Daji ― the Exotic Beauty


Caroline Young, artwork and text

Exotic beauty

The beautiful Daji lived around 1130 BCE, during the Shang dynasty. Her father was a barbarian chieftain, who gave her as a tribute to King Zhou, who was the last king of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1750-1122 BCE).

It was said that king Zhou became hopelessly infatuated with Daji, and went to extravagant lengths to satisfy and please her.
For example, because Daji loved animals, he built her a zoo containing rare birds and animals. To amuse her, he constructed a “Pond of Alcohol” and a “Forest of Meat”, and invited 3,000 guests, who played cat and mouse games, running around naked at Daji’s request.

On a more sinister level, Daji was an active proponent and great fan of torture and execution. She was best known for her invention of the Paolao zhi fa, a cylindrical device which rotated above a pit of burning charcoal.
The victim was forced to try to walk on the oiled surface, which was extremely hot. Should the victim fall, he would burn to death in the charcoal below. It is also reported that she would burst out laughing during executions.

King Zhou was used to the soft-spoken and refined ladies of his court, and when he cast his eyes on the exotic Daji, he promptly lost his heart and his head.

He spent all his time with her and neglected his affairs of state, and eventually this brought about the demise of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1122 BCE).

Ultimately, Daji was executed on the orders of King Wu of Zhou, who blamed her for the downfall of the dynasty. Her head was symbolically hung on a white flag to represent this tragic turn of events.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.