Wang Zhaojun

Posted May 5th, 2008 and filed in People
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Her name can be roughly translated as “the Lady of Sunshine”. This is her title, not her real name. This title was given to her when she was made a princess.

She is one of the Four Beauties in China’s history. Born in the picturesque Three Gorges area into a modest family, she was like any other industrious village girl, working and playing on the green hills and clear waters.

That was during the Han Dynasty. The emperor had three thousand wives in his massive palace, most of whom would never have a chance to see him. Yet year after year, pretty girls were sought from all over the country and sent to his imperial harem, waiting to be his bride for maybe one night. The degree of his attention and affection determined these women’s status. Those who never got to be near him would be the most inferior, living in seclusion, despised by even their servants.

Because his wives were so numerous, to ease the burden of interviewing each one, the emperor made his choice based on portraits painted by his court painter. Since the competition was fierce, the court painter sought and received huge briberies from the ladies in waiting.

When Zhaojun was brought into the palace, she had too little money and too much dignity. She refused to bribe the painter. The painter painted her portrait in minute detail; then, upon finishing, he let a drop of ink from his brush fall onto her face, which completely ruined her beauty in the portrait. She did not get selected. This beautiful girl was therefore locked up in the deep chamber of the royal palace, destined to grow old alone. She lived like this for years.

On the political side, the war on the northern border between the Mongolians and Han, which went on for generations, finally came to a ceasefire, thanks to a new wise khan of the Mongolians. Though a fearless warrior, he understood the importance of peace and wished to learn from his prosperous southern enemy. The Han was the most powerful and largest empire in the whole world, as well as the most advanced civilization.

The emperor welcomed the khan’s peace offering. In addition to all other friendly gestures and gifts and treaties, the emperor promised the khan a beautiful Han woman as his wife, to build an eternal bond between the two nations. This woman would be given to the khan in the status of a princess, as if she had been the daughter of the emperor.

This honor was offered to the untouched ladies in the back chambers. The ladies were horrified. Although it was a cruel fate to grow old in seclusion, at least they were living in the comfort their refined civilization could provide, of delicate clothing and fine cuisine. They could live with their familiar customs and language, in a mild climate and green landscape. Besides, there was always a slim hope of gaining the emperor’s attention someday. The North was harsh. The Mongolians lived on horseback, were nomads, warriors and hunters. They chased after the pasture with their herds. They ate meat, and drank milk and wine made from milk. They wore leather. Transportation was far from developed. Once gone they would never see their folks again. Nobody wanted a life in exile.

Nobody but one. Zhaojun volunteered. A woman of unmatched wisdom, courage and spirit, she preferred the unknown to a prisoner’s life.

Since she was the only one willing to go, she was chosen. On the day of her departure, she would be received in the court, where a grand ceremony would be held to make her officially a princess.

On that day, she dressed up magnificently. The moment she made her entrance, the whole court was illuminated by her radiance. She was the most beautiful woman in her time. Her immaculate beauty overwhelmed everyone.

Both the khan and the emperor fell in love with her. In his shock and anguish, the emperor retrieved her portrait to see why he had missed her in his viewing. The painter’s scheme and crime came to light and the poor fellow was executed. However, despite the emperor’s admiration for Zhaojun, he had no choice but to keep his word. He gave her away as his daughter, with a title to match her glowing beauty, and a dowry suitable for her royal status. There were tales about how he lived in agony and regret ever after, but none could be proved.

Zhaojun went to the North with the brave, wise khan and became the Mongolian Queen. She adapted to the new life, and developed a deep loving relationship with her husband. Together they ruled Mongolia for many years, bringing peace and prosperity to the people. After her husband died, according to the Mongolian custom at the time, she married his successor, the son of her late husband and his first wife. She remained the Queen for the rest of her life. Mongolia and Han lived in harmony and the border was quiet. She won the hearts of Mongolians, and was deeply admired and loved. She became a legend for two thousand years. To this day, her tomb is still a tourist attraction in Inner Mongolia.

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