Episode 98: Chinese Four Great Beauties 3 – DiaoChan

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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.

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 DiaoChan 貂蝉 whose beauty was so entrancing that the moon would shy away when compared to her. She is the only one in the Four Great Beauties that there is no evidence that she existed in the history. It says her original last name was Ren 任. DiaoChan is her nickname. It is a weird name cause diao 貂 means sable, chan 蝉 means cicada. Some historians think sable cicada is from the sable tails and jade decorations in the shape of cicadas which adorned the high-ranking officials in the Eastern Han dynasty. DiaoChan sometimes represents high social status in literature at that time.


She is well known from the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义, one of the Four Great Chinese Classical Novels from the 14th century. It is a novel based on the real history in the Han dynasty 汉朝 and the Three Kingdoms period between the year 169 ~ 280.

In the book, DiaoChan was adopted by a regional official called WangYun 王允 as a maid after she escaped from the palace during the war in the Eastern Han dynasty. WangYun saw her praying to the moon one day that she wished the tyrannical warlor DongZhuo 董卓 should get punishment for what he did.


WangYun had the same thought and started to treat her as a daughter. He and DiaoChan had a big plan.


He presented DiaoChan to DongZhuo as a concubine. One day when Dong Zhuo was out, Lv Bu 吕布, a military general and warlord who was a subordinate of Dong Zhuo at that time, sneaked into the bedroom in the hope of seeing DiaoChan. Dong Zhuo treated Lv Bu as his son since he was the most important general in his army. DiaoChan pretended to be depressed and attempt suicide. She acclaimed that she was ashamed to see Lv Bu because she had been violated by Dong Zhuo. Lv Bu was heartbroken since the beautiful girl he had a crush on got hurt and he promised he would not let her suffer more. Just when those two love birds were hugging each other, Dong Zhuo returned and caught the affair. Lv Bu fled.


Dong Zhuo’s adviser suggested him to let Lv Bu have DiaoChan to win back Lv Bu’s trust. So Dong Zhuo came to DiaoChan and accused her of betraying. DiaoChao replied to Dong Zhuo that she was forced by Lv Bu to hug him and she loved Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo believed her and so far Dong Zhuo and Lv Bu started to get suspicious of and fight against each other.


Lv Bu didn’t know what to do and went to Wang Yun for help, who actually started this conspiracy. Wang Yun used this opportunity to instigate Lv Bu to join the plot to kill Dong Zhuo. They set up a trap and Lv Bu successfully killed Dong Zhuo, whom he used to fight for.

DiaoChan’s fate differs in stories. Some story say that she was killed by Dong Zhuo’s followers. Some story say that she followed Lv Bu.

There are a series of plays from the Yuan dynasty 元朝 based on folklore about DiaoChan. We can talk about them in our future episodes.



三国演义 Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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