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Celebrities of Yangtze Area

Quyuan Wang Zhaojun Zhuge Liang Cao Cao
Quyuan Wang Zhaojun Zhuge Liang Cao Cao

Wang Zhaojun

Baoping, near the city of Yichang, Hubei Province, is a charming little village that has been  preserved as much as possible in its original state in order to honor the memory of a woman who was born here and who became famous for her beauty: Wang Zhaojun. How Wang Zhaojun, who was a beautiful young lady-in-waiting in the imperial court (BCE 75–33) of Emperor Yuan (he ruled from BCE 48–33) of the Western Han (BCE 206 – CE 9) Dynasty, came to be married off to a Hun chieftain as a pawn in an imperial game of chess designed to divide and conquer the Hun enemies of the Han Chinese emperor, is a tale of mistaken identity, but a tale with a twist in which petty corruption is rather roundly punished.*

A small, gently-flowing tributary to the Yangtze River, named Fragrant Brook after a legend (see below) concerning Wang Zhaojun, runs through Baoping Village. The western bank of Fragrant Brook is bordered by a green hill, with a natural flat depression in the hillside on which a village emerged, and thus the village came to be known as "valuable level land", or Baoping in Chinese. A section of  the village gate of Baoping is in the form of a platform made of earth, on which a door is engraved with the Chinese characters "Shu Zhuang Tai" ("dressing table"). It is said that this is the place where Wang Zhaojun used to sit for her morning toilet. The present-day platform has an added canopy, with stone tables and stools beneath it where visitors may pause for a rest – and perhaps to primp a bit at such an auspicious locale.

Nearby the village gate is the former dwelling of Wang Zhaojun, which had fallen into disrepair but which has since been restored to its original glory. The entrance-way to the house is marked by a palatial gate tower. The house itself is tall, full of rooms with high ceilings, and with winding corridors. A large garden park surrounds the house, with a terraced flower garden displaying hundreds of flowers, which, in season, blossom luxuriantly. Prominently placed in the garden park is a three-meter-high figure of Wang Zhaojun made of white marble, a later gift to the natal village of Wang Zhaojun by the city of Huhot, capital of present-day Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, but territory that was ruled by Huns, Altaic forbears of the Mongolians, during the life and times of Wang Zhaojun.**

Less than a hundred meters from the natal village of Wang Zhaojun is Nanmu Well, named after the nanmu tree that grows in it. The well has never dried up in all its long history, and its meter-deep waters are still clear enough that one can see to the bottom. Nanmu Well was the water source for the former residence of Wang Zhaojun, and remains an active, functional well, used by the villagers of Baoping to this day.

LEGENDS

Wang Zhaojun is considered as one of the four most beautiful women of ancient China. There are many charming legends, some happy, some sad, regarding the beautiful and gentle Wang Zhaojun. Below are two of the more famous "Fragrant Brook" legends related to Wang Zhaojun.

How "Fragrant Brook" Became Fragrant

One day when Wang Zhaojun was bathing in the small stream near her home, she carelessly dropped a pearl that was immediately washed away. From that moment the stream was transformed into a calm, transparent brook, full of fragrance. Thus the stream was thereafter known as Fragrant Brook.

Whence the Minnows of "Fragrant Brook"

One day Wang Zhaojun was given extraordinary permission by her husband to visit her parents in her natal village of Baoping. When the visit ended, Wang Zhaojun duly bad farewell to her parents and proceeded to the boat anchored up in Fragrant Brook that would carry her back to the home of her husband, a Hun chieftain who lived far to the north. It was the month of March, when the peach blossoms are in full bloom and all of nature is joyous and steeped in beauty, yet Wang Zhaojun's heart was filled with sadness, for she knew that this would be her last ever visit to her parents and to her natal village, and therefore Wang Zhaojun broke into tears while stepping into the boat. Her tears fell into Fragrant Brook, where they mingled with the petals of the falling blossoms, which were immediately transformed into minnows.

What we know of the real person who called herself Wang Zhaojun (she was born Wang Qiang, but styled herself Wang Zhaojun) can be gleaned from official records, where the girl was referred to simply as "Mingfei" (Concubine Ming) in the later annals of the Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty. According to these later annals, which have preserved the history of the imperial court of both Emperor Xuan and his son, Emperor Yuan, Wang Qiang was a brave, devoted child who volunteered to enter into the harem of Emperor Yuan in exchange for the release of her father, a scholar and an official who was to be punished for something or another, perhaps a failure that was not owing to his own neglect, but simply because it was common practice in those times to name and punish a scapegoat.

Wang Zhaojun, as she called herself, remained an unknown quantity at the court of Emperor Yuan, simply because in those times, the emperor chose his consort for the night not in person, but by sorting through the portraits of the concubines that were painted by the court painter. It was the custom in the court of Emperor Yuan (and indeed, the custom surely existed before – though possibly not after, as the epilogue will suggest – the reign of Emperor Yuan) that the concubines – euphemistically termed "ladies-in-waiting" (in truth they were only waiting to be beckoned to the bed of the emperor) – paid the court painter a fee in order to have a flattering likeness, or perhaps unlikeness, made of them. Wang Zhaojun was a natural beauty – in fact, she was outrageously beautiful, and in fact, unusually intelligent – and therefore she did not feel compelled to pay a bribe to have her likeness improved by the court painter. Unbeknownst to Wang Zhaojun, the court painter took his revenge by rendering Wang Zhaojun as the ugliest concubine in the entire harem, and therefore Wang Zhaojun was never beckoned to the bed of the emperor, who thus remained unaware that among the concubines in his harem was such a rare beauty.

During those times, China, under the Han Chinese, had been besieged by a nomadic Altaic people to the north, the Huns. Battling the Huns had also been the fate of Emperor Yuan's father, Emperor Xuan. Already during the reign of Emperor Xuan, the Huns had split into five different kingdoms, each ruled by a chieftain, or Shan-Yu, and each vying for power over the others, and each continuing to battle their Han Chinese neighbors to the south whenever the opportunity presented itself. One of the Shan-Yus, a certain Khukhenye, had suffered defeat at the hand of his brother, Zhizhi-Guduhu, also a Shan-Yu, so in order to strengthen his position vis-à-vis his brother, not to speak of vis-à-vis the other Shan-Yus, Khukhenye sent a message to Emperor Xuan informing the latter of his plight and his plans, and entreating the Chinese emperor to grant him an audience.

The audience went remarkably well; Emperor Xuan even went to the edge of the capital city in order to meet his visitor half-way, as it were. Khukhenye stayed with his host for an entire month, as relations between the two men warmed. When Khukhenye decided to return to the north, Emperor Yuan sent a large army to escort him back home, and the emperor sent along generous quantities of food to be given to Khukhenye's vassals, who were impoverished due to the ravages of war. Thereafter Khukhenye remained a loyal friend of Emperor Xuan.

When the emperor died and his son, Emperor Yuan, ascended to the throne, Khukhenye continued his friendly ties with the new Chinese emperor. Khukhenye's position was strengthened in the meantime because the forces of Emperor Xuan had eliminated Khukhenye's ruthless brother, Zhizhi-Guduhu, because the latter had had one of Emperor Xuan's emissaries killed. With Khukhenye's brother and nemesis out of the way, Khukhenye's position continually improved, so he decided one day to make a second visit to the Han Chinese to the south in order to meet the son of the emperor who had befriended him, the new emperor, Emperor Yuan. Hoping to strengthen his ties to the new Chinese emperor, Khukhenye suggested that he be allowed to marry one of Emperor Yuan's daughter, but the emperor, though willing to permit his guest to marry a member of the imperial court, stopped short of permitting his guest to marry one of his daughters.

Instead Emperor Yuan instructed the caretaker of his harem to find a volunteer among the "ladies-in-waiting", or concubines, who would be willing to marry Khukhenye. None of the girls were particularly interested in volunteering, however, as they enjoyed their life at the imperial court, except for "Concubine Ming", who languished in boredom, having no contact with the emperor and therefore being consigned to spend the rest of her life in idle pursuits, a painful fate for a person as intelligent as Wang Zhaojun. Thus Wang Zhaojun became the bride of the Hun chieftain, Khukhenye.

The epilogue to the story is that when Emperor Yuan, who, out of politeness, was obliged to attend the marriage of Khukhenye to the rather ugly concubine (the story goes that the emperor had been presented with the portrait of the bride-to-be, and nodded his approval), laid eyes on the stunningly beautiful Wang Zhaojun, he demanded to know how such a rare beauty had escaped his attention. It was at this point that the corruption racket of the court painter, a certain Mao Yanshou, was revealed. The story also goes that the emperor was so enraged at learning of a petty corruption racket that had denied him the pleasures of such a rare beauty as Wang Zhaojun that he immediately had Mao Yanshou put to death.

The Huns in question were none other than the nomadic Xiongnu horsemen tribes who had entered the area of present-day Inner Mongolia during the Western Han (BCE 206 - BC 009) Dynasty, driving out the relatively peaceful Scythian horsemen tribes of ethnic Persian origin who had settled among the indigenous hunter-pastoral Ordos people of the region. In fact, the first section of the Great Wall was erected specifically in order to keep out the aggressive Xiongnu tribes, who continually made violent raids eastward until this encroachment upon Han Chinese territory was eventually halted with the erection of the Great Wall.

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Qu Yuan

Qu Yuan is one of the world's four most outstanding celebrities of culture. Born in 339 BC, he is also an eminent writer, the greatest patriotic poet, well known strategist, thinker, diplomat, and reformer of China.

Moreover, Qu Yuan was a famous poet and statesman during Warring States. He is the initiator and representative writer of the great works Chu Ci. In 21 century, Qu Yuan enjoys wide respect and memorization all over the world as one of the four most outstanding literators. After the revision work by Liu Xiang and his son, and annotation by Wang Yi, 25 works of Qu Yuan finally came to public. It includes one Li Sao, one Tian Wen, 11 Jiu Ge, one Yuan You, one Bu Ju, and one Yu Fu. According to Records of Historian, Qu Yuan's Chronicles by Sima Qian, there was still another works of Qu Yuan called Zhao Hun. Some researchers believe that Da Zhao is also the works of Qu Yuan. But others suspect Yuan You, Bu Ju, Yu Fu, as well as many chapters in Jiu Zhang were not written by Qu Yuan. In terms of linguistic style, all the works of Qu Yuan broke up the traditional four-character sentence pattern, and used irregular number of characters within one sentence, such as three, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and even ten. Therefore sentences with different number of characters are very flexible in collocation and arrangement. The character "兮" is frequently used together with many empty words in Chinese, like之","于","乎","夫", and "而", etc. These empties words help regulate and adjust syllables so as to make the whole paragraph reads with rolling rhyme. In a word, the works of Qu Yuan is quite innovative from form to content.

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Cao Cao

Cao Cao (155 BC—220 BC), styled Mengde, is an eminent statesman, militarist, and poet in the times of Warring States. He was born in Qiao (today's Haoxian County in Anhui Province), and later became Emperor Wu Di of Wei. Cao Cao was very good at war. He did a lot of research on Master Sun's Art of War, and made further illustrations on it according to his own experience on the battlefield. He wrote two famous books, namely, Personal Understandings on Master Sun and Art of War. Moreover, he was very good at poetry and made much contribution to the development of poetry.

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Liu Bei

As the descendant of Prince Zhongshan of the Western Han Dynasty, Liu Bei was born in the year 161AD and died in 223AD. His father was named Liu Hong. While working for the imperial court to crack down the peasant uprising, he made the acquaintance of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei and the three became sworn brothers. Then Liu Bei became the magistrate of Anxi County, however he was unsatisfied with all the obstacles created by his superior towards him and therefore quitted the job after beating the superior. After that Liu Bei went to seek shelter in the area ruled by Gongsun Zan, who then nominated him as the magistrate of Pingyuan County. In the year 221AD, Liu Bei declared himself the emperor of the Han Dynasty and passed away two years later in the city of Baidicheng, which is now located in today's Chongqing area. 

As an excellent ruler and militarist, Liu Bei had a lot of merits, such as loving the common people, appointing virtuous government officials, being kind and just in dealing with state affairs, respecting other people and being honest and fair to people of all walks of life. He managed to attract a large number of political and military elites and made them work for him. The typical example of that is Zhuge Liang. According to the records from The History of the Three Kingdoms, before he died, Liu Bei said to Zhuge Liang, ' You are a genius and I am sure you will be able to unite the whole country. After my death, if my son is good and excellent enough to be a new ruler, you could just help him as the prime minister, if not, I will never blame you if you take the throne yourself and rule the country.' Zhuge Liang was greatly moved by his words and thus determined to devote his entire life in helping the new king to rule the country. Even when he worked as the prime minister and controlled the army, he never thought of making a rebellion or declaring himself as a new ruler. Liu Bei's personality vividly reflected the traditional political and philosophical theories in Chinese history. Both Confucius and Mencius had emphasized the rule of virtue and the policy of benevolence. They had told all the kings to rule the common people by virtues and influence them with the ruler's own excellent personality and gracious morality.

From the intricate political struggles, Liu Bei had realized the importance of using the political theories of Confucius to rule the country, and as a result, he took it very serious in cultivating his own personality and morality and setting up good examples as a ruler. Before he died, he kept on telling his son, who would ascend the throne, that it was a sin to steal a pin. He also said that only virtues could make other people admire and obey the ruler. These basic political ideas made Liu Bei a respectable political leader and finally made him the emperor of the Han Dynasty.

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Zhuge Liang

Coming from a Han ethnic group family, Zhuge Liang was born in 181AD and died in 234AD. He was also named Kongming, and Wolong, which means the 'lying dragon' in Chinese, refers to this great man, too. Zhuge Liang has been considered to be an outstanding statesman, militarist, strategist, essayist and diplomat. According to the records from the Book of History, which was called Shi Ji(a book recording history) in the Chinese language, he was as tall as 1.84 meters.

Zhuge Liang was born in the family of a local government official in the area of today's Yinan County of Shandong Province in the 4th year of Emperor Lingdi's reign. The Zhuege family was actually a traditional distinguished family in the local county. Zhuge Feng, who was one of the ancestors of the family, used to work as a military officer guarding the capital city in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD). Zhuge Liang's father Zhuge Gui, whose alias was Jungong, used to work as the prefecture chief in Taishan region in the later period of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25AD-220AD). When Zhuge Liang was only three years old his mother died, and what's worse, his father also died five years later. Therefore Zhuge Liang and his younger brother Zhuge Jun went to live with their uncle Zhuge Xuan, who had been appointed to be the governor of Yuzhang region. However, several years later Zhuge Xuan was replaced by another official dispatched by the imperial court. So Zhuge Xuan went to Jingzhou city to seek help from his old friend Liubiao, who was the governor there. Zhuge Liang and his brother were also taken to Jingzhou by his uncle.

In the year 197AD, their uncle died of illness, and the Zhuge brothers lost their only relative and they moved to Nanyang city, where Zhuge Liang, who was then just 19 years old, together with his friend Xushu, became the students of Mr Sima Wei, who was a very famous knowledgeable person at that time. Later Zhuge Liang realized that the local governor Liubiao was so addled and incompetent, he just gave up his wish to be a government official. Instead, he became a hermit in Longzhong village, which was located in the great mountains twenty kilometers west of Xiangyang city. During his ten years of life in the countryside, Zhuge Liange made a lot of friends and he was considered to be the most resourceful person of all of them. In spite of his isolation from the outside world, he always paid close attention to what has been happening in the whole country and therefore he knew the details of all the important events which had already happened. As a result, he was nicknamed Wolong, which means a lying dragon. Clever and resourceful as he was, he just lived as a hermit in the mountains. During this period, he got married with Huang Yueying--the daughter of Huang Chengyan, who was also a knowledgeable man at that time.

In the year of 207AD when Zhuge Liang was 27 years old, he was invited to work for Liu Bei, who was the descendant of the Eastern Han royal family and wanted very much to reunite the whole country, which then had been split up by several vassals. After refused by Zhuge Liang twice, Liu Bei went there for the third time. Zhuge Liang was greatly moved by his sincerity and determination and finally decided to work for him. When the two met with each other, Zhuge Liang was asked how to unite the whole country. He made a penetrating and reasonable analysis of the circumstances at that time before giving his own plan. He advised Liu Bei to take Jingzhou and Yizhou regions as their bases of operations first, then make political reforms inside the court, and diplomatically, cooperate with Sun Quan, who was then a vassal in the southeast area of China. Meanwhile, he said Liu Bei should make friends with the minority groups in the southern and western parts of China, and eventually sent armies to capture the northern territory and unite the whole country when the suitable time came. This was Zhuge Liang's suggestion to Liu Bei, who suddenly felt hopeful and strongly agreed with everything Zhuge Liang suggested him. He also realized that Zhuge Liang was a very rare talent and sincerely asked him to go out of the mountains to help him unite the country and rebuild the Han Dynasty. After working for Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang helped him to cooperate with Sun Quan and defeat the armies of Cao Cao in Chibi region. Before that, Cao Cao at that time was the most powerful vassal ruling the largest area in China. After this war, the three sides, Liu Bei, Sun Quan and Cao Cao stood like the legs of a tripod and Liu Bei seized Jingzhou as his base. In the year 211AD, Liubei took Yizhou and then defeated Cao Cao's army again and seized Hanzhong area. Ten years later, he founded Shu Kingdom in the city of Chengdu in southwest China and appointed Zhuge Liang as his prime minister.

Later when Liu Bei died, his son Liu Chan ascended the throne, Zhuge Liang was conferred the title of Lord Wuxiang and the land of Yizhou region was also given to him by the emperor. During the years when Zhuge Liang served as the prime minister of the Shu Kingdom, all the state affairs, including the military, political, and fiscal affairs were decided by Zhuge Liang, who was quite strict and fair in meting out rewards and punishments. Diplomatically, he continued the policy of cooperation with the kingdom of Wu, founded by Sun Quan. Domestically, Zhuge Liang paid much attention to improve the relationship and friendship between the Han nationality and other ethnic groups in southwest China. Also he sent garrison troops and peasants to open up wasteland and grow crops again. In addition, he took some measures to enhance the combat readiness of the army. Unfortunately in the year of 234AD when leading troops in Wuzhangyuan area to fight Caocao's army, Zhuge Liang died of illness. He handed all the state affairs to Jiang Wei, who was the best general in the kingdom before he died.

As a traditional thinker in the ancient feudal society, Zhuge Liang tried his best to defend the rule of the feudal rulers and admired the theories of fidelity and loyalty from Confucius. However, instead of merely following all the teachings of Confucius, he made some improvement and innovations according to different circumstances. He defended the rule of the king, but he did not allow any ethnic discriminations. He acted the best ethnic policy of all the three kingdoms and made friends with all the minority groups. He was respected by the Chinese people as he was loyal to the king, loved the common people, and devoted his entire life to the country.

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