|100 Famous Women in China
|1，嫘祖 Leizu (discoverer of silk)|
Leizu (?--?) was the wife of Xuanyuan Huangdi (Huangdi literally meaning Yellow Emperor, living round 2550 BC. Chinese people, i.e., Han tribe, deem themselves the posterity of Huangdi.) A legend had it that Huangdi had a war with another tribe, whose leader was Chiyou, who, it was said, had the ability to raise heavy fog so that the army of Huangdi could not find the way where to go. And it was also said that Huangdi invented a guide cart, on which there was a flat plate with a magnet in the shape of a big spoon. The spoon could turn round and the handle of the spoon always pointed south. It was the earliest type of compass.
When Huangdi defeated Chiyou, he returned in triumph and had a feast of celebration. All of a sudden the goddess of silkworm came to offer the silk to Huangdi for congratulations. Huangdi gave it to his wife, who loved the glistening thin thread very much. She began to breed silkworm and wove the thread into silk cloth and made a gown for her husband. She also taught people to breed silkworm. She was thus called Lady Silkworm, and in later history was deemed the Goddess of Silkworm. She died on the way in company of Huangdi when he traveled over the country.
But there was another legend about the original goddess of silkworm. A girl and her father lived together. The father went to fight for Huangdi. There was a horse in the house. One day the girl thought of her father badly, and she said to the horse, “Oh, horse, if you can bring back my father, I will marry you.” the horse ran away immediately and after some time the father came home on the horseback. The girl was glad, but she forgot her promise to marry the horse entirely. However, the horse remembered it and got sick. The father asked his daughter about the sick horse. The girl was reminded of her promise and told it to her father, who, of course, would not let her daughter marry a horse. Therefore he killed the horse and flayed the hide of the horse. Then he lay the hide on the ground in the sun to make it dry. The daughter came close to the hide and said, “You, horse, how can I, a human, marry you, a horse?” Then she stamped her foot on the hide. Suddenly the hide flew up and wrapped around the girl. The girl was frightened out of her senses and ran off from home to the nearby woods with mulberry trees. Then she began to eat mulberry leaves and spewed out silk threads.
2，薑嫄 Jiangyuan (mother of planting)|
Jiangyuan (?--?) was born in the present Wugong town of Shaanxi province and was the wife of Gao, the great grandson of Huangdi. One winter day, she was walking in the countryside and saw a giant footprint by the Wei river. She trod in it and when she was back home, gradually she felt that she was pregnant. She conceived the baby for twelve months and then gave birth. The baby looked ugly with a very big head. The mother thought that it was a monster and so deserted it for three times. But every time the baby was saved. At last the mother took it back and brought it up. So the baby was named Qi (meaning to desert). Later he was called Huoji. The mother gave him good education. He was the earliest ancestor of Zhou dynasty (1121—476 BC). From early boyhood he was interested in plants and when he grew up, he taught people how to grow grains, etc. that was the beginning of agriculture in China. People remembered his mother and historians gave her the title of mother saintess.
3， 蘇妲己 Su Daji (cruel beauty)|
Su Daji (?--?) was the wife of King Zhou (?--1046 BC), who was the last king of Shang dynasty (1765—1122 BC), and proud of his great strength. She came from Su clan. Her father was Su Hu, the chieftain of the clan. She was a pretty girl and could dance. In 1147 BC, King Zhou conquered Su clan. Su Hu had to give his daughter to King Zhou as his trophy. It was the tradition in ancient China that the conqueror always demanded valuables and pretty girls from the defeater. Since Daji was very beautiful, the king made her his queen after he got some pretense to kill his original queen. This queen had two sons, who were exiled. The king did these to please his new queen, if not secretly required by her. As the new queen could dance, the king ordered the palace musician Shijuan to compose some decadent music. Daji danced to the obscene music to please the king. The king was so doting on her that he would grant all her wishes, no matter how absurd and cruel her desire was. There were some facts recorded in the history books.
The king had a garden built having a pond filled with wine and a forest with dried meat fillets hanging from the boughs of the trees. He often held a banquet there, with as many as three thousand officials gathering there. They played and chased each other naked among the trees. The king and the queen liked to row on the wine. Anyone could drink the wine from the pond.
Daji ordered a huge deep pit dug and put in hundreds of snakes. She would have her offenders thrown into it to feed the snakes. She also invented some torture equipment. The most cruel one was a bronze pillar with inside vacant. Then firewood and coal filled it and burned. When the pillar was hot, a criminal was brought and made to embrace it till he was burned to death with shrill bitter cries.
Once in winter when she saw an old man walking on ice with bare feet. He seemed not to feel cold. She thought that he might have something special in the bone of his shin. Therefore she ordered to have the man brought to her presence and to have his foreleg cut down to see if anything special inside his bone.
Another time, when she and the king sat on the terrace to look at the street. At the time, a women with child walked by. She said that the woman would have a girl while the king said that she would have a boy. So they bet who would guess right. Then the woman was brought in and her belly was cut open to see it was a boy or a girl. Two lives lost for their absurd bet. Besides these, all the courtiers who criticized their misbehavior were executed. Finally they lost the support of courtiers and people and was at last subdued by Zhou dynasty. The king burned himself and Daji hanged herself.
4，齊文姜 Qi Wenjiang (an able and adulterous woman)|
Qi Wenjiang (733—673 BC) was the second daughter of Duke Xi (?--698 BC) of Qi dukedom bordering on the East Sea. She had a sister Qi Xuanjiang. Both girls were beautiful, well-known to all states in China at the time. It was in the first warring period (770—221 BC) in the history of China. All the dukedoms, marquisates, and earldoms etc. became independent though the king of Zhou dynasty was still in reign in name only. His power could only reach within the territory of his kingdom.
Duke Ling (540—493 BC) of Wei dukedom wanted to have the elder sister Xuanjiang to be the wife of his son. Her father agreed and sent her to Wei dukedom. But when Duke Ling set eyes on the girl, her beauty stunned him, and he took the girl as his own wife, to the disappointment of his son. There was even a folk song to sing the praise of her beauty. Since that day, Duke Ling stuck to his young wife day and night. If he could not see her even for a moment, he would look like his soul had left his body.
Then Duke Xi declared that he would find a husband for his second daughter. The news spread and all the sons of the rulers of other states came to the capital of Qi dukedom to seek for the hand of the girl. It happened because of two reasons. Firstly, the girl was a beauty known in all states. Secondly, Qi Dukedom was a big state. If a small state had the relationship with a big state, the small state would have more safety against other neighboring small states. In that period, there were much more small states than big states. They often wanted to merge others to become big. Among all the suitors, the girl selected the son of Zheng State. But when the son went back to his own state, he regretted of the marriage and broke the agreement, because he was afraid that the daughter of a big state would certainly bully the son of a small state. He would not be bullied by his wife. When the girl learned the decision of the boy she had chosen, she turned irritating and then woeful. She became languish and sick, because the breech of the marriage from the boy's side was an insult to the girl in the public eye, which meant that the girl might have some defects in her moral or character.
She had a brother and they played together since childhood. As the brother knew that his sister was sick, he came to see her, desiring to comfort her. Young girl and young boy, no matter what was their relationship, when meeting in certain condition, would easily give themselves up for love action. At that time, there were no moral rules for such things like in present days. A beautiful girl and a handsome boy were surely a destined pair.
Lu dukedom was just next to Qi dukedom. Duke Huan (731—694 BC) of Lu state just succeeded to the throne and was in need of a wife. Qi dukedom was a large state while Lu dukedom was a bit smaller, and not so strong. Duke Huan thought that if he got a wife from a big state, he would have a strong support for his rule. So he married Qi Wenjiang though he knew the abnormal relationship between the girl and her brother. Different people have different ideas to a certain thing. Duke Huan did not care for it as long as he had a beautiful wife and strong support. After the wedding, the husband and the wife got along well and they had two sons.
After several years, Duke Xi of Qi dukedom died and his son, the brother, turned to be the new duke, called Duke Xiang (729—686 BC). The rulers of other states went there for the ceremony. Duke Huan of Lu dukedom went there, too, but he did not bring his wife together, though the wife begged to go with him. He feared that if the sister and the brother met again, their fire of love might rekindle. However, if he never took his wife back to her mother state, it would look weird to other states. So after eighteen years, he did go to visit Qi dukedom with his wife, who was already in her forties. But women in forties are still in need of that.
Duke Xiang was glad that his sister came at length after long years of separation. He recalled their happy time together. When the duke of Lu state and his wife settled down in the guest room in the palace, the duke of Qi state asked his sister to see his wife in the rear of the palace. The duke of Lu state could not say NO to this request. Once in some back room, the brother and the sister fell into action right away like dry wood caught fire. For several days, the duke of Lu state was left alone and so one day he trespassed into the rear palace and witnessed their action. He slapped his wife on the face and dragged her away from the room. He and his wife started immediately back to Lu dukedom. He let his wife go ahead and he himself attended the farewell party given by the duke of Qi state, the brother. He left the palace in a coach after bidding adieu, but was killed in the coach by a knight of Qi dukedom. The knight overtook the wife and reported to her of the death of her husband. The wife clearly knew what had happened to her husband, but she said nothing. She let the knight go to back to tell the news to her brother, who hurried here to meet his sister. The sister stayed on the border of the two dukedoms for a while. And the brother often came to meet her. Finally she had to return to Lu dukedom with the news that the duke of Lu state died suddenly on the way back. Although the courtiers of Lu state suspected something, but they had no evidence, and had to keep silent. Later the knight was executed on some excuses to keep the murder a secret. But on the execution spot, the knight told the secret to all the people present at the top of his voice.
When Lu dukedom was informed of the sudden death of their duke, the elder son of the diseased duke became the ruler. He was Duke Zhuang. As he was still young and so his mother, Qi Wenjiang, helped him to manage the state affairs. She was a capable woman and made Lu dukedom strong and once defeated Qi dukedom in a battle, though Qi dukedom was her parental state. Anyway, Qi dukedom should not fight Lu dukedom as they were brother and sister.
5，西施 Xishi (the first beauty of the four beauties)|
Xishi (?--?) lived in the first warring period, later than Qi Wenjiang, who lived in the earlier time of that period. Xishi was born in Ningluo village in the suburb of Zhuji town in Zhejiang province. Her real name was Shi Yiguang. As Ningluo village was divided in two parts, the east part and the west part. Since Shi Yiguang lived in the west part, and so she got the nickname “Xishi” (Xi means west).
She was one of the four beauties, the earliest one, in the history of ancient China. The other three were Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan, and Yang Yuhuan, whose story was told in another book of mine titled “Love Tales of Ancient China.” There were so many beautiful women in the history of China, why were these four women that grouped as the four beauties, not others? None nowadays can tell the reason. We just tell the stories as they were. Xishi often washed gauze clothes in a stream in her village, and thereby she got another nickname “gauze-washing girl.”
There were two states bordering each other: Wu kingdom and Yue kingdom, both in the present Zhejiang province. In the latter part of the first warring period, the Zhou kingdom already perished. Therefore, all survived states after merging called themselves kingdoms. In 494 BC, Wu kingdom defeated Yue kingdom and captured the king of Yue kingdom, Gouqian by name. Guoqian (520—465 BC) showed himself to be a very tame captive and vowed that if he could be allowed to go back to his own state, he would always be loyal to Fucha (?--473 BC), king of Wu kingdom. Guoqian also bribed Bopi, a favorite courtier of King Wu to throw good words for him. King Wu was a good-for-nothing while King Yue was a capable man. Why Yue kingdom was defeated by Wu kingdom was because a very famous strategist as well as an able general served Wu kingdom. This famous strategist Sun Zi (545-470 BC) had written a world renowned military book titled Arts of War. He was deemed as martial saint. Some famous rules in the book are “know your enemy as well as yourself so that you can always be victorious,” “always give your enemy a false move so as to mislead them.”
At length, Guoqian was released and went back to Yue kingdom. Every year, Guoqian sent a lot of tributes to Wu kingdom to show his faithfulness. But secretly he wanted to have revenge. One of his courtiers, Fan Li, suggested a strategy that Guoqian should send the King Wu some dancing girls so that King Wu would always enjoy the dancing and neglect his state affairs, which would provide Yue kingdom a chance to conquer Wu kingdom.
Fan Li (536—448 BC) began to look for beautiful girls within the state and he found Xishi one day when she was washing her gauze by the stream. As soon as he set eyes on her, he felt that she was the right girl he was looking for. So he took the girl to the palace to be taught singing and dancing. After some special training, she was sent to King Wu, who liked the girl very much and did indulge in singing and dancing of the beauty. She could dance clog-dancing and she had plenty of tiny bells sewed on her skirt so that when she danced the bells gave out tingling to the rhythm of her dancing. The king made her his queen and had a new palace built for her, inside which there was a special corridor called “clog-sounding corridor.” It was built like this—hundreds of big vats were put side by side and wooden planks were laid on top of them. When the girl danced on the planks, wearing clogs, the empty vats echoed with a hollow sound to meet with the rhythm of the dancing. The king did neglect his state affairs, and seeing this, Sun Zi left Wu kingdom and lived somewhere as a hermit. Wu kingdom was finally defeated by Yue kingdom. King Wu made suicide.
There were two legends about the end of Xishi. The first one was that when the king of Wu kingdom died, she was drowned in a river. The second one was that Fan Li took her with him, fearful that if King Yue saw her, he might be charmed by her beauty and also neglect his state affairs. Fan Li became a merchant and lived with Xishi happily till the end of their lives.
6， 鍾無鹽 Zhong Wuyan (an ugly and wise woman)|
Zhong Wuyan (?--?) (wuyan literally meaning no beauty) was ugly, but wise and could fight. How ugly was she? There was a description: a big belly, a big head, her forehead and eyes looking like sucked in, and her skin very dark and course. She was suspected that her mother or father came from abroad, not the offspring of Han tribe. Most famous women in Chinese history were beautiful. Only this one was ugly. As she was so ugly, no man would marry her. She was still single when she reached the age of forty.
At that time, King Xuan (?--301 BC) of Qi state was on the throne. He was not a capable man with a quick temper. He liked flattering. There was corruption all over the state and other states were watching for some opportunity to invade Qi state. The famous Mencius had come to give him advice, but he would not listen. Qi state at the time had a clever premier Yan Ying (?--500 BC), who was short in stature. Qi state had three haughty knights at the same time. They even sometimes refused to obey the king. So Yan Ying was afraid that they might endanger the state. One day there came a chance. There grew a peach tree in the palace. The peach tree produced some large fruits that day. Yan Ying suggested to the king to give two of the peaches to the three knights. One knight ate one and another knight ate the other. The third one had none. Yan Ying said to him that it was a disgrace to him that he could have none to eat while the other two ate theirs. The third one was ashamed of himself, and drawing out his sword, he killed himself. The other two knights said that the three of them were like brothers. They should not eat the peaches without thinking of their brother. They felt ashamed of themselves for the neglect. Therefore, they killed themselves on the spot. This event in the history was called “Killing three knights with two peaches.”
One day the king went hunting with Yan and met Wuyan in the forest. Wuyan was an ambitious woman and had certain opinions about the state. She seized the opportunity to come forth to talk to the king. She analyzed the dangerous situation the state was now in and made good suggestions to him. Therefore, at the advice of Yan, the king took her to the palace and made her his queen. When Yan state, which was to the north of Qi state, sent a messenger there to test the wisdom of the king. The messenger brought two jade rings connected together. The king was asked to separate them. Just when the king did not know what to do with it, Wuyan came out. She brought a small hammer and used it to knock one ring into two pieces. The rings were thus separated. However, Yan state yet sent the army in an intention to conquer Qi state. Wuyan led the army of Qi state to meet the army of Yan state and defeated it. She helped the king to make Qi state strong.
7, 孟母 Mother of Mencius (392—317 BC) (a considerate mother)|
Mencius (372—289 BC) was naughty when a boy. His father died when he was only three. Her mother brought him up and educated him. In his teenage, he liked to imitate whatever he saw. At first they lived in the countryside, close to a graveyard. When people came to bury corpses, crying. He would dig a small pit in the ground and put in a piece of wood, and cried. When his mother saw it, she thought that this was not a good place to live. They moved into the nearby town, close to a market. There were a slaughter house to slay pigs and also a black smithery with noises of striking iron. All such distracted her son from studies. Besides, the son imitated how to sell things like merchants in the market. Then they moved to the east side of the town, close to a school. Therefore, the son imitated how the students read and write in the classroom. The mother liked the place and settled down forever. So Mencius became a famous scholar. This story was called “three moves of the mother of Mencius.” The story shows that neighborhood is very important in grow-up of children.
Another story told us how the mother of Mencius educated her son. Once her son played truant at school. The mother was weaving a cloth at the loom when the son came home. The mother cut the cloth on the loom into two. The son curiously asked why. The mother said that her son played truant while learning was just like she severed the cloth in the process of weaving.
We can still visit the grave of the mother of Mencius at Mt. MaAn (meaning saddle) in Anhui province.
8，趙姬 Zhao Ji (mother of the first emperor)|
Zhao Ji (?--228 BC) was the mother of the first emperor of Qin dynasty. (Hence we call him Emperor Qin in this story.) At that time King Zhaoxiang (325—251 BC) was on the throne. He appointed his son Anyangjun as the crown prince. Anyangjun had more than twenty sons. One of them was Yiren. When Qin kingdom and Zhao kingdom had a war, Qin kingdom was beaten. As a rule, Qin kingdom must send a royal family member as hostage to Zhao kingdom. Yiren was chosen and went to live in the capital of Zhao kingdom.
There was in Zhao kingdom a jewelry merchant, by name of Luu Buwei (292—235 BC), who was very clever and knew how to calculate his profits. His famous quotation was, “If I invest in fields, I can get profit ten times . If I invest in jewelry, I can get profit a hundred times. If I invest in supporting an emperor, I can be rich and powerful all my life.” He pinned his hope on the hostage Yiren. He bribed the guardsman to let him get in touch with Yiren. Then he befriended the hostage and satisfied him for any demands he had. Then he got acquainted with the sister of Ladyship Huayang, who was the wife of the crown prince, the father of the hostage. As ladyship Huayang had no children of her own, she was persuaded to adopt Yiren as her son. Every wife or concubine of the royal family wanted her son to be the crown prince. So ladyship Huayang persuaded Anyangjun to make Yiren his crown prince when he became the king after the death of his father, the present king.
Then he selected a pretty clever dancing girl and offered her to Yiren. She became his formal wife. Afterwards, she gave birth to a boy, who was later the first emperor of Qin dynasty. Yiren was soon summoned back to Qin state. Not long before, King Zhaojiang died and the crown prince Anyangjun became the king, King Xiaowen. And his son Yiren was naturally made the crown prince.
As King Xiaowen led a life of dissipation all day long, his health worsened quickly and died soon. Accordingly, Yiren succeeded to the throne. He was King Zhuangxiang (281—247 BC). He made his son the crown prince and Luu Buwei the premier for all he had done for him. Lately, Buwei turned to be more powerful. Yiren got on alert, fearful that Buwei might kill him and make himself the king. It was not impossible. Buwei also felt that the king might harm him. So he advised Zhao Ji, the wife of the king, to do something about it. Zhao Ji reached the position as queen through Buwei. She was grateful to him, and besides, he was her favorite man while her husband Yiren was only their tool to get rich and powerful.
Zhao Ji induced the king to drinking and merry-making, which caused his health to deteriorate fast and the king died soon. Then the crown prince was put on the throne at the age of thirteen, too young to handle state affairs. Therefore, Zhao Ji was now the queen dowager and Buwei handled all things. Although the boy was young, he was shrewd and ambitious. He knew that Buwei was a bad man for power. And Buwei knew that the young king was not an ordinary boy. There was a rumor that the king was the son of Zhao Ji and Buwei.
Before Buwei gave up Zhao Ji to Yiren, they had already made love to each other. Now that Yiren died, how could Zhao Ji quenched her thirst for love? She and Buwei met secretly. But they were afraid that their relationship might be discovered by the young king. Then Buwei found a man called Miudu, whose specialty was to have a giant penis. Buwei sent him into the palace disguised as a eunuch to satisfy Zhao Ji so that he himself could be away from danger. Presently, the queen dowager was pregnant. She feared that her son, the king, might find out. Therefore, she told her son that she wanted to travel. The son did not doubt anything yet and consented. So she went to live in a temporary residence with Miudu. They had two children.
When the new king came of age, he took all power back in his own hands. When he was on the throne for nine years, in 238 BC, someone informed him that Miudu was a fake eunuch and had two children with the queen dowager, who promised Miudu that if the king died, she would make one of their sons the king. At that time, the king was twenty-two. As Miudu was told that the king learned their secret, Miudu immediately decided to attack the palace with his followers. The guards of the palace fought them. The latter was put to rout and Miudu was captured and executed. The two children were killed too. Luu Buwei was exiled and drank poison to end his life. As for the queen dowager, his mother, she was driven out of the palace to live somewhere else. The son vowed that he would never see the mother for the rest of his life. Four years after the death of Buwei, Zhao Ji died of grievance.
9， 呂后 Empress Luu (the first empress who had political power)|
Empress Luu (241—180 BC) was the wife of Liu Bang (256—195 BC), the first emperor of Han dynasty (206 BC—220 AD). Liu Bang was at first only a petty officer in Pei town, where the father of Empress Luu was a wealthy resident. Once when it was the birthday of the father, as he was a close friend of the mayor, Liu Bang had to go for the celebration. He did not bring any gift, but he lied that he had given a precious gift. When the father found it out, he was angry and wanted to expel Liu Bang. However, when he looked at Liu Bang, he changed his mind because he could read face. The face of Liu Bang showed that he would be a noble man in the future. Therefore, he married his daughter to him. It was towards the end of Qin dynasty.
There were many revolts at that time. Liu Bang was the leader of one among them. When Liu Bang was riotous, his wife was arrested and put in jail by the local yamen. She experienced all the hardship of the prison. At last Liu Bang managed to get her out. From the day she was released, she lived among the army with her husband. Generally there was no woman allowed in the army, especially a woman who could not fight.
Another rebellious group was led by Xiang Yu (232—202 BC). They both aimed at Qin dynasty. They wanted to replace Qin dynasty. Xiang was the first to enter the capital of Qin. He overthrew Qin dynasty and burned their palace. The fire lasted for months. Now as the old dynasty no longer existed, the two groups fought each other to decide who would create a new dynasty. In 205 BC, the two groups had a war and Liu Bang was defeated and his wife was captured by Xiang Yu. Then Liu Bang gathered his troops and met Xiang Yu's army again. Xiang Yu had his wife brought out to the front of his array. He said to Liu Bang that if Liu did not surrender, he would cook his wife like a pig. Liu Bang answered smilingly, “If you cook her, please give a piece of her flesh to me.” Xiang Yu felt that his ruse of threat was useless, and they fought once more. As no one could subdue the other, they had a truce, and the wife was released and returned to Liu Bang after two years as a captive.
Not long afterwards, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu had battles again. Finally, Liu Bang used the tactics of Han Xin (231—196 BC), a famous general in history, to lay ten ambushes and conquered Xiang Yu, who had only a handful of followers left. He was advised that he could go back to where he came from. There he could gather more supporters and fight Liu Bang once more. But he always thought of himself a hero. A hero should never fail. Now he failed and was ashamed of himself. He refused to go back and killed himself at Wu River. His homeland was just across the river. He was a real hero while Liu Bang was a rascal in his character and doings. People of that time thus thought of each of them.
Now as no rivals any more, Liu Bang founded a new dynasty known as Han dynasty. His wife was duly the empress. She had born two children for Liu Bang. The son, Liu Ying, was made crown prince later, then became Emperor Hui (210—188 BC) after the death of his father. The daughter was Princess Luyuan. Liu Bang had also a pretty concubine called Ladyship Qi, who bore a son, Prince Ruyi. Since Ladyship Qi was the favorite of the emperor, she tried to persuade the emperor to make her son the crown prince, but courtiers all opposed. So her plan failed. But Empress Luu began to hate her.
Chen Xi (?--195 BC) was a general of Liu Bang. In 197 BC, when Liu became the emperor, he was given the title of Marquis Xinyang. He was originally under Han Xin. That year when Liu Bang suspected him for rebellion and summoned him to the capital, intending to kill him, he had to rebel. So Liu Bang led a large army to fight him. Empress Luu stayed in the capital to control the situation. When she was told that Han Xin would support Chen Xi to rebel, she made some excuse to send for Han Xin to the capital. When Han Xin arrived, she killed him. Some historians commented that if Han Xin rebelled too, he might defeat Liu Bang and became the emperor of another dynasty as he was a great strategist, but he was not a politician. He did not have political insight. Former historians said that it was a pity that such a great strategist was killed by a woman. The woman was an excellent politician. At last Chen Xi was defeated and killed in the fight.
When Liu Bang died, the crown prince was still under age, and so Empress Luu became the empress dowager and administrated the empire. She then used pretenses to eliminate some powerful Liu family members one by one, and gave some important positions to her Luu family members. The young emperor disagreed to what his mother did, but he could do nothing about it. Then Empress Luu poisoned Prince Ruyi and had his mother Ladyship Qi's four limbs cut off, her eyes blinded and her ears deafened. Her body was put in a pig pen. She was called human pig. Such a cruel thing did happen, recorded in the history. The young emperor grieved to the heart. So he gave himself up for drinking and merry-making and died young. Empress Luu maintained her power till her death. Then her Luu family members were all eliminated by Liu family members.
10， 虞姬 Beauty Yu (a woman died for her lover)|
Beauty Yu (?--202 BC) was the concubine of Xiang Yu (see above). She was beautiful and could dance with swords. When Xiang Yu became the leader of rebels in the area of Suzhou city, where lived Beauty Yu's family, Beauty Yu admired him. Xiang Yu had great strength and was looked upon as a hero. A beauty always felt for a hero. So she married him. But historians called her concubine, not wife. She followed him everywhere in battles and danced the sword dance for him at night in his tent.
After several battles with Liu Bang, escaped from ten ambushes, Xiang Yu was surrounded at Wu river. He could break through and cross the river, but he wound not do it (see above). Beauty Yu danced her last dance for him in the tent while she sang. After she finished, she cut herself at the throat with the sword in her hand. She died like a heroine. She sacrificed her dear life for her lover, the hero in her eyes. Then Xiang Yu ended his life with his own hand, too. Her story touched people at large to the heart. The name of Beauty Yu was handed down and turned into a well-known Beijing opera. An Anonymous poet in Qing dynasty wrote a poem about it in the words like what she would say:
My hero breathed his last breath in the south of Yangtze River;
It was not right for my humble person to enter Han palace*.
My loyal blood would turn into the grass by the river;
And the blossoms would be redder than azalea flowers.
*It means that she would not surrender and be taken to Han palace—the palace of Liu Bang.
11， 竇太后 Empress Dou (an empress dowager through four generations)|
Empress Dou (205—135 BC) was the wife of Emperor Wen of Han dynasty. She was born in a common poor family. Her father was drowned falling into a river. Her mother died early, too, leaving behind three orphans. In her teenage, she became a palace maid. She thought that she would be a maid all her life, but she was satisfied because she lived better than before. At the time, Liu Bang was the emperor. When Liu Bang died, Empress Luu gave each of the remaining Liu princes five maids. As her home was close to Zhao fief, she bribed the eunuch who was in charge of the distribution. But the eunuch forgot and sent her to Dai fief. So Empress Dou was given to Prince Dai, who liked the pretty girl and married her. She bore two sons and a daughter for him. After the death of Empress Luu, Prince Dai was supported by all courtiers to be the new emperor, Emperor Wen (202—157 BC), and his wife was made the empress, Empress Dou, and his elder son was made the crown prince, later Emperor Jin (156—87 BC). Empress Dou never dreamed when she was a maid that she could be empress. But some years after she was the empress, misfortune befell her. She was blind.
Then she was no longer the favorite woman of the emperor. His new favorite woman was concubine Shen. But Empress Dou kept her mind peaceful and never showed any sign of jealousy. She was always lenient. That was why she could live through four generations without anyone to vie for her position.
When her husband died, her elder son, Emperor Jin, succeeded the throne. She was empress dowager. But as a matter of fact, Empress Dou liked her second son, Prince Liang, better. She wanted Prince Liang to be the successor of his brother. Emperor Jin was a filial son and could not refuse the request of his mother, but all the courtiers opposed it because it was the rule in the feudal system that the son succeeded the father. No one should break the rule. Anyway, as she was a talented woman, she helped her son to handle the national affairs. Then, after the death of her son, her grandson became the emperor, Emperor Wu. Now she was grand empress dowager, and the first grand empress dowager in the history of China.
The grandson was an independent young man and would not let her grandmother to interfere with his administration. She had to retire to the back palace to enjoy the rest of her life. In the reign of Emperor Wu, the Han dynasty expanded its territory. The emperor adopted the works of Confucius as the reading stuff in schools. Confucius was thus made well-known since then.
12， 王娡 Wang Zhi (from a common woman to the empress)|
Wang Zhi (?--125 BC) was the second wife of Emperor Jing (188—141 BC) of Han dynasty. She was born in a common family and married an ordinary man called Jin Wangsun, and bore a daughter for him by name of Jin Su. Presently, Wang Zhi deserted her husband and daughter, and entered the palace of the crown prince disguised as a virgin. Emperor Jing made her his concubine. His first wife was Empress Bo, who had no children of her own. Another concubine Li Ji had three sons and the eldest son was made the crown prince. Then Wang Zhi bore for the emperor three daughters and a son. At four years old, the son got the title of Prince Jiaodong.
As Empress Bo did not give any birth, the emperor wanted to depose her from the position of empress and make Li Ji the empress. Emperor Jing had a sister Liu Piao, who had a daughter named Chen Ah Jiao. Liu Piao wanted to marry her daughter to the crown prince. The concubine Li Ji did not like Ah Jiao, and so did not grant the wish of the mother. Therefore, the sister hated Li Ji. When Wang Zhi learned the relationship between Liu Piao and Li Ji, she said that she was willing to let Ah Jiao marry here son, the future crown prince, who turned out later to be Emperor Wu. Therefore, the sister married her daughter to her son, Emperor Wu.
Then the sister told Emperor Jing that if he made Li Ji the empress, when her son, the present crown prince, succeeded the throne, and as Li Ji was a cruel woman, she would certainly make Wang Zhi, his favorite concubine, be the second human pig. The only solution, she added, was to decrown the present crown prince, the eldest son of Li Ji so that she could never be empress dowager and could never do any harm to Wang Zhi. At first emperor Jing did not believe her. Once he wanted concubine Li Ji to promise that when he died, she should treat other concubines well, but Li Ji did not make the promise. Therefore, Emperor Jing decided not to make Li Ji the empress, and moreover, decrowned the crown prince and made him Prince Lingjiang. Li Ji got seriously sick and died soon.
In 149 BC, Emperor Jing made Wang Zhi the empress and her son the crown prince. In 141 BC, Emperor Jing died and the crown prince became the emperor, Emperor Wu (07/14/156—03/29/87). And Wang Zhi was then empress dowager.
When Emperor Wu learned that his mother had a daughter Jin Su with her ex-husband, he sent someone to look for her. As Jin Su knew that someone was after her, she was afraid and escaped and hid herself somewhere. At last she was found and brought to the presence of the emperor, who let her go to see the empress dowager, her mother. Empress Dowager was happy for the reunion with her first daughter. In 126 BC, Wang Zhi died and was buried with Emperor Jing.
Emperor Wu was a great emperor of Han dynasty. He conquered the minority in the north and expanded the territory of Han dynasty to the west.
13， 陳阿嬌 Chen Ahjiao (a quick-tempered empress)|
Chen Ahjiao (?--?) was the wife of Emperor Wu, and was made the empress. When both were children, the mother of the girl, who was the sister of Emperor Jing, held the young Emperor Wu on her lap. There were an array of palace maids waiting on them. The mother asked the boy, “When you grow up, do you want to get married?” the boy said, “Sure.” then the mother pointed to the maids and asked the young Emperor Wu, “Who do you like?” The little boy said that none of them he liked. Then the mother, pointing to her daughter Ahjiao and asked, “Do you like her?” The little boy answered that if he could get her, he would build a house of gold to let her live in. This story is known to all Chinese people.
When they both grew up, Emperor Wu did marry Ahjiao and made her his empress. Emperor Wu wanted to have some kind of reform, but was opposed by some powerful courtiers. Even the grand empress dowager Dou had different opinions. But Ahjiao supported him and her parents supported their son-in-law, which made the emperor tide over the crisis.
Ahjiao was a girl with a quick temper, and besides, she did not have any children for the emperor for ten years. Gradually the emperor got tired of her. The emperor always had many girls round him. The most favorite one among them was Wei Zifu (?--90 BC). Out of jealousy, Ahjiao went to see the emperor and chided him for neglecting her. The emperor blamed her not to have any children for him. That was why he should have another girl for the posterity's sake. He must have at least a son to succeed the throne. Ahjiao could have nothing more to say and had to retire to her own room. She sent for a doctor after another in hopes of being pregnant, but in vain.
Ahjiao wanted to get rid of Wei Zifu, but Wei was with the emperor everyday, and she had no chance to have her wish fulfilled. Then she found a witch and asked her to exercise her magic power to win back the favor of the emperor, but no result for several months. The emperor heard of this and was infuriated. He ordered the witch to be executed and confined Ahjiao in Changmen Hall after she was deposed from her position of empress. She died in melancholy. Wei Zifu was made the empress.
14， 衛子夫 Wei Zifu (from a singer to the empress)|
Wei Zifu (?--90 BC) was the second wife of Emperor Wu. Wei Zifu was originally a sing-song girl in the residence of Princess Pingyang and her husband Marquis Pingyang. Once Emperor Wu visited the princess and saw the girl. He liked her on the spot and took her back to the palace.
When Wei Zifu was taken into the palace, the empress then was Ahjiao, who hated the beautiful new-comer and made her a maid only. And she could not see the emperor, who seemed forgot her entirely. Once the emperor let all the maids gather in his presence and wanted to dismiss some old ones. Wei Zifu was then among them, and she asked the emperor to let her leave the palace. The emperor saw her and refreshed his liking of her. He gave her the title of Ladyship Wei, next to the empress. In 128 BC, she bore a son for the emperor, named Liu Che, and thus was made the empress, since the ex-empress had already been deposed and confined in Changmen Hall. In 122 BC, the son was declared the crown prince.
When grown up, the crown prince showed himself a lenient and clever man. His father, the emperor, liked him very much. But as now the empress grew old, the emperor ignored her. He always preferred new young pretty girls. He had later Ladyship Li, Ladyship Xing, Ladyship Yin and Ladyship Zhao. Ladyship Xing and Ladyship Yin were more jealous of each other and wherever Ladyship Xing was present, Ladyship Yin would not come, and vice verse.
There were some wicked courtiers. The most wicked one was Jiang Chong. He often slandered the crown prince before the emperor. He knew clearly that when the crown prince became the emperor, the new emperor would certainly punish him for his evil doings. But the emperor would not listen to him. At the time, some witches exercised black magic of cursing the emperor for his death. It was found out and all the witches were executed. Then the emperor let Jiang Chong investigate who was behind all this. Jiang Chong seized the opportunity to frame the crown prince. He sent someone secretly to bury a wooden doll with the birthday of the emperor engraved on it. This was used at the time for curse of death of someone whose birthday was engraved on the wooden doll.
The crown prince was a clever man and knew that Jiang Chong would do something to harm him. He would act first. He went with his bodyguards to see the emperor intending to reveal the scheme of Jiang Chong, just when Jiang Chong led some soldiers to his residence intending to dig up the doll and take it to the emperor so that it would be a proof that the crown prince was cursing the emperor for death. They met in the street and fought each other. At last Jiang Chong was killed.
The emperor sent a messenger to see what was happening. The messenger came back and reported untruthfully to the emperor that the crown prince was rebelling. So the emperor sent army to subdue the rebellion and the crown prince was defeated, because he really did not want to rebel and had few fighters with him. The crown prince had to escape and hide himself somewhere. Afterwards he was detected and hanged himself. When his mother, the empress, heard of it, she hanged herself, too. She held her position of empress for thirty-eight years, a very long period of time. Finally the truth was known to the emperor, and he killed all those who joined in the pursuit of the crown prince.
By the way, Empress Wei Zifu had a stepbrother, Wei Qing by name. He was a famous general in defense of the northern frontier of Han territory. He was promoted to the position was because of his stepsister, the empress. If he was an ordinary man, he would not have the chance to be promoted to the generalship.
15. 趙飛燕 Zhao Feiyan (a good dancer of an empress)|
Zhao Feiyan ( 45—1 BC) was the wife of Emperor Cheng (51—7 BC). She was so beautiful and a legendary woman in the Han dynasty. When she was born, her parents put her in the fields, supposed to let her die. But three days afterwards, when the parents went to check on her, she was still alive. So her parents took her home and brought her up. In her girlhood, she was sent to the residence of Princess YangA to learn dancing. She was so skillful a dancer and had a special style like a flying swallow. So she was later known as Zhao Faiyan (meaning flying swallow). She was said to be so light and lean physically that she could dance on the hand of a big man. Literary men often compared her with the Imperial concubine Yang, who was on the chubby side. The comparison showed a lean beauty with a fat beauty.
Emperor Cheng liked merry-making and once visited Princess YangA. When he saw Feiyan dancing, he immediately fell in love with her and took her to the palace and made her a concubine. Not long after, he deposed the empress and made Feiyan the empress. She did not bear any children for him. But the emperor did not live long. After his death, the sons of other concubines vied to be the new emperor. Prince Dingtao became the emperor, Emperor Ai (25—1 BC), because his mother bribed Zhao Feiyan. In return Feiyan was made the empress dowager. Only several years later, Emperor Ai died. The next emperor was Emperor Ping (9 BC—5 AD). He was the nephew of Emperor Cheng and a cousin of Emperor Ai. When he became the emperor, he was only nine years old. A courtier Wang Mang seized the power. He deposed the empress dowager Feiyan and confined her somewhere. She at last made suicide.
16， 班夫人 Ladyship Ban ( a poetess)|
Ladyship Ban (?--?) was a concubine of Emperor Cheng (51—7 BC). She was not only beautiful, but also versed in poetry, with a good temper. She would do everything properly, to the palace etiquette. Once the emperor wanted to go out and let Ladyship Ban sit beside him on the coach, but Ban refused, saying, “Your Majesty, your humble concubine read books from olden time that a wise emperor let his good courtier sit beside him. A stupid emperor let his favorite beauty sit beside him. If your humble concubine sits beside Your Majesty, does it mean that Your Majesty is a stupid emperor?” The emperor thought that she was right and let her go.
When the empress dowager learned it, she really appreciated Ban. She said, “There was Fan Ji in Chu State (in the first warring period). She refused to eat meat because the king liked to hunt. People respected her. Now there is Ban in our palace. She can be compared with Fan Ji in moral.”
Zhao Feiyan, the great dancer, was not the empress yet at the time. She was jealous of the empress and Ban. She always slandered them both, saying that they were cursing the emperor to death. Since the emperor now preferred her to other women, he often believed what she said. So he deposed the empress and made Zhao Feiyan the empress. The emperor also sent for Ban to blame her for cursing him. Ban pleaded herself, saying, “Your Majesty, your humble concubine heard that life and death, wealth and nobleness are all fated by Heaven. If there are deities, they know everything. They won't grant the wish of anyone who curses his master. If there are no deities, what is the use to curse? So I won't do anything like curse,” The emperor thought that she was right and did not punish her. On the contrary, he gave her a hundred catties of gold as a reward.
Ban knew that she was in danger, and offered to live with the empress dowager and wait on her. She died there. She had written a poem “Gauze Fan”. The fan at that time was composed of a round frame of wood or bamboo, with a piece of gauze fixed on it. The poem goes like this:
Newly cut the gauze from Qi area,
It is as white as frost and snow.
It is cut to make a Happy-Union* fan,
As round as the bright moon.
It is stored in your sleeve,
It gives breezes when waved.
I often fear that the autumn comes;
The cool wind takes away the heat.
The fan will be deserted in a box,
The love for it will end midway.
In this poem the poetess meant that she was like a fan. When it was not needed, it was just thrown in a box and forgotten.
*It is the name of the fan. The couple share the fan and feel in happy union.
17， 上官小妹 Shangguan Xiaomei (the youngest empress)|
Shangguan (double surname) Xiaomei (89—37 BC) was the wife of Emperor Zhao (94—74 BC), and the daughter of Shangguan An (126—80 BC) and the maternal granddaughter of Great General Huo Guang (130—68 BC), who was the most powerful man at that time. Her paternal grandfather was Shangguan Ji, Left General, (140—80 BC). Left general and right general were the titles of generals, just under the great general.
In the second moon of 87 BC, Emperor Wu died. His son succeeded to the throne, and was Emperor Zhao, who was then only eight years of age. Therefore, all courtiers decided that Princess Eyi should move and live in the palace to take care of the boy emperor. Princess Eyi (117—80 BC) was the daughter of emperor Wu and big sister of the present emperor. The father and the grandfather of Xiaomei both went to the palace to befriend Princess Eyi. When the emperor was twelve, he reached the age to have a wife. The father of Xiaomei wished his daughter to be the empress. She was then only six. As she was so young, her maternal grandfather, Great general Huo Guang, did not consent.
Princess Eyi had a lover called Ding Wairen (?--80 BC). When the husband of Princess Eyi died, she found him, who was an acquaintance of her son. Then the father of Xiaomei went to see Ding and asked him to persuade Princess Eyi to let his daughter be the empress, promising that Ding would be given an official title when his daughter became the empress. So Ding went to see Princess Eyi and made the request. Princess Eyi agreed and in 83 BC, Xiaomei was made the empress, the youngest empress in the history of China.
To keep the promise to Ding, the father and the grandfather of Xiaomei both went to see great general Huo Guang to ask him give Ding a title. But Huo Guang rejected. So the father and the grandfather, and also Princess Eyi had a grudge against Huo Guang. They plotted to kill him, but Huo Guang learned their scheme and sent troopers in his control and killed the father and the grandfather and Ding. Princess Eyi made suicide.
Empress Xiaomei was then only eight years old. She knew nothing about the coup d'état and so she was safe. Besides, she was the granddaughter of Huo Guang. When she was grown up, she did not bear any children for the emperor. When Emperor Zhao died in 74 BC, as he did not have a son, Huo Guang and courtiers decided that Prince Changyi, a grandson of Emperor Wu, should be the new emperor, and Xiaomei be the youngest empress dowager. But Prince Changyi was a lewd man and disappointed Huo Guang and courtiers. After twenty-seven days, he was deposed. Then after serious discussion, they made Liu Xun, the great grandson of Emperor Wu, be the emperor, Emperor Xuan (91—48 BC). According to Chinese generation sequence, Xiaomei, the present empress dowager, should be the great grandmother of the new emperor. So she was now the grand empress dowager. She was at the time only fifteen years old, the youngest grand empress dowager in the history.
The wife of great general Huo Guang poisoned the wife of Emperor Xuan, the legal empress, with the intention to marry her daughter to the emperor and to be the empress. In the third moon of 68 BC, the great general Huo Guang died. Both the grand empress dowager and the emperor attended the funeral, a great honor to the diseased. But in the fourth moon of 67 BC, the Huo family members rebelled and were conquered. As the grand empress dowager, though she was the granddaughter of Huo Guang, did not even know the rebellion, her position as grand empress dowager was not affected till she died at the age of fifty-two. She was buried with her husband, Emperor Zhao. It was the tradition in the feudal China.
18， 王昭君 Wang Zhaojun (the second beauty of the four beauties)|
Wang Zhaojun (52—19 BC) was one of the four beauties, the second beauty in the sequence of the year. She was a great beauty at the time, but with a bitter destiny. She was clever, and could read and paint. She could also play lute and chess. In the spring of 36 BC, when she was seventeen, Emperor Yuan (75—33 BC) gave the edict to select beautiful girls and sent to the palace. He would choose the most beautiful ones among them to be his concubines, and the rest of them would be the maids. As there were so many girls, the emperor was busy and could not see every girl himself. Therefore, he ordered the palace painter Mao Yanshou to draw a portrait of each of them and presented them to the emperor. It meant that the emperor would choose from portraits.
Almost every girl bribed the painter and asked him to draw her a bit prettier than she really was. But Wang Zhaojun did not bribe him as she was so confident of her beauty. So the painter drew her with a bit of contortion. As a result, she was not selected. She did not have any chance to see the emperor for three years.
Han dynasty since establishment was in continual war with a northern minority called Xiongnu tribe. The chieftain of the tribe, Uhaanyehe by name (58—31 BC), at that time was weary of war and wanted peace for his people. Therefore, Chieftain Uhaanyehe came to the capital ChangAn city to see the emperor. He requested to have some girl in the palace to be his wife so that the relationship between him and the emperor would be close as relatives, and then there would thus have long peace for the two peoples. The emperor liked the idea. When the emperor was considering who would be chosen as the wife of the chieftain, Wang Zhaojun came forth, offering herself to be the one.
At the feast held for the departure of the chieftain and his chosen wife, Wang Zhaojun should surely be present, fully attired. When the emperor saw such a beauty, he did regret letting her go. But he could not go back on his words in the presence of the chieftain while the chieftain was so happy to have such a beauty for his wife. After the feast, the chieftain and Wang Zhaojun left the capital for the north to the homeland of the Xiongnu tribe. Then the emperor found out the truth why he missed her. It was because the painter drew her with a contortion. So he had the painter beheaded.
The people of Xiongnu tribe welcomed Wang Zhaojun warmly and looked upon her as the guarantee of peace. But life for Zhaojun in the strange land was hard. First, she was not used to such food she had never eaten before. Then the life style was also different to her as her former life style. In 31 BC, Chieftain Uhaanyehe died. He had a son who succeeded to the position of chieftain. The son was the stepson of Wang Zhaojun. According to the tradition of Xiongnu tribe, the son could marry his stepmother. So Wang Zhaojun became the wife of her stepson. She bore two daughters for him. In 20 BC, the stepson died. Wang Zhaojun became the widow. One year later, she died at the age of thirty-three. She was buried in the southern suburb of the present Hohhot city, at the foot of a green mountain and by the Yellow River. Her tomb was called Green Tomb by people in later dynasties.
19， 班昭 Ban Zhao (a blue stocking, a female scholar)|
Ban Zhao（49—120 AD）was the first female historian and a literary woman. She inherited her family talent. Her father, Ban Biao (3—54 AD) was a famous learned scholar at the time. He had been the mayor of Xu town before he retired. Her eldest brother Ban Gu (32—92 AD) was a historian. Ban Zhao also helped her eldest brother in the writing of a history book, titled “Book of Han.” As a matter of fact, this history book was begun to be written by her father. When her father died, her eldest brother Ban Gu continued the work while her second brother Ban Chao (32—102 AD) joined the army and became a famous general, fighting at the frontier.
When Ban Gu died, she continued the work, too, till it was finished. It was a great work after the “Records of History” by Sima Qian (145—87 BC). When Emperor He (79—105 AD) read her book, he greatly appreciated it and sent for her into the palace. The emperor wanted her to be the tutor of the empress and his concubines. The empress dowager Deng also liked her. At the age of fourteen, she had married to Cao Shishu (?--?), who died early and she became a widow, and never married again.
At her old age, she was still writing. Another famous book of hers was the “Female Commandments.” she wrote this book with the intention to tell the female members of her family what females should do and what they should not. At first it was only read within the family. Then people outside the family copied it and circulated it till the book became circulated.
The gist of the book was that women must obey men. Especially wife must obey husband. Thus it began the non-equality between men and women for thousands of years till the beginning of the republic. The topics in her book were three obediences and four moral rules. The three obediences were those that before marriage, women must obey parents; after marriage, women must obey their husbands; and after the death of husbands, they must obey their sons, i.e., when they became widows and if they had different opinions from their sons, they must listen to their sons. But there were exceptions for this. As many sons were taught to be filial, any of them would listen to their mothers. And a woman could not remarry after the death of her husband while a man could marry as many times as he liked. It would be looked upon as a shame if a woman remarried, though many a woman did remarry in the history because of some reason or others, like she was too poor to keep her children alive or the mother of her late husband drove her away, etc.
Four moral rules were that a woman must be demure, quiet, avoiding misbehavior; a woman must not gossip and must say everything fit to the situation and listeners; a woman must keep proper appearance, wearing clean suitable dress; a Woman must be able to weave, sew and cook for family members and guests.
20， 蔡文姬 Cai Wenji (a female musician and poetess)|
Cai Wenji (176--249 AD) was the daughter of the famous literary man and calligrapher, Cai Yi (133-1932 AD). He also knew mathematics, astronomy, and music. Growing up in such a family environment, Cai Wenji was talented and versed in music. She was a musician as well as a poetess. She could play zither and had the ability to tell which string on the zither was broken by the sound when other people were playing and a string suddenly broke.
She was married to Mr. Wei, but he died after only one year. As she did not bear any children for him, she was sent back to her father's home. Then when Xiongnu tribe in the north invaded the area where she lived, she was captured and was forced to marry the chieftain at the age of twenty-three. She gave birth to two sons for him, and stayed there for twelve years. She learned to play the reed pipe, a musical instrument of the tribe, and also learned their language.
When the warlord Cao Cao (155—220 AD) was in power, he thought of Cai Wenji, the daughter of Cai Yi, who had been his tutor when he was young. So Cao Cao sent a messenger to give the chieftain a thousand taels of gold and a pair of white jade to redeem Cai Wenji, who was then back to her family alone, leaving her two son with the father. Then she was married to Dong Si and bore a son and a daughter for him. Her father already died. She wrote down four hundred articles of her father's writing from memory. It was because in the warring chaos, most of her father's writings were lost. She handed down to us only a long autobiographic poem and song words to the music of the reed pipe, called “Eighteen Beats of Reed Pipe.” (A beat means a stanza in her poetic song words.) These were her own composition.
21，荀灌娘 Xun Guanniang (a kungfu girl)|
Xun Guanniang (303—360 AD) was the first girl in the history of China, who had kungfu and could fight on horseback. She was born a hundred years earlier than Hua Mulan (412—502 AD). She was the great great granddaughter of Xun Yu (163—212 AD), who was a famous adviser of the warlord Cao Cao.
It was in the second warring period (265—589 AD), and in the third moon of 317 AD, when Xun Guanniang was only thirteen. Her father, Xun Song (263—329 AD) was a general guarding Wan town. Du Zeng, a magistrate, wanted to betray the emperor and took Wan town as his base. He commanded his two thousand soldiers and came to surround the town. There were only one thousand men for the defense. The attack lasted for several days and Du Zeng could not take the town yet. But casualties on both sides increased. Besides, the provisions were less and less in the town since it was surrounded by the enemy. The situation was so serious that someone must volunteer to break enemy's surrounding line to get reinforcement from other cities. For a couple of days, no one volunteered. General Xun Song wanted to go himself. But as he was the commander, people could not defend the town without his leadership. At that critical moment, the girl of thirteen stood forth for the difficult task. Others were doubtful whether a girl of such age could succeed. She analyzed that the enemy's soldiers were all exhausted. They looked okay in the daytime, but in the night they must fall in sound sleep. She added that if she could have a few bravest fighters with her, they could steal through enemy's line under the cover of night. No one could disagree, or they would all die, if not in combat, but of starvation.
Thus they broke through the line with little fighting. When they reached the nearest city, the magistrate there agreed to help. So when the reinforcement came to attack the enemies from the back, the defenders in the town went out to attack from front. Du Zeng was defeated and the town was safe. The girl was praised by all the townsfolk that she could finish such a difficult job at so young age.
22. 劉蘭芝 Liu Lanzhi (a woman of tragic death)|
Liu Lanzhi (?--?) was the wife of a petty official, Jiao Chongqing (?--?), living in Lujiang town of present Anhui province, towards the end of East Han dynasty (25—220 AD). She was a nice girl from a well-to-do family. She could weave at thirteen, could make dress at fourteen, could play harp at fifteen, and could read classics at sixteen. She married her husband at seventeen.
Jiao family consisted of the old widow, his mother, her mother-in-law, and his young sister. At first the couple lived a harmonious life. But his mother was very picky and fastidious. She did not like her daughter-in-law for no reason at all. Perhaps, like other old widows, she depended on her son as her life company after the death of her husband. Now the daughter-in-law came and it seemed as if she took away her life company and left her alone. Therefore, she hated the wife of her son and tried to drive her away.
She often complained to her son that his wife was not nice to her and disobeyed her. In fact, the daughter-in-law was very nice and filial to her. She listened to her mother-in-law for whatever she said. Anyway, the mother decided to get rid of his wife. In old China, there were seven rules for a wife to be driven back to where she came from, i.e., the house of her parents. The seven rules were that she disobeyed her mother- or father-in-law; that she did not bear a son (a daughter did not count); that she was lewd; that she jealous if her husband had concubines; that she had severe diseases; that she liked to gossip; and that she stole from her husband's house for the family of her parents. She did not bear any children for her son yet.
Jiao Chongqing was a filial son and under the pressure of his mother, who often threatened her son with suicide if he did not send his wife away. He had one day to harden up his heart and bid farewell to his wife. He promised her to get her back some day when he persuaded his mother to accept her. But Liu Lanzhi had no confidence about it. She went back to the home of her parents, to whom it was a disgrace that their daughter was sent back. So they had to marry their daughter to another man. The daughter could not disobey her parents and agreed to marry again. But in her mind, she determined to end her life to the rule that a woman should never remarry. The night before her wedding day to another man, she went out and threw herself in a pond near her home. When Jiao Chongqing heard of the death of his ex-wife, he hanged himself on the branch of a tree in the courtyard of his home. They were buried together at the foot of Huagai Mountain. Local people grew pine trees and cypresses around their grave. An anonymous poet wrote a long poem about their sad story.
A legend developed that there were a pair of mandarin ducks flying about the trees, crying bitterly. Young couples in the subsequent dynasties came to visit their tomb in hopes that the deceased couple would bless them to have a happy result for their love.
23， 貂蟬 Diao Chan (the third beauty of the four beauties)|
Diao Chan (?--?) was the third beauties of the four beauties in the history of China. (As for the fourth beauty Imperial Concubine Yang, please read my book Love Tales of Ancient China.) Her surname was Ren and her given name was also unknown. Her own parents were unknown, too. Being beautiful and clever, she was selected at the age of fifteen to enter the palace and appointed to be a handler of headwear for the empress and concubines. Her job title was Diaochan. Hence, historians called her Diaochan.
Then there was a riot in the palace, and Diaochan escaped from the palace. She was then adopted by Wang Yong (137—192 AD) as his daughter. Wang Yong was an official of high rank towards the end of East Han dynasty. At that time, Dong Zhuo was in power as head of courtiers. He was a corrupt man. Wang Yong and other courtiers wanted to kill him. Once Cao Cao, a petty officer then, went to assassinate him, but failed and escaped. The event was that Cao Cao had a good dagger and knew that Dong Zhuo liked good weapons. Therefore, carrying the dagger, he went to see Dong Zhuo, who was then napping. When Cao Cao was about to draw out the dagger to stab Dong, suddenly Dong opened his eyes and asked Cao what he was doing. Cao said that he got a good dagger and came to offer it to Dong. As Dong took it, Cao bade farewell and fled out of the capital secretly.
So Wang Yong had no chance to kill Dong. When he adopted the girl, a wonderful idea struck him. Dong was a lewd man and liked beautiful girls. Therefore, Wang Yong made up a scheme called “Beauty Entrapment.” Dong Zhuo had an adopted son by name of Luu Bu (?--199 AD), who was known as the bravest and more skillful knight at the time. Luu was young and still single.
The trick was carried out like this. First Wang Yong invited Luu for dinner at home. When dinner went on midway, Wang let Diaochan come out to toast Luu. At the first sight of the girl, Luu fell in love with her right off as she was such a beauty. Wang thereby promised to marry the girl, declared as his daughter, to Luu. Luu was glad and grateful.
Next day, Wang Yong invited Dong Zhuo for dinner at his home. When Dong came, Wang let Diaochan come out to toast Dong. The girl was declared to be a singsong girl to entertain guests. As she was so beautiful, Dong liked her at once. When dinner was over, Dong took the girl with him even without asking for the permission of Wang. If the girl was declared as Wang's daughter, Dong could not take her away so freely. But a singsong girl had no status in society, Dong could do anything with her as he liked. Because Dong was so powerful, Wang could not say NO to him. If the girl was declared to be his daughter, Wang could say NO. That was the point of the trick. So far so good for the ruse.
A few days later, Luu Bu came to ask when the wedding could take place. Wang was silent. Luu inquired again, and again no answer. At last, Luu forced Wang for an immediate reply. Want sighed and said with tears in his eyes, “A few days ago, I invited your (adoptive) father for dinner. When he saw my daughter, he just took her away without even asking my permission.” Hearing this, Luu began to hate Dong for robbing him of his wife. But he did not go to see Dong to demand an explanation. He was a bit afraid of his adoptive father.
One day, Luu came to Dong's residence and met Dong in the Fengyi Arbor in the garden. Chinese people liked to give names to their arbors and pavilions so that when they mentioned the names they knew where they would meet. When they were talking in the arbor, Diaochan intentionally came bringing cups of tea. She looked at Luu with teary eyes as if saying that she really loved Luu, but was unwillingly taken by Dong. Luu met with Diaochan's eyes, but he could say nothing before Dong. Dong detected the love eye contact between the girl and Luu. He flared up and wanted to kill Luu, but Luu ran away. When Dong told it to one of his advisers, he said that Dong should not offend such a brave general for a girl and that Dong should give the girl to Luu so Luu would be thankful to him and even willing to die for him. Dong considered it over and over and made his final decision to follow the advice. When he talked to the girl, she started to cry bitterly, saying that she did not like Luu, and that if she was forced to leave Dong, she would rather kill herself. Finally Dong let her stay with him. The trick went on smoothly.
At last all courtiers encouraged and instigated Luu to kill Dong. They said that as a young hero, Luu should not let his wife be occupied by another man and that he must take her back. The only way to take the girl back was to kill Dong. Luu thus made up his mind and killed Dong. Then he took Diaochan to his residence and married her.
No long afterwards, some Dong's followers revolted and Luu escaped with Diaochan to a small town called Xiapi. Wang Yong was killed by the followers. After the death of Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao rose in power and conquered the followers. Then he attacked Luu Bu, who was killed. As for the end of Diaochan, there were two legends. One was that she hanged herself to follow her husband Luu Bu to Hades. The other was that Cao Cao captured her after the death of Luu, and no one knew what became of her later.
24， 謝道蘊 Xie Daoyun (a famous poetess)|
Xie Daoyun (350—405 AD) was a famous poetess in the history. With the above two, Ban Zhao, Cai Wenji and she were known as the three talented women in the early history of China. She was the niece of Xie An (320—385 AD), a famous politician and general, and the daughter-in-law of Wang Xizhi (303—361 AD), a renowned calligrapher. The most known event of her was that one day in winter when it was snowing heavily, the flakes were hovering down. Xie An, one of his nephews and the girl were gathering to look at the flying snow flakes. Xie An asked who could use something in comparison to describe the flying snow flakes. The nephew said, “Casting salts into the air is the right comparison.” But the girl said, “It's better to compare it to the catkins flying in the wind.” Catkins were better comparison than salts to the snow flakes. So poets in subsequent dynasties said that she had catkin talent.
It was a tradition that on the third day of her marriage, a girl could return to the home of her parents and the parents would inquire her what she felt about the marriage. So did her parents to her, she was dissatisfied with he husband. When her parents said that he was a good man without any defects in his character. She answered that he was okay, but a good-for-nothing while his cousins and his brother were all talented and had their own careers. Once the brother (also a famous calligrapher as the father) of her husband was cornered in a debate by a quest. She came out to his rescue. She put the guest in a corner by her eloquence and reasoning.
Then some rebels came and killed her husband. When she heard of it, she ran out with a sword, but was captured after she killed several rebels. The leader of the rebels respected her bravery and faithfulness to her husband, and let her go. She lived the rest of her life as a widow. The magistrate learned her fame and came to visit her. She had a screen put between herself and the guest. They had a pleasant conversation. After it, the magistrate expressed his admiration of her talent.
25， 劉楚玉 Liu Chuyu (having thirty love mates)|
Liu Chuyu (446—465 AD) was princess Shanyin. Her husband (446—482 AD) was the son of an official of high rank. Once the princess said to the emperor, his brother, “We come from the same father. Although we have the difference of sex, why you can have many women while I can have only one man? It's not fair to me.” Therefore, the emperor, Liu Ziye (449—465 AD), got thirty handsome men for her. Courtier Zhu Yuan (435—482 AD) was very handsome. But he was an upright person.
However, the princess wanted to take a look at him first, secretly, to see if she liked him. The emperor sent for the courtier in his royal study, and the princess peeped at him from behind a screen. After she set eyes on him, she liked him very much. She asked the emperor to let him accompany her for ten days. So the emperor ordered Zhu Yuan to stay in a special pavilion for ten days. In the night of the first day, the princess went to see him and wanted to sleep with him. But as soon as the princess approached him, Zhu Yuan stood up to salute the princess. For the whole night, he stood there with little move about. The princess said, “You look a man, but you don't act like a man.” He replied, “As a man, I can't do such a thing.” Whatever the princess did to force him, he would never give in. On the last day of the ten days, the princess had to let him go.
Liu Yu (439—472 AD) was the uncle of the emperor. He always thought that the throne should belong to him. Then on the twenty-ninth day of the eleventh moon in 465 AD, he sent someone to kill the emperor and made himself the emperor, Emperor Ming. Next day, he gave an edict in the name of the empress dowager to order the princess to commit suicide for the reason that she was a lewd woman. The princess must obey the order of her mother. Therefore, she hanged herself.
26， 潘玉兒 Pan YuEr (a woman who could whip the emperor)|
Pan YuEr (?--?) was not only beautiful with white skin and fine figure, but the most famous feature of her beauty was her lovely little feet. She was born in a vendor's family. Her father, almost illiterate, gave her the name called Nizi (literally meaning “Little Girl”). Such a name was deemed vulgar. But her beauty attracted everyone who caught sight of her. They lived from hand to mouth, and so, when she grew into teenage, she often went to help her father sell things. She was familiar with market and trading. Once her mother had a chance to enter the palace as a wet nurse to feed the crown prince.
It was not until 498 AD when the crown prince succeeded the throne and became the emperor. As he often heard the mother, his wet nurse, talk about the girl, he had always yearned for her. Now he sent for her to the palace and made her the imperial concubine. Her beauty stunned him as he first set eyes on her. Her white skin glittered like pure jade. So he changed her name to YuEr (literally meaning “Jade Girl”). He had a new hall built for her. The floor was covered with engraved lotus patterns so that every step of her landed her on a lotus pattern. It was called that her steps produced lotus flowers.
Her feet were so small and lovely. He was a foot fetishist. He liked to caress her white feet and kiss her toes one by one and licked them in turns. Sometimes he bit her big toe and when she felt a big painful, she beat his back with a stick. And he liked it. He was a masochist. In the long Chinese history, Pan YuEr was the sole concubine who could beat the emperor like whipping a slave. Instead of a concubine waiting on the emperor, this emperor liked to wait on her. He made tea for her and massaged her back and legs.
Once she said to the emperor that she had liked the life in a market place. Therefore, he built a market for her, and let maids and eunuchs play the roles of traders and customers. Sometimes, the emperor would let some traders pretend to offend some rules and be brought to the presence of Pan YuEr, who would decide how to punish them. She enjoyed this very much. Once YuEr pretended to be the owner of a wine shop and stood behind the counter to sell wine, and the emperor played the part of the customer. And sometimes the emperor acted like a butcher standing behind a booth to sell pork, and the concubine came as a buyer.
This life style of the imperial couple enraged courtiers. Some of them criticized the emperor. The emperor killed them. He even killed his kinsfolk till one day his brother, afraid of being killed, too, could no longer endure it. He marched his troops to surround the capital and killed the emperor. He gave the girl to one of his generals as a reward for his merits. The general held a banquet to celebrate it. When all the guests wanted to see the beauty that they had heard of so much and so long, the general led them to his bedroom, where the girl should stay to wait for his arrival for the night. But as the door was opened they saw the girl hanging herself from the beam, and still looking beautiful.
27， 徐昭佩 Xu Zhaopei (the woman having makeup on half of her face)|
Xu Zhaopei (?--549 AD) was the wife of Emperor Yuan of Liang dynasty (502—557 AD), which was a short dynasty during the second warring period. In the twelfth moon of 517 AD, she went to where the emperor lived. On her way there, there were strong winds that blew down houses, then snow storm came. When she arrived there, there were pealing thunders that shattered a pillar. All these were considered as bad omen.
After marriage, she bore a son and a daughter for him. As the emperor had one eye blind, Xu did not like him and was often rude to him. The emperor disliked her, too. Once when he went to her room, she only put the makeup on half of her face to imply that the emperor had only one eye good. So the emperor was enraged and seldom to see her ever since.
She then had adultery with some other people. The first one was a monk and she often went to his temple. The second one was Ji, a favorite courtier of the emperor. They had the action in the temple, too. After the action, they lay on bed and composed poems to each other.
Xu was a jealous woman. Whenever the emperor liked someone, she would find a way to murder her. Although the emperor disliked her, he liked her son and made him the crown prince. But the son died in a battle. The emperor forced her, the mother, to commit suicide. Finally she threw herself into a well and drowned inside it. Then the emperor revealed her lewd action to let people know it so that he forced her to make suicide was not without reason.
[this book is published recently.]
28， 婁昭君 Lou Zhaojun (she married a common man, who became emperor finally)|
Lou Zhaojun (501—562 AD) had a legendary life. Her father was a courtier of high rank. When she grew up, many official families came to see her father to ask for her hand, but she denied all the suitors. She wanted to find a man fit to be her husband.
One day, she saw a man, a general, called Gao Huan (496—547 AD), doing some work at the battlements. She knew how to read the face. His face showed that he would be a leader of a state some day. Therefore, she married him. Although a general, he had no money. She gave him money and let him use it to make friends with all the known heroes of the time. Besides, she offered stratagems so that he could win merits in battles. He was promoted to be the premier.
When Gao Huan got powerful enough, she helped him to establish a new state, named North Qi. Gao became the emperor and she was the empress. She had born six sons and two daughters for him. Three of her sons were emperors in different times. Her daughters both became empresses of other states. She was frugal by nature. As the empress she would weave and sew herself. She treated her own children and the children of other concubines equally. Once she made sacrifice for her husband.
To strengthen his power for the situation, he should marry the princess of Ruru State. When he asked his empress if this was right for him to do, Empress Lou gave her ascent without hesitation. When Princess Ruru came, she let her be the empress and herself be the concubine. For that, she was praised by people in the small empire. The emperor had one wife and ten concubines. He had fifteen sons and three daughters in all.
Once when she was pregnant and got into hard labor, someone wanted to send urgent massage to the emperor, but she would not agree. At last she gave birth to twin babies, a son and a daughter. When the emperor returned and learned the condition, he was greatly moved.
Once he was defeated. A general came to offer to lead an army for the revenge. The emperor was glad and about to consent, but empress Lou said no. She explained that if the general had an army under command, whether he won or lost in the fight, he would never come back to obey him any more. He would be independent with an army in his control. So the emperor did not let the general go. The general later did betray another emperor in another state.
When the emperor, Gao Huan, died, his eldest son Gao Cheng became the emperor. Lou Zhaojun, as empress dowager, controlled the power. When Gao Cheng died, her son Gao Yang took the throne. Not long later, Gao Yang died, too. His son, Gao Yin, succeeded the throne. Gao Yin was the grandson of Lou. As Gao Yin was not a good emperor, the empress dowager deposed him and made him Prince JiNan. Then her another son Gao Yan was made the emperor. Not long afterwards, Gao Yan also died. She made her another son Gao Zhan the emperor, and made two other sons the princes. She died at the age of sixty-two.
29， 穆黃花 Mu Huanghua (an empress became the bawd)|
Mu Huanghua (?--?) was the third empress of the emperor Gao Wei, the last emperor of North Qi dynasty. Her mother was a maid in the family of some courtier. Then she was raped by the courtier and bore the girl. When the girl grew up, she went to the palace. At first she was the maid of the first empress of the emperor. Once the emperor saw her and liked her. She became his concubine. In 572 AD, she was made the empress when the original empress died. In 577 AD, another state invaded North Qi and took the capital. The emperor and Mu had to escape. But the emperor was captured, and Mu ran away to ChangAn city, where to make her living, she opened a brothel and became the bawd. Her brothel was at the time well-known on both sides of the Yangtze River. This was a weird experience to her from an empress to a bawd.