 Xīongnú Chányú) to win a battle with his brother, thereby resolving a dispute
over the succession of the Xiongnu throne.
The Xiongnu were then a nomad
ic people, and were considered barbaric by the Han Chinese. But now, both countries had become allies
. The grateful Khan approached Emperor Yuan and asked for the hand of a royal princess
to cement the relationship between them.
Emperor Yuan was reluctant
to let any of his daghters marry this barbarian. (They must have protested.) He proclaimed that if any court lady would volunteer
to marry the Khan, the emperor would grant her the status
of a princess.
Upon hearing this, Zhaojun decided to apply. After all, she might never get to meet the emperor. Since there were no other volunteers, the court officials submit
ted her name to the Emperor, who approved it and arranged a date for the Khan and Zhaojun to be married.
Rumour has it that when the Emperor met Zhaojun for the first and only time, he was struck
by her beauty
and immediately regret
ted his decision to let her marry the Khan. The occasion was when both the Khan and Zhaojun (now already maried) turned up to thank the Emperor for giving her hand in marriage
Emperor Yuan was said to have marched back and demand
ed the execution
of the court painter Mao.
In the years that Wang Zhaojun lived with the Xiongnu, no wars took place between the two countries for about sixty years. After the death of the Khan, she remarried his heir
, thus prolonging the peace. She bore a son and two daughters to the Xiongnu, and imparted Han culture to them. No one knows where she died, or when, but there are a few tombstone
s claiming to mark the place where she was buried. One of these is the Tomb of Zhaojun in Inner Mongolia
The story of her going beyond the borders of China is known as 昭君出塞 (Zhāojūn chū sài). It was traditionally a tragic
tale of a woman leaving her homeland due to circumstance
s she could not control; but in modern times it is seen as a woman choosing her destiny
, or as the uniting of various Chinese minorities with the main Chinese race.