Xi Shi – A Legendary Beauty

xi shi

Xi Shi (西施), whose birth and death years remain uncertain, was a legendary beauty from the late Spring and Autumn period in ancient China. Her family name was Shi, and she was given the name Yiguang (or Xianshi). She hailed from humble beginnings, born and raised in the village of Liluo, which is now part of Zhujia Township in Zhejiang Province, specifically in the southern part of present-day Zhuji City.

Xi Shi’s story is one of both beauty and tragedy. She was born into poverty but was gifted with extraordinary natural charm, her loveliness setting her apart from the rest. Xi Shi’s beauty became the stuff of legends, captivating all who had the privilege of seeing her. Her story is intertwined with the geopolitical events of the time, as she played a significant role in the rivalry between the states of Yue and Wu.

During the Spring and Autumn period, the state of Yue suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the state of Wu and was compelled to submit to the Wu king, Goujian, seeking peace. As part of the submission process, Goujian was required to send beautiful women from his kingdom to the Wu king, Fuchai. Xi Shi, renowned for her heavenly appearance, was chosen as one of the women to be sent to the court of Wu.

Upon her arrival in the Wu kingdom, Xi Shi was lavished with the affection and admiration of King Fuchai. He ordered the construction of a special palace for her called the Chunxiang Palace in the city of Gusu (modern-day Suzhou). The palace was specifically designed for romantic trysts and featured various entertainment facilities, including theaters and banquet halls.

Xi Shi’s beauty was accompanied by her talents, particularly her skill in the “Xiangji Dance,” a type of rhythmic dance performed with wooden clogs, known for its captivating and melodious sounds. King Fuchai was so infatuated with her dancing that he had a “Xiangji Corridor” built to enhance her performances further.

Simultaneously, King Goujian of Yue was enduring great hardships, including sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall, as he plotted and strategized to rebuild his kingdom’s strength. Under his leadership, the state of Yue gradually grew stronger and ultimately managed to defeat the state of Wu.

With the fall of Wu, the fate of Xi Shi is shrouded in mystery. Different accounts and legends surround her disappearance. Some say she was drowned in the sea, while others claim she went into seclusion with Fan Li, another renowned figure from that era, and they lived quietly by the Five Lakes. The exact details of her life after Wu’s downfall are uncertain.

Xi Shi holds a prominent place in Chinese history as one of the “Four Great Beauties of Ancient China,” along with Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan, and Yang Yuhuan. Among these illustrious women, Xi Shi is often considered the most beautiful. Legend has it that these four beauties possessed an otherworldly allure, with Xi Shi herself referred to as “the one that causes fish to sink and geese to fall.” This poetic description reflects her remarkable beauty, alluding to the legend of Xi Shi washing her silks in a river, where fish were so entranced by her reflection that they forgot to swim and sank, and geese, too captivated by her, fell from the sky. This proverbial saying is still used today to describe an unparalleled beauty.

Xi Shi’s story has transcended the confines of history and become a timeless symbol of beauty and intrigue. Her name and legend continue to captivate the imaginations of those who hear of her enchanting presence in the annals of Chinese history.

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