Xia Ji: China's Femme Fatale of the Spring and Autumn Period

May 25, 2016
By people.cnEditor: Rong Chen

A portrait of Xia Ji in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) [File Photo]

 

Xia Ji was said to be a pretty woman with a captivating beauty who was married 10 times. Some say that she caused the deaths of countless men, including all her husbands and her only son, who was one of the most powerful leaders in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). History has almost no positive remarks about her life, and as such she leaves an almost unique legacy.

A tale from the Greek myth tells the story of Helen of Troy. Similarly, there are echoes in ancient oriental history about the legend of Xia Ji. It sounds unusual to blame a woman to be as the cause of wars. However, Xia Ji was an exception. She triggered violence and stirred trouble through three wars and multiple disputes among states, according to the historical records.

As a seductress shrouded in mystery, Xia became something of a dangerous figure in the period, during which time she was said to be a femme fatale with her striking, never-ageing beauty.

A Brief Introduction to the Spring and Autumn Period

In the 8th century BC, power became decentralized. As such, many states divided. This time is called the Spring and Autumn Period, named after the influential Spring and Autumn Annals.

Regularly, it was viewed as a booming stage for the birth of various schools of philosophy and thinking, epitomized by the 100 Schools of Thought of Chinese Philosophy. Such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism were founded, partly in response to the changing political world, during the era.

During this period, regional warlords wanted to build strong, large administrative areas so that they could collect more taxes and build a strong army to defeat their enemies. Therefore, a series of civil wars broke out which were led by overlords representing the interests of each empire.

Tales of Xia Ji

In ancient China, a woman did not possess a family name until she got married. She then bore the family name of her husband, while her given name was not usually mentioned.

It was an honor for the daughter from a noble family to have a given name when they were born. For instance, Ji was Xia's given name honorably granted to her by her father Zheng Mugong, a monarch in the reign of the Zheng State who ruled for 22 years.

She started to bear the family name of Xia after her bonding with Xia Yushu, a grandson of the monarch in the Chen State. Later, Xia gave birth to a boy named Xia Zhengshu.

According to history, Xia had 10 marriages in total with each stirring wars among states, as her first husband Xia Yushu died at a young age.

The multiple marriages along with the deaths of her husbands, including three monarchs and seven scholar officials, were considered to be ominous and against ancient discipline for women in China. Rumors went wild saying that she was evil and took advantage of her alluring appearance.

Her beauty was outstanding according to some. She would later be compared to the frequently cited lines by Christopher Marlowe in the description of Helen of the Troy from his tragedy Doctor Faustus (1604): "Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?"

Different from other beauties with good and bad points recorded in ancient Chinese history, all surviving stories about Xia Ji were negative. She was said to have wreaked havoc on some of the most powerful men at that time in the most manipulative manner.

(Source: people.com.cn/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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