Diao Chan

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Diao Chan praying to the Moon.

Diao Chan is allegedly one of the four ancient Chinese beauties. Despite her absence in historical records, she was immortalized as a heroine by the well-known Chinese literary classics Romance of Three Kingdoms.

Some scholars claim that Diao Chan was born in the family of Ren in the Mu'er Village of Bingzhou county of today's Shanxi province. At fifteen, she was selected as a maid of honor in the Han Court, where she was charged with the duty of taking care of court officials’ hat decorations known as Diao Chan at the time. Hence she came to be known as such.

With the death of the Han emperor Ling in 189 A.D., the Han Dynasty fell apart so that warlords ran rampant. The situation would not be stabilized until three of the warlords emerged to become equally strong and began the period of stalemate known in history as the Three Kingdoms. However, before this could happen, chaos reigned. Each warlord had tried to beat the others. In doing so, they needed to rally support with imperial mandate. The court, now rendered powerless, thus fell victim to their bloody conflicts trying to get hold of it.

One of the warlords, Dong Zhuo, with the help of his god-son Lü Bu, an invincible young warrior, eventually got the upper hand by slaying the child emperor and installed one of his liking. Though a prime minister in ink, he was in fact a sovereign, and an extremely brutal one! He would kill any of his subjects who dared to voice the slightest dissent. He had a palace built miles outside the capital for himself. In order to get eight hundred maids of honor and concubines, he had all the men related to the women slaughtered. Even the puppet emperor hated Dong and secretly pleaded help of his closest courtiers.

Wang Yun, one of the courtiers that the young emperor had consulted, would very much like Dong Zhuo to be destroyed himself. However, with Lü Bu as Dong's body guard in all weather, who could beat this formidable foe and save the dynasty from his deadly grip? He began to lose sleep and appetite, trying to find an answer. His decline in health worried a girl very much. This is Diao Chan. When the Han Dynasty fell apart, she lost her job and was adopted by Wang Yun and worked for him as an alme - a singing and dancing girl. Wang Yun treated her as his own daughter, for which she was very grateful. One night, Diao Chan came out to the garden in Wang's mansion and prayed to the goddess of moon, to whom she expressed her willingness to do whatever she could to help her fatherly master. Her pray was overheard by Wang Yun who happened to come to the garden for a walk. A plan dawned upon him: using Diao Chan to antagonize Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu so that they would become vulnerable. Diao Chan agreed.

Lü Bu

The next day, Wang Yun entertained Lü Bu in his mansion, where he introduced him to Diao Chan. Lü Bu was immediately captivated by her beauty and was only too happy when Wang Yun offered to marry them in a few days. A day later, Wang Yun played the same trick on Dong Zhuo. Lascivious as he was, Dong could not wait and took Diao Chan with him as he left Wang Yun's mansion. Whenever there was a chance, Diao Chan would complain of Lü's harassment before Dong, and her resentment of Dong for nabbing their love before Lü. In so doing, Diao Chan successfully drove a wedge between the father and the son, whose jealousy eventually grew into hatred. One day Dong Zhuo caught Lü Bu courting Diao Chan in his own backyard and became so enraged that he ran after Lü with an attempt to kill him. In turn, Lü Bu would have ended Dong's life but for the qualm of the sin of patricide. He finally made up his mind after Wang Yun reminded him that since he and Dong had different family names, they were not legally bounded. Then, they staged a coup d'etat and killed Dong Zhuo, to the happy release of the dynasty.

Some legends told more stories about Diao Chan's heroism. After Lü Bu's death, Cao Cao, another warlord who later established Wei, one of the Three Kingdoms, gave Diao Chan to Guan Yu, one of the two sworn brotherly generals of Cao Cao's rival Liu Bei. Unwilling to sabotage the cause of Liu Bei for whom she had great respect, Diao Chan threatened with suicide. With her consent, Guan Yu escorted her to a temple, where she became a nun. Hearing this, Cao Cao was very angry and ordered that she be captured. His men traced Diao Chan to the temple. Refusing to be brought back to Cao Cao, Diao Chan threw herself to the sword in the hand of one of the men and killed herself.

Another legend tells that the three brother warriors of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei kept Diao Chan as their sister and sent her back to her hometown after they succeeded in establishing Shu, one of the Three Kingdoms. Diao Chan died a natural death where she was born.

Text and translation by Haiwang Yuan, © copyright 2003
Last update: October 3, 2003

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