Episode 82: Chinese Four Great Beauties 1 -XiShi

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In Chinese history, there are four women considered as the Four Great Beauties. They are XiShi 西施, Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君, DiaoChan 貂蝉 and Yang YuHuan 杨玉环. They are known for their beauty and they are remembered also due to their influences over the emperors. We will spend four episodes to talk about their legends.

There is a idiom to describe how beautiful each of them was. It is called 沉鱼 落雁闭月羞花 meaning the beauty can make the fish sink, birds fall, the moon eclipse and flowers be ashamed.


Today we will talk about the beauty XiShi 西施 whose beauty was so entrancing that while she was leaning over a balcony to look at the fish in the pond, the fish would forget to swim and sink in the water. XiShi is said to have lived during the end of the Spring and Autumn period around 500 BC. Her original name was Shi YiGuang 施夷光 from the Kingdom of Yue 越国.


The King GouJian 勾践 of Yue was imprisoned by King FuChai 夫差 after being defeated in a war and the Kingdom of Yue became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Wu 吴国. The King of Yue planned to revenge by offering the beauty XiShi to the King of Wu. In the book WuYueChunQiu 吴越春秋 , it says, the King of Wu couldn’t resist beautiful women. So the King of Yue with the help of his minister FanLi 范蠡 picked XiShi and trained her how to move and walk, how to dance for three years and offered her to the King of Wu as a tribute.


Bewitched by the beauty and education of XiShi, the king of Wu spent days after days with her without caring about his state affairs. He built palaces for XiShi for her. In 473 BC, the King of Yue finally launched his strike and defeated the Kingdom of Wu. In the book WuDiJi 吴地记, before XiShi was sent to the King of Wu, she and he minister FanLi who picked her and trained her fell in love and had a son. In some legends like in the book YueJueShu 越绝书, after XiShi accomplished her mission, FanLi retried from his position and left with XiShi on a boat.



越王勾践 King GouJian of Yue

吴王夫差 King FuChai of Wu

范蠡 FanLi

吴越春秋 WuYueChunQiu


越绝书 YueJueShu

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