四大女裝

This is ‘sì dà nǚ zhuāng’. You’ll have to forgive my Chinese. I’m terrible.

(I know, it’s incorrect. I wanted to try for myself!)

However, hopefully, my knowledge is a little more stable than my written words. This article came to me after a period of deep thought. My current rate of out-put is rather stunning, if I may say so myself. I didn’t think it possible. It’s a rate (much like China’s economy) that is doomed in one way or another. That would be why you’re reading this today.

I had intended to write this well in advance. It is the twenty first. I have fallen well behind once again. However, I’ll continue, you see, I prefer to give (a little) on my birthday. It makes me feel less… selfish. So this is my gift to you. It’s something beautiful to hopefully brighten your day.

The correct title would be ‘sì dà měinǚ’. Yes, that’s right. This article pertains to The Four Beauties. These are the most beautiful women of ancient China. One, however, is considered fictional as there are so little sources. Now, I do believe that she is the one in ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. That is why I’ve gone the extra mile for you. I do believe that most of you will know the fifth great beauty.

Xī Shī is the one that I’ve heard most of. She is also the one that, I suppose you could say, I am most ‘enamoured’ by. In my time tested fashion, I am going to ask that ‘favourite’ question of mine: why? Well, aside from having been said to be living in the Spring and Autumn Period – a most beautifully named time – she is said to be so beautiful that, when her reflection was caught in water, the fish would be entranced and fall to the depths.

She is the origin of the saying; 沉魚落雁, 閉月羞花. The last part, I’m sure, means ‘flowers and the moon’. Thanks for the title, Xī Shī, my manuscript thanks you eternally. In order words, guys, get the pīnyīn and woo your lady friends. You know what, here, I’ll even do it for you – chén yú luò yàn, bì yuè xiū huā.

Xī Shī is apparently not her only name. She is said to have been called Shī Yíguāng.

King Gōu Jiàn (yes, it says king) was ousted from his throne by a certain Fū Chāi of Wú. Knowing that Fū Chāi found women irresistible, he trained beautiful women and offered them as tribute to Fū Chāi. In that way, Xī Shī was found. It worked! Fū Chāi was so enamoured that he forewent his duties, killed one of his great generals who was also an advisor, Wu Zixū, and built a palace for his women. It ended badly for Fū Chāi and he eventually committed suicide.

Fàn Lí, the minister who found the women, was said to have taken to living on a fishing boat with Xī Shī. According to legend, after going away together, they were never seen again. However, a man that you guys undoubtedly have respect for, Mò Zi, claimed that Xī Shī eventually drowned in a river. Other than that, there really is nothing to tell of Xī Shī and her fate.

The West Lake of Hángzhōu is said to be the incarnation of Xī Shī. Her beauty and its beauty have been compared more than once.

Wáng Zhāojūn is the second of the Great Beauties. The name Wáng Zhāojūn is a ‘stylised’ variation. She was first named Wáng Qiáng of which, quite surprisingly, I believe has three written variations – 王牆, 王檣 and 王嬙. She is said to have been born in the Hán Dynasty in Húběi Province.

At a young age, Wáng Zhāojūn was entered into the Imperial Harem. However, having not bribed the portrait painter, she was painted with a mark on her face. Thus, the emperor chose not to meet with her. When the time came that the emperor chose to solidify or cement relations with the Hán. He wanted to become a son-in-law, but could not, thus, he sent a woman from his harem to pose as his daughter. Many of the women didn’t want to leave the palace, but one volunteered. That was Wáng Zhāojūn.

After her unveiling, the emperor regretted his decision, but the Hán emperor was delighted. The artist was then executed for his trickery. I have little other information beyond that point aside from Wáng Zhāojūn having three children, two sons and one daughter.

It is said that Wáng Zhāojūn was overwhelmed when riding away from her hometown to serve the first emperor. In her anguish, she began to play sorrowful melodies on an instrument. A flock of geese saw her on their journey South and their wings ceased to work and they fell.

There are hundreds of poems and many, many stories set about this woman. I would recommend the movie Beyond the Great Wall, and while I have not seen it, it is by the Shaw Brothers and it is an old movie, which really piques my interest.

The third of the Four Great Beauties is Diāochán. I know very little other details about Diāochán. Therefore, you are going to simply have to make do with the tale and a very shortened version at that.

Diāochán was captured by Cáo Cāo after a battle and was presented to Guān Yǔ in the hopes of winning loyalty. Guān Yǔ, however, wondered if he was being tricked as he recalled how Diāochán had previously betrayed two others. Thus, to prevent her from causing any further harm, Guān Yǔ killed her.

Diāochán was portrayed by Liú Yìfēi in the 2012 movie The Assassins.

The fourth of the Four Great Beauties was Yáng Yùhuán, otherwise known as Yáng Guìfēi. However, much other information also escapes my mind at present. However, I can say that beauty during her time was very different from beauty nowadays. Yáng Yùhuán had a ‘fleshy’ figure. She was also killed while the emperor of her time escaped with a few of his followers and allies. However, being linked to someone that was blamed for the emperor’s downfall, the emperor was coerced into having her killed.

The story of Yáng Yùhuán was very popular. In fact, so much so that there is a Japanese rumour that she escaped to Japan and lived from then on under the name Yōkihi. She is also thought to be linked to Lady Kiritsubo of The Tale of Genji.

Thus ends our time with The Four Great Beauties. In reverence to their persevering tales, there is this quotation;

西施沉魚
昭君落雁
貂嬋閉月
貴妃羞花

Now we come to meet with the fifth, the woman whom some with to elevate to the ranks of The Four Great Beauties by removing the ‘fictional’ one. Unfortunately, the article where such a thing was mentioned is now lost to me. While I prefer for historical things and traditional things (sometimes) to remain as they are, I do see the point in this. Can we just make it five? Four is a bad number, after all.

Her name, as many of you will know, is Yú Miàoyì. Oh, you don’t know? Come on Qín’s Moon fans! What about Yú Jī? Are you just not ‘into’ the whole ‘highly possible’ scenario thing?

Yú Jī, as she’s most commonly known, is the wife or consort of Xiàng Yǔ. He partook in a revolution against the mighty army of Qín and Yú Jī just wasn’t one of those stay at home types. She travelled with him on his military campaigns. However, at one particular battlefield, the enemy (the Hán) started singing songs from Xiàng Yǔ’s homeland to confuse them and lower the morale. It worked. There were deserters. That was also the downfall of Xiàng Yǔ.

Since he was so demoralised, Yú Jī came to the decision that his love for her might be – or might become – a distraction. Thus, while he was drunk and singing a song to lament, Yú Jī performed a sword dance and sang a verse in return. Once she finished singing, she killed herself with his sword.

Yú Jī’s verse is said to be;

漢兵已略地,

四面楚歌聲。

大王義氣盡,

賤妾何聊生

All right, people, my beloved parents haven’t brought me to Paris to sit on my laptop. That’s going to have to be all for now.

Au revoir, mes lecteurs! Bonne nuit, bon soir et bonne journée!

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