Wang Zhaojun

From Academic Kids

Wang Qiang (王牆 also 王檣; 王嬙), more commonly known by her style name Wang Zhaojun (王昭君) was the consort of the Xiongnu shanyu Huhanye (呼韓邪). She is famed as one of the Four Beauties of ancient China.

Wang Zhaojun in history

Wang Zhaojun was born to a prominent family of Zigui county, Nan county (now Xingshan county, Hubei) in the south of the Western Han empire. She entered the harem of Emperor Yuan probably after 40 BC. During her time in the Lateral Courts, Wang Qiang was never visited by the emperor and remained as a palace lady-in-waiting (宮女).

In 33 BC, Huhanye visited Chang'an on a homage trip, as part of the tributary system between the Han and Xiongnu. He took the opportunity to ask to be allowed to become an imperial son-in-law. Instead of honouring the shanyu with a princess, Huhanye was presented with five women from the imperial harem, one of them who was Wang Zhaojun.

A story from the Hou Han Shu relates that Wang Zhaojun volunteered to join the shanyu. When summoned to court, her beauty astonished the emperor's courtiers and made the emperor reconsider his decision to send her to the Xiongnu.

Wang Zhaojun became a favourite of the Huhanye shanyu, giving birth to two sons. Only one of them seems to have survived, Yituzhiyashi (伊屠智牙師). When Huhanye died in 31 BC, Wang Zhaojun requested to return to China. Emperor Cheng, however, ordered that she follow Xiongnu levirate custom and become the wife of the next shanyu. In her new marriage she had two daughters.

Wang was honoured as Huning Yanzhi (胡寧閼氏 "Hu-Pacifying Chief-Consort").

Wang Zhaojun in legend

According to other legends, she commits suicide after her husband's death as her only resort in order to avoid marrying her son.

Her life became the story of "Zhaojun Departs the Frontier" (昭君出塞). Peace was maintained for over 60 years between China and the Xiongnu. However, China eventually lost touch with her and her descendants.

Since the 3rd century the story of Zhaojun had been elaborated upon and she had been touted as a tragic heroine. The Communist government of the People's Republic of China uses her as a symbol of the integration of Han Chinese and ethnic minorities of China. Zhaojun Tomb still exists today in Inner Mongolia.

Notable retellings of the story of Wang Zhaojun include:

  • Han Shu, Xiongnu Zhuan (first known account of Wang Zhaojun)
  • Qin Cao ("Principle of the Lute") by Cai Yong (c. 2nd century)
  • Xijin Zaji ("Sundry Accounts of the Western Capital") (c. 3rd century)
  • Han Gong Qiu ("The Autumn in the Palace of Han") by Ma Zhiyuan (c. 13th century)
  • Wang Zhaojun by Guo Moruo (1923)
  • Wang Zhaojun by Chao Yu (1978)

Chapter 3, "Naturalizing National Unity: Political Romance and the Chinese Nation," of Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia by Uradyn E. Bulag (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998) contains a detailed discussion of variants of the Wang Zhaojun legend.

Further reading

Waley, Arthur. The life and times of Po Ch-i, 772-846 A.D. (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1949)

zh:王昭君

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