Episode 40: Face Or Brain

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Nobody is perfect. You gain something and you lose something. If you can choose it before you were born, would you rather be good-looking but dumb or ugly but super intelligent? Would your choice be different if you were a male or a female? Today we will talk about one of the ugliest yet the most intelligent women in Chinese history, the legendary Zhong Lichun 钟离春.

How ugly was she? In the book DiaoYuJi 琱玉集, it says, Wuyan from the kingdom of Qi 齐国 was extremely ugly. Her forehead was huge, her skin was dry and dark, her nostrils pointed up and had a humpback, super long arms and jagged teeth. She was in her 40s and nobody would marry her. I don’t know if the authors of these books exaggerated probably they did. However, she would be at least regarded as the less good-looking woman than the average. In the book LieNvZhuan列女传from Han Dynasty 汉朝, it says, Zhong Lichun, from a place called Wuyan无盐 , was the queen of King Qixuan齐宣王. Ok, wait a second here. So she was a queen. How did it happen?

King Qixuan 齐宣王was the ruler between 319 to 301 BC of Kingdom Qi 齐国, one of the seven major states of Warring States period 战国时期 of ancient China. He is known for receiving advice of Mencius 孟子, a Chinese philosopher described as the “second Sage” that is after Confucius 孔子. There are a lot of interesting stories between the king and Mencius we can talk about in the future. The King Qixuan wasn’t the king making the best diplomatic decisions. Yet he wasn’t the worst king in the history because he was pretty open-minded and liked to hear people’s advises.

In the book LieNvZhuan, Zhong Lichun was so ugly that nobody could compare. However, she read and was passionate about politics. To help the king with better decisions of the kingdom, she just went to meet with the King Qixuan with the risk of being sentenced to death when she was nobody. This is a true story. Of course this is not a love at the first sight love story.

When the king first saw her, she was looking up, opening her mouth widely and waving her hands. Then she hit her knees screaming, “danger! Danger!” The king was so confused. Zhong Lichun walked to the king and said, “the reason of me looking up is to help your Majesty observe the change of winds and clouds.” Just to explain here winds and clouds is a metaphor for the situations happening in the world in Chinese. She kept saying, “the reason of me opening my mouth is to punish Your Majesty’s ears not to listen advises. The reason of me waving my hands is to help you get rid of the people who only flatter you. The reason of me hitting me knees is to help you take down palaces that is used for pleasure.”

So she proposed four projects the king should work on: being well known of what is going on in the world, listening to advises, getting rid of people who only flatter and save money from deduction of entertainment. She was not only intelligent but also good at conveying her ideas in a very interesting way. The king was so moved by her and married her as the queen. The Kingdom Qi was in its prosperous period after that.


In Yuan Dynasty 元代, Zhong Lichun’s story was written into some plays. However, some of the plays added another woman called Xia Yingchun 夏迎春 who was a lover of the emperor. She was the opposite of Zhong Lichun, beautiful not nothing else. After that, there is a saying, a man would talk with Zhong Lichun if he had some problems while he would hang out with Xia Yingchun if he had no troubles 有事钟 无艳, 无事夏迎春. The authors must be those silly man who thought women’s mission in this world was just to serve their men. They might felt bad for Zhong Lichun that oh you are smart and the king married you as the queen however, he only came to you when he needed you to solve problems.

But those male authors lived in the ancient time would never think as such an intelligent woman. The king was just the way to accomplish her political dreams. As a ugly woman who dared to talk with king about her versions about the kingdom, did she really get jealous if the king would spend time with other lovers? The purpose of meeting with the king at first was not to get attention by the king but to fulfill her political dreams. Most of the lovers of emperors in the ancient died miserably cause the they could attract the king for a short period of time with their appearances. Zhong Lichun, considered the ugliest woman for most people, was the queen until she died with respect and remembered after thousands of years. What’s on the inside really lasts.


钟离春 Zhong Lichun

琱玉集 DiaoYuJi

列女传 LieNvZhuan

齐宣王 King Qixuan of Qi

孟子 Mencius

孔子 Confucious

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