Wang Zhaojun ― The Heroic Heart


The Four Great Beauties

Caroline Young, artwork and text

Siberian Twilight

Beautiful Wang Zhaojun, daughter of a poor scholar, was chosen to enter the emperor’s household as one of over two thousand concubines.

Because of her steadfast refusal to bribe the eunuchs to place her in the emperor’s chambers as his lady for the evening, she was left to languish in isolation, totally unnoticed by the emperor.

China and Mongolia had been at war for sometime but were ready to sign a peace treaty. To cement the deal, a concubine from the emperor’s household was to be presented as a peace offering to the barbarian king. Painters were commissioned to do portraits of every lady in the seraglio, with the understanding that the ugliest would become the new queen of the barbarians.

In their attempt to escape such a fate, the concubines resorted to bribing the painters to do better-than-life portraits.
Only Wang Zhaojun remained steadfast in her integrity, and refused the solicitations of the artist assigned to do her portrait.
The vindictive artist, unable to enrich his own coffers, added an ugly birthmark to Zhaojun’s face when he painted her portrait.

Naturally, she was chosen as the peace offering. The festive day came when the barbarian contingent arrived to escort their new queen home.
As Wang Zhaojun emerged from the palanquin, all who were present gasped at her unparalleled beauty.

The emperor tried to renege on the agreement, as he wanted to keep this lovely maiden for himself. He offered another concubine to the barbarians, but their commander, having seen Zhaojun, refused.
To avoid further enmity and hostility, the emperor finally kept his word, and Zhaojun was brought triumphantly back to Mongolia as the country’s new queen.

There, the barbarian king and his subjects promptly fell under the spell of their beautiful new queen.
Zhaojun learned to love her new people, whom she taught to read and write. She brought culture and refinement to her new country and became a beloved queen in her adopted homeland.

And the villainous artist who betrayed his king with the false portrait was ultimately beheaded for his treachery.

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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.