The 4 Most Beautiful Women in Ancient China

The new Beauty and the Beast is out so… what better occasion to have a look at the Four Great Beauties of China (四大美女) ! The Four Beauties  are four ancient Chinese women, renowned for their beauty. They are said to be the the most beautiful Chinese women ever existed in China!

Nobody knows if they really existed or not, and most of their life is shrouded in mystery and legend. During their existence they decided the fortunes or to the defeat of entire kingdoms and usually their life ended in tragedy 🙁

There’s a saying in China that goes “hóng yán bó mìng” (红颜薄命), beautiful women suffer unhappy fates.

So let’s start and discover the stories of the 4 most beautiful chinese women!


1 – Most Beautiful Chinese Women | Xi Shi 西施 


Xi Shi lived somewhere between 7th and 6th century BC, during the so called Spring and Autumn Period. At that time China was composed by many kingdoms fighting with each other.

She was said to be “so beautiful as to make swimming fish sink“ : 西施沉魚 (xī shī chén yú, literally “Xi Shi sinks fish“).

Amazed by her stunning beauty fish would forget how to swim and sink below the surface when seeing her reflection in the water.

Xi Shi’s hometown is Zhuji (in modern Zhejiang Province). Zhuji was the capital of Ancient Yue Kingdom. The kingdom of Yue and Wu were at war so the Yue’s king devised a plan to make the rival fall.

The Yue’s king sent our Xi Shi as a gift to the enemy king who was dazzled by her beauty and fell in love with her. The Wu’s king neglected the whole country because of Xi Shi beauty and his kingdom quickly fell. The plan was complete and had proven successful!

Someone says Xi Shi  lived happily for the rest of her life with her former fiancé. Another version says that Xi Shi eventually died from drowning in a river.


2 – Most Beautiful Chinese Women | Wang Zhaojun 王昭君

Wang Zhaojun

Wang Zhao Jun (first century BC, Western Han Dynasty), was said to be “so beautiful as to make flying birds fall” : 昭君落雁 (zhāo jūn luò yàn, literally “Wang Zhaojun entices birds into falling”).

The legend says that some birds saw the beautiful woman riding a horse, immediately forgot to flap their wings, and fell to the ground.

She was born in Baoping Village, Zigui County (in current Hubei Province). Wang left her hometown and entered the harem of Emperor Yuan. According to the custom in the palace, when choosing a new wife, the Emperor was first presented with portraits of all the candidates.

It is said that because of Wang’s confidence in her beauty, she refused to bribe the painter as the other maids did. As a reprisal, he painted a very ugly portrait of her. Moreover, because of that ugly portrait, Wang Zhaojun was never visited by the Emperor.

Later, the chief of Xiongnu (Mongolia-northern China) made a request to become an imperial son-in-law, and wished to marry an imperial concubine. The Emperor agreed with the request but he didn’t want to give away any of his beautiful concubines. He sent our Wang Zhaojun instead, since she was the ugliest according to the portrait.

When she was about to leave the Emperor realized what a terrible mistake he had just made. But it was too late, Wang Zhaojun crossed the Great Wall to Mongolia and married the prince. The artist who painted the ugly portrait was sentenced to death for deceiving the emperor.

Wang Zhaojun died at the age of 33, and never made return to her homeland.


3 – Most Beautiful Chinese Women | Diao Chan 貂禅

diao chan italianvagabond

Diao Chan (third century, Three Kingdoms Period), said to have “a face that would make the full moon hide behind the clouds“: 貂蟬閉月 (diāo chán bì yuè, literally “Diao Chan eclipses the moon”). Unlike the other Beauties, there is no evidence she actually existed historically.

Similarly to what happened with Xi Shi, Diao Chan was used to overthrow the ruler of a kingdom, Dong Zhuo. In particular she had a romance with the warrior Lü Bu and caused him to betray and kill his foster father, the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo.

Her fate wasn’t fortunate either: someone says she was executed by Dong Zhuo’s followers, someone else that she was later executed with ther lover Lü Bu after he was defeated in a battle.

4 – Most Beautiful Chinese Women | Yang Gui Fei 杨贵妃

Yang Gui Fei lived at the time of Tang Dynasty (719–756), people said she had “a face that would make all flowers feel shameful“: 貴妃羞花 ( guì fēi xiū huā, literally “Yang Guifei shames flowers”).

Her real name was Yáng Yùhuán but she’s widely known as Yang Gui Fei (can be translated as “Imperial Consort Yang”). 

She was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong, and his favourite among more than 3000 concubines!!!

During a rebellion,  Emperor Xuanzong and his cortege escaped from the capital Chang’an (today Xi’An) to Chengdu. The emperor’s guards demanded that he put Yang Gui Fei to death because they blamed the rebellion on her cousin Yang Guozhong and the rest of her family. The emperor initially declined but then reluctantly agreed.

He ordered one of his attendants to take her to a Buddhist shrine and strangle the poor Yang Gui Fei to death. 🙁

The Four Most Beautiful Chinese Women Ever
The Four Beauties of ancient China

If you meet a beautiful girl you can tell her “you sink fish and entice birds to fall, eclipse the moon and shame flowers” (沉鱼落雁,羞花闭月). I’m not sure what the outcome will be !!! 😀


Find out the modern Chinese Beauty Standards !

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Italian Vagabond

Born in Italy, lived in UK, wandered across Southeast Asia, Europe, USA, Africa and Australia. Amatheur photographer, passionate traveller, enthusiastic reader, addicted football fan.

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