Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Famous Prostitutes in Chinese History


Recommended Posts

In Chinese History, there were some prostitutes that served pivotal role. Here are three girls I can think of:

(1) 李師師:

Well, Ms Li was so attractive that the Song Emperor sneaked out of the palace in a snowy stormy night. According to poem, the Song Emperor was addicted to eat the orange peeled by Ms Li.

And of course, our 108 heroes in the Water Margin could not gain a foothold in the Song Court without the bedside lobbying of Ms. Li.

(2) 賽金花:

Without Ms. Sai's seduction towards the German Commander of the Allied 8-power united army during the Boxer Uprising, I can't imagine how many more Chinese artifacts would wind up in the museums of Berlin, London, Paris and Moscow. Ms. Sai should be nominated for an award by the Cultural Ministry.

(3) 小鳳仙:

Without Ms. Xiao's bedside mumbling, General Cai would not risk his life to flee back to Yunnan to declare independence. Yuan ShiKai's emperor dream would still be alive and we may be kowtowing to Yuan's Great Grandson today. Ms Xiao was indeed the architect in rebuilding the republic.


Don't underestimate the contribution of Chinese women even if they work in the humblest profession.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

陳圓圓 was a prostitute who also made a contribution (indirectly) in shaping Chinese history. There is a saying that "beauty can conquer the mighty", and she was no exception. She was said to be exceptionally beautiful and her capture by Li Zicheng was one of the reasons (although not the main one) that caused Wu Sangui to open Shanhaiguan to the Manchus.

After the fall of the Ming, she disappeared and supposedly became a nun.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

don't forget 柳如是, I think she was the most respectable prostitute in

china's history. She was not only good at poem, calligraphy, drawing

and chinese zither, but also showed high moral value when the country

facing danger. After southern ming's capital was occupied by Manchurian,

she persuaded his husband, a respectable 'loyal' confucian scholar to

suicide for the country, but he said the water was too cold when in the

middle of the river. After her husband's surrender, she still helped those

resistant soldiers. A former prostitute was a moral model during the

collapse of Ming dynasty. :shock: Till then on, the spirit of china died

in my personal opinion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Should persuading one's own husband to commit suicide be highly regarded? But the values back then were different ...

Well, in every society, there are always many 'respectable' people

who created many rules about virtue-value to let the other people follow.

but when it's their turns to prove that they are more 'respectable', they

always show us the totally opposite faces. It often confused me who

were more respectable. :conf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To encouraging committing suicide is not only an ancient Chinese value or Japanese virtue.

When I visited the Martyr's Mausoleum in Taipei, it depicted the 500 KMT generals and soldiers who committed suicide in the City of Taiyuan, Shanxi when it fell to CCP in 1948 as "Five Hundred Perfect Men".

To label someone as perfect based on the fact that he committed suicide for a cause is indeed an encouragement.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I mean I can understand fighting to death for one's country. 打仗嘛,不是你死就是我活 ... Or to assasinate the enemy like 荊軻. IMHO, even if he fails and is killed he is worth the admiration. And if he succeeds and then gets killed, then it is already 一賠一, a fair deal. Or to surrender and become a POW, one can argue that is for one's family sake, and to keep one's strength to prepare for a strike back (like France did). 留得青山在那怕沒柴燒 ... But to commit suicide? 簡直是賠了夫人又折兵嘛 ... 人遲早得死,用不著自殺。

Sorry this is way off the topic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Committing suicide was a solution to a Confucian dilemma in Tokugawa Japan in 1703. In 1701, a daimyo lord named Lord Asano visited the court of the shogun Tsunayoshi and was appointed to serve on the committee receiving the emperor's envoys. Since Asano did not know proper etiquette for receiving the emperor's entourage, Kira, the master of ceremonies, was instructed to teach Asano on the proper manners.

But Kira was corrupt and demanded an expensive bribe from Asano in return for assistance, which Asano refused to give. A token bonito fish was given instead. Throughout the etiquette training session, Kira taunted Asano and was uncooperative. Asano took this and controlled himself.

On the day of the ceremonies, Asano was unsure as to whether he should receive the emperor's envoys at the bottom of the stairs, or at the top. He asked Kira for guidance, but Kira refused to help him and cursed him for his awkwardness. His patience beyond control and having to endure Kira's arrogant attitude for so long, Asano finally drew out his sword and slashed at Kira's face before he was restrained. Drawing one's sword in the Tokugawa court was a huge offense, and the shogun was enraged at the breach of protocol. The shogun ordered Asano to commit seppuku, which he did that day.

Furthermore, the Tokugawa government took away Asano's land holdings. This combined with his death made his 47 samurai masterless, or ronin. They were angry that their master had to commit suicide, while Kira got away unpunished. They perceived this as a huge injustice and decided to seek revenge on Kira. Kira was concerned that the ronin might someday seek revenge on him. But to throw him off guard and to cast away any suspicions of a grudge against him, the ronin led lives of decadence. They pretended to lose all their personal honor by acting like beggars and drunks on the streets. In the course of planning their future revenge against Kira, the ronin divorced their wives because they were aware of the possibility that should the vendetta succeed, the government might take punitive measures against their wives and cause them hardship.

In 1703 on a cold winter night, the 47 Ronin stormed Kira's mansion and fought a long battle with Kira's bodyguards. None of the ronin died in the hour long battle. They finally found Kira hiding in a kitchen cabinet. The leader of the ronin, Oishi, offered Kira the honorable chance to take his own life for what he did to Asano. When Kira refused, Oishi decapitated him and the ronin took his head to their master's grave. They then turned themselves in to the Tokugawa authorities for punishment.

The shogun was awed by their intense loyalty to their master, and the public was hugely supportive of them because they had exercised virtuous values of the past in a society where such values no longer exist. Tsunayoshi was stuck in a dilemma. The ronin had to be punished, but how should they be punished? He then called in Confucian experts to discuss the matter. The ronin had exercised extreme devotion and loyalty to their master, just as how a son should obey and respect his father, and a wife should be devoted to her husband according to Confucian ideology. But they had also violated the central government's authority and the Confucian value of obedience to central authority. So this was kind of like a Catch-22 situation. They finally found a solution. The ronin were to be punished, but not in the hands of an executioner. They were to take their own lives at their own hands as honorable samurai. To this day they are viewed as heroes in Japan.

Encouraging one to commit suicide may not be virtuous, but depending on the circumstances like at Taiyuan or in the case of the 47 Ronin, suicide is seen as an honorable option.

Sorry, this is way off topic 8) But felt I should point this out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The 47 ronin have been made into movie repeatedly and produced as TV drama by NHK again merely 3 years ago.

The 47 ronin were ordered by the Shogun to commit seppu (harakiri). One of the 47 ronin was actually the underaged son of the ronin's leader, Kuranosuke.

But the Japanese form of suicide is actually a combination of suicide and execution. After the ronin cut a cross in his own belly by the dagger, the executioner that stood behind then chopped off his head.

The last episode in the NHK drama depicted that the 47 ronins were led one by one from the chamber to the back yard for seppu. The whole ritual lasted for the whole afternoon.

But actually the 47 ronin did not all seek revenge out of honor or loyalty. One of the underlying reasons was that after their daimyo's domain was dissolved, they became ronin -- "masterless men" who were penniless.

Since sooner or later they would die of starvation, some chose this path to become famous after death.

P.S. There were about 160 retainers that swore to seek revenge at the time of dissolution. But over the two-year period, a lot of them chickened out for various reasons. So only 47 remained (actually 46) at the time of revenge.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually the reason why someone stood behind the ronin with a sword was to ensure they died in the least painful amount of time. Cutting oneself's belly with a dagger and then slicing upwards leads to inevitable death within a few minutes or seconds. It was customary Japanese practice to have someone stand behind the person committing suicide, and chop his head off at the first signs of pain.

I think the last time someone committed suicide in Japan in this manner, was when the Japanese author Yukio Mishima committed seppuku in 1970. Unfortunately, the cadet responsible for cutting off his head missed his neck and cut his back and shoulders instead. The cadet missed again after a second try. Finally someone else grabbed the sword and cut off Mishima's head.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 7 months later...

Prostitutes in ancient China (actually as recently as early 20th century) were not so degrading as some posters conceived.

Most prostitutes in ancient China needed to be well-versed in piano, chess, calligraphy and painting (By that time even daughters in wealthy families were semi-illiterate). And it was well-nigh impossible that you could go to bed with her during your first visit.

Like chasing after your girl friend, it took months' "dating" for her to let you inside her bedroom.

Moreover, the whorehouse was a frequent socializing hangout for scholars, court officials and even aristocrats (See the movie "House of Flying Daggers").

When Chinese said 名士風流, they were bragging their activites in the whoreshouse and not adultery. Unlike the French, adultery was viewed as a sin in ancient China.

And many famous prostitutes became the concubines of court officials and scholars after the latter paid enough money to the pimps to set them free.

And the most romantic event portrayed in Chinese literature is about some smart prostitutes fleeing with famous guys who were poor at the time they frequented the whorehouses, i.e. the pretty and virtuous 紅拂女

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...