Wang Zhaojun is perhaps the best known of China's "political brides". Many tales have been told about her life.
Her name was Jiang, her style Zhaojun
but during the Jin Dynasty, she was referred to as Minghou as the name
Zhao could not be used by ordinary folks since the
A native of Zigui ( in Western Hubei
province), she entered the imperial harem during the reign of Emperor
Yuan of Western Han (48-33 BC). The emperor chose companions from his
vast harem of maidens by looking at their portraits. As a result of this
practice, it had become the custom for palace ladies to offer large bribes
to court artists to ensure that they painted a flattering likeness. Wang
Zhaojun, however, was confident of her natural beauty and refused to pay
the court painter, Mao Yanshou, his customary bribe. As a result, from
her finished portrait, she seemed to be the ugliest of all the palace
ladies and thus, never received the emperor's
When the Xiongnu chieftain, Huhanxie became a subject of the Han empire, he told Emperor Yuan: "I wish to take a Han beauty as my empress.
To cement relations with this barbarous nation, Emperor Yuan agreed to the request. Unwilling to pick out a real beauty, the emperor ordered that the plainest girl in the harem be selected for the marriage. When the lady-in-charge of the harem sent the unflattering portrait of Wang Zhaojun to the emperor, he merely glanced at it and nodded his approval.
Only when she was on the point of departure did Emperor Yuan set eyes on her. Much to his dismay, he realised that she was in fact the loveliest woman in his harem. Emperor Yuan was intent on finding out how such an error could have arisen. He discovered that the blame lay with the fraudulent behaviour of the court artist Mao Yanshou so Emperor Yuan ordered that he be put to death.
This redress, however, came too late for Wang Zhaojun. Dressed in the regalia of the Han court, clutching her Pipa to her bosom, she travelled beyond the Great Wall. Wang Zhaojun never returned and died in a distant barbarous land. There is a rich and poignant poem entitled Song of Mingfei:
"When Mingfei left the palace
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Pipa : Musical instrument with 4 strings