Diaochan: One of the 4 Beauties of Ancient China

July 28, 2016
Editor: Rong Chen
Diaochan: One of the 4 Beauties of Ancient China
A modern portrait of Diaochan of the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) [Xinhua]


Chaotic times have long inspired authors to write about and worship national heroes and heroines, as well as famous beauties. Diaochan, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China, is a character whose legend has endured long beyond such turbulent eras.

Ancient China's Top 4 Beauties and Their Stories

Besides Diaochan, from the later Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), the other three Great Beauties were Xi Shi of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC–476 BC), Wang Zhaojun of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC–25 AD), and Yang Guifei of the Tang dynasty (618–907).

There are anecdotes about each of the four's appearances, respectively. For example, one of the sayings goes wild that fish were too stunned to swim if they saw the reflection of Xi Shi's captivating beauty. Similarly, Diaochan's story recounted that if she took a walk at night, the moon would immediately hide from her dazzling appearance and stay behind clouds.

Later, ancient scholars summed up the stories into a four-part proverb: "Xi Shi sinks fish, Wang Zhaojun entices birds into falling, Diaochan eclipses the moon, and Yang Guifei shames flowers.”

Beauty in the Wartime

Diaochan is best known because she is one of the important female figures in the Chinese literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms attributed to Luo Guanzhong (around 1330-1400), set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Eastern Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280).

Unlike the other three Great Beauties, Diaochan is the only one for whom there is no verified historical record, and she may be purely fictitious. Nevertheless, her story has captured the imagination of generations of Chinese.

Some historians believed that Diaochan was selected as a maid of honor in the Han Court, ancient China's cabinet. At 15, she was said to be in charge of hat decorations known as diao chan among senior officials in the court, which is how she earned her name.

After the death of the Han dynasty emperor, rampant wars took place in the land and forced many people to become homeless. Thanks to her appearance, Diaochan was adopted as a daughter by the senior official Wang Yun, who could at least assure her safety in uncertain times.

Confronted with the tyranny of the court official called Dong, Diaochan suggested to her adopted father that the best way to defeat Dong was to stir troubles between the minister and his most trusted adopted son, General Lü Bu, who was recorded to have brilliant military talent and assisted Dong to consolidate his reign over the country.

Diaochan planned that she herself could be the trigger in the dispute between the two men by taking advantage of her natural gift – men seemingly never failed to be fascinated by her beauty.

Therefore, shortly after, the plot was carried out and multiple conflicts intertwined with love and anger. After Diaochan succeeded in alienating Dong from Lü, her story in the book ends. However, discussions about her beauty and influence, among readers and critics, were barely getting started.

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

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