Wang Zhao­jun, Loyal Hero­ine

The “Belt and Road” is China’s ini­tia­tive. The his­toric Silk Road isn’t only an an­cient com­mer­cial trade route con­nect­ing Asia, Africa and Europe, but also a road be­tween the East and West for eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural ex­changes. Many Chi­nese en­voy

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Dai Wei Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Wang Zhao­jun’s mar­riage to Chanyu for peace has been a sym­bol of eth­nic unity and friend­ship, and she has been widely ac­knowl­edged and re­spected over the years.

From the great Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 220) to the pros­per­ous Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), many his­tor­i­cal women hid­den set foot on the long Silk Road with their sto­ries that made peo­ple feel sor­row­ful yet sigh with yearn­ing. Un­der the in­flu­ence of th­ese women, the Cen­tral Plains and the West­ern Re­gions be­came an in­sep­a­ra­ble re­gion.

In 33 BC, a same story hap­pened on Qinzhi Path from Chang’an ( present- day Xi’an) to Wuyuan Pre­fec­ture ( present­day Bao­tou). Qinzhi Path was the ear­li­est ex­press­way of the world built un­der the com­mand of the First Em­peror of Qin ( reign: 246– 209 BC) from 212 to 210 BC. In the West­ern Han Dy­nasty ( 206 BC– AD 24), this path must be passed if one wanted to come to the bor­der area, and it was also the branch of the Silk Road and a chan­nel for cul­tural ex­changes. Wang Zhao­jun ( c. 52– 15 BC), a leg­endary woman in Chi­nese his­tory, went to the bor­der area through the Qinzhi Path.

Leav­ing for the Bor­der

The war be­tween the Han Dy­nasty and Xiongnu (an an­cient na­tion­al­ity in China) could date back to the Spring and Au­tumn and War­ring States Pe­riod (770–221 BC). Quan­rong, which de­stroyed the West­ern Zhou Dy­nasty (11th cen­tury–771 BC) in the fa­mous his­tory al­lu­sion “Fenghuo xi zhuhou (mak­ing fun of dukes by bea­con­fire),” was one branch of Xiongnu. At the turn of the Qin Dy­nasty (221–206 BC) and Han Dy­nasty, the bor­der be­tween Han’s and Xiongnu’s ter­ri­tory was al­ways in wars, which forced the West­ern Han Dy­nasty to change its strat­egy from mak­ing peace by mar­riage and pay­ing trib­ute at the found­ing of the na­tion to strik­ing back in Em­peror Wu’s reign (140–86 BC). The Han Em­pire went through three ma­jor wars, namely the Bat­tle of He­nan, Bat­tle of Hexi and Bat­tle of Mobei, struck back Xiongnu and fi­nally ob­tained de­ci­sive vic­tory; then it ex­panded its ter­ri­tory and opened up the Silk Road and en­tered a pros­per­ous pe­riod. On the con­trary, Xiongnu was beaten con­stantly and se­verely, and its royal court re­treated to the north of the Gobi Desert. Civil strife broke out among the Xiongnu peo­ple, form­ing a sit­u­a­tion in which five forces fought for lead­er­ship. The force of Huhanye (reign: 58–31 BC, chief of the Huns) de­cided to con­cede to the Han court.

In 51 BC, Huhanye led his tribe to cross the desert to live a no­madic life in Mount Yin (present-day Ho­hhot, In­ner Mon­go­lia), and he per­son­ally went to Chang’an to pay a for­mal visit to Em­peror Xuan (reign: 73–48 BC) of the West­ern Han Dy­nasty to show that he was ready to sub­mit to the Han court. The em­pire pro­vided him high priv­i­lege and gifts, and al­lo­cated grains to his tribe to al­le­vi­ate famine. With the sup­port of the em­pire, Huhanye re­turned to the north of the Gobi Desert and be­came a prince of Han that ruled the whole ter­ri­tory of Xiongnu and had a po­si­tion su­pe­rior to all dukes.

In 33 BC, out of grat­i­tude to­ward the Han Dy­nasty, Huhanye Chanyu (“Chanyu” means the leader of Xiongnu), who had al­ready uni­fied the whole ter­ri­tory of Xiongnu, went to Han’s cap­i­tal Chang’an to pay a for­mal visit to Em­peror Yuan of Han (reign: 48–32 BC) and pro­posed on his ini­tia­tive to be a sonin-law of Han, so as to make the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Han and Xiongnu more har­mo­nious with a mar­i­tal tie. The em­peror and min­is­ters all be­lieved this was a good turn, so Em­peror Yuan of Han ac­ceded to Huhanye’s re­quest and re­cruited a maid of honour will­ing to marry Huhanye.

At that time, the Xiongnu lived in the cold and re­mote north­ern fron­tier area, speak­ing their own lan­guage and prac­tis­ing their cus­toms. Maids in the palace all re­fused to re­spond to the re­cruit ex­cept Wang Zhao­jun who vol­un­teered to marry Xiongnu. Wang Zhao­jun’s orig­i­nal first name is Qiang, and “Zhao­jun” is her style name. She was born in Zigui of Nan­jun Pre­fec­ture (present-day Hubei Province).

Wang Zhao­jun was smart enough to know all hard­ship of liv­ing in dis­tant for­eign land. She used to be sleep­less in nu­mer­ous nights, think­ing about whether she should stay in the palace or get mar­ried in a dis­tant area. Even­tu­ally, she made a self­ish choice. Wang Zhao­jun’s char­ac­ter of rea­son and de­ci­sive­ness had some­thing to do with her birth­place—zigui, pre­vi­ously un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Chu State.

The state of Chu had a deep root. As the say­ing goes, “Even though there were only three clans left in Chu State, they could also de­stroy the state of Qin.” Peo­ple in Chu State were hon­est and frank with strong de­ter­mi­na­tion. The sages in Chu State had in­flu­enced Wang Zhao­jun, mak­ing her an ed­u­cated and rea­son­able woman. At first, she re­fused to bribe the painter, though bribery might have helped her be­come sum­moned by the em­peror; years of life in the cold palace in­formed her that if she con­tin­ued to live in Han’s palace, she would die among the pile of skele­tons out­side the palace walls. She would rather fight for change at the bor­der area rather than waste her whole youth in the palace.

Life with Xiongnu

The Book of Han records such his­toric scene, “At the meet­ing when Huhanye was about to leave, the em­peror showed him five girls. Among them, Wang Zhao­jun was so beau­ti­ful that her beauty brought shine to the palace.”

When Huhanye was about to re­turn to the grass­land, The Han court held a grand farewell ban­quet for him. Of­fi­cials of all ranks and nu­mer­ous guests gath­ered here, and Wang Zhao­jun in royal at­tire came to the royal court with the com­pany of four maids of honour in joy­ous mu­sic. Huhanye had never ex­pected to have such an el­e­gant and peer­less beauty from the great Han Dy­nasty, there­fore he was over­joyed and grate­ful, and promised that he would guar­an­tee the peace of Han’s bor­der area stretch­ing from west of Shanggu to Dun­huang (about 3,000 kilo­me­tres from present-day Shanxi Province to Dun­huang).

No mat­ter it was for apolo­gies and nostalgia for Wang Zhao­jun or for the sig­nif­i­cance of friendly re­la­tion­ship be­tween Han and Xiongnu, Em­peror Yuan of Han paid great at­ten­tion to Wang Zhao­jun’s leav­ing for the mar­riage at bor­der area and changed the reign ti­tle to “Jingn­ing,” mean­ing that the bor­der area would have eter­nal peace in­stead of war and chaos. Huhanye Chanyu granted Wang Zhao­jun a ti­tle Ninghuyanzhi, mean­ing a queen for the

friend­ship be­tween Han and Xiongnu. When Huhanye and Wang Zhao­jun left Chang’an, the Han em­pire made an­other ex­cep­tion by grant­ing Wang a wealth of dowry. The Em­peror and all of­fi­cials saw them off five kilo­me­tres away from Chang’an.

Later, Wang Zhao­jun em­barked on the road to the bor­der area with the com­pany of Huhanye Chanyu of Xiongnu. She went all the way to the north, passed Shuo­fang and Wuyuan and reached the foot of Mount Yin where Xiongnu’s royal court was lo­cated. It was ru­moured that dur­ing the trip, Wang played with a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment to en­ter­tain her­self, at­tract­ing a flock of wild geese to fly low to lis­ten. From then on, Wang walked into an un­fa­mil­iar world filled with strangers, but she be­gan her brand-new life there.

Yanzhi, the for­mal wife of Chanyu, en­joyed a high sta­tus and power no less than that of Chanyu among the Xiongnu peo­ple. When Wang was mar­ried to Huhanye Chanyu, she made the best use of the power of Yanzhi and proac­tively com­mit­ted her­self to pro­mot­ing the unity of Han and Xiongnu, and help­ing Xiongnu peo­ple in­crease their pro­duc­tiv­ity. From then on, the Han and Xiongnu united and em­braced har­mony and peace, which was sus­tained for over 60 years, hav­ing an ef­fect on the unity and friend­ship be­tween the Han na­tion­al­ity and other north­ern na­tion­al­i­ties. Wang Zhao­jun was loved and re­spected by the Xiongnu peo­ple.

The Xiongnu peo­ple later ac­cepted the Han Em­pire as their leader, break­ing with old his­toric pat­terns, and pro­moted the unity of the north­ern bor­der area and Cen­tral Plains. Mar­ket­ing be­tween the Han and Xiongnu was un­blocked with mu­tual ben­e­fits. The Xiongnu peo­ple learnt to cal­cu­late, reg­is­ter and dig wells.

Ac­cord­ing to the Book of Han, after Wang was mar­ried to Chanyu of Xiongnu, she gave birth to three sons suc­ces­sively, one of them be­ing Yi­tuzhiyashi, who later be­came Rizhu King of Xiongnu. Sadly, after two years, Huhanye Chanyu died at age 42. Ac­cord­ing to the Xiongnu cus­tom, when the old Chanyu died, Wang should be re­mar­ried to the son of Chanyu’s for­mer wife.

Fuzhuleiruoge born by Huhanye and his for­mer wife in­her­ited the Chanyu po­si­tion and pro­posed to marry Wang Zhao­jun. Wang had been in Xiongnu’s home­land for merely two years and had not fully got used to the cus­toms there; Chanyu died and she found it hard to ac­cept the ide­ol­ogy of re­mar­ry­ing his son, there­fore she wrote to the royal Han court in an at­tempt to re­turn to the Han Em­pire. Un­for­tu­nately, at that time, Em­peror Yuan of Han who once in­tended to ask Wang to stay, be­cause her beauty al­ready died, and the suc­ces­sor Em­peror Cheng of Han (reign: 32–6 BC) com­manded Wang to marry the younger Chanyu. The younger Chanyu was ac­tu­ally about 20 years old just like Wang Zhao­jun, and he also adored Wang’s beauty. After their mar­riage, Wang later gave birth to two daugh­ters, and the two daugh­ters were mar­ried to no­bles of Xiongnu. Their kin­ship with Han and Xiongnu played a pos­i­tive role in bring­ing to­gether the Han and Xiongnu.

In 20 BC, the younger Chanyu died. Wang lived as a widow ever since and died be­fore long, and was buried in the present- day south­ern sub­urb of Ho­hhot, In­ner Mon­go­lia. Her tomb was called “Qingzhong” (green tomb) by later gen­er­a­tions. Dur­ing the West­ern Jin Dy­nasty (AD 265–316), to avoid the taboo of the name Sima Zhao (AD 211–265,

the founder of the West­ern Jin Dy­nasty), his­to­ri­ans and schol­ars called “Zhao­jun” as “Mingjun.” Later, Wang got a new name: “Mingfei (Im­pe­rial Con­cu­bine Ming).”

Far-reach­ing In­flu­ence

For thou­sands of years, Wang’s ac­tion of mar­ry­ing Chanyu at the bor­der area for peace has been a sym­bol of eth­nic unity and friend­ship, and her con­tri­bu­tion has been widely ac­knowl­edged and re­spected both be­fore and after her death. Among the an­cient build­ings built in the late West­ern Han Dy­nasty and un­earthed in re­cent years, there were words on those bricks read­ing “mar­riage to Chanyu brings eter­nity and long pe­riod of peace to the coun­try” and words on tiles read­ing “hap­pi­ness lasts for­ever.” It in­di­cated that peo­ple of all eth­nic groups along the Great Wall praised Wang’s ac­tion and hoped for friend­ship be­tween Han and Xiongnu and peace in bor­der ar­eas, which ex­erted in­flu­ence on later gen­er­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to records of Wang Zhao­jun bian­wen ( bian­wen is a pop­u­lar form of nar­ra­tive lit­er­a­ture in the Tang Dy­nasty) dis­cov­ered at Dun­huang, Wang Zhao­jun’s fu­neral was held in ac­cor­dance with Xiongnu’s cus­tom, “A grand square cof­fin of supreme qual­ity with a dome was used to hold her body. Five hun­dred jars of wine were made and one hun­dred thou­sand sheep were killed for a sea of peo­ple to drink and eat. Woollen blan­kets were laid down for 50 kilo­me­tres for peo­ple to see Zhao­jun off. Gold and sil­ver bot­tles made by Xiongnu were laid down for 250 kilo­me­tres, leav­ing no space for peo­ple to set foot. Chanyu per­son­ally came with all tribes. The whole na­tion was mo­bilised for the cer­e­mony of burying Wang.” Em­peror Ai of Han (reign: 6 BC–AD 1) also sent spe­cial en­voys to of­fer con­do­lences. The grand fu­neral was ex­cep­tional. Peo­ple of all eth­nic groups of Han and Xiongnu at­tended the burial cer­e­mony on their own ini­tia­tive, be­cause they were sin­cerely grate­ful for Wang’s good deed that had brought peace at the bor­der area for three gen­er­a­tions in a pe­riod of 60 years around her peace- ori­ented mar­riage.

The Han Em­pire and Xiongnu stayed in a har­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship without declar­ing any wars ever since, and pros­per­ity came. Peo­ple of all eth­nic groups at the bor­der area, who had en­dured too much pain in wartime, would surely and deeply re­spect and miss Wang. Peo­ple at­tend­ing the burial cer­e­mony bagged dirt with their clothes and stacked a tomb like a hill, which now stands by the Da­hei River south of Ho­hhot. Ev­ery cool au­tumn of Septem­ber, grass on the bor­der de­cays, but grass on the tow­er­ing Wang’s tomb is still green. There­fore, Wang’s tomb has the name “Qingzhong (green tomb).”

Wang Zhao­jun, de­ci­sively hold­ing good ex­pec­ta­tions and a ro­man­tic mood, set foot on a long and great jour­ney. Merely based on a mar­riage con­tract, she won long­stand­ing peace and de­vel­op­ment for two na­tion­al­i­ties. This is a fan­tas­tic con­tri­bu­tion that no gen­eral or sol­dier could make even though they tried hard for an en­tire life. To­day, Wang’s tomb be­comes a mag­nif­i­cent mon­u­ment, re­count­ing the long-last­ing friend­ship be­tween the Xiongnu and Chi­nese na­tion.

Wang Zhao­jun lived over 2,000 years ago. How­ever, peo­ple have not for­got­ten about her over such a long pe­riod of time. This was not only be­cause of her beauty, but also due to her huge con­tri­bu­tions to eth­nic peace and unity. Her hard work and sacri­fice made her the great­est and most hon­oured among the “Four Beauties.” Her body played a role of an im­preg­nable pass that brought 60 years’ peace on the fron­tier; there­fore she did much bet­ter than the Great Wall and any great passes.

Wang Zhao­jun’s leg­endary ex­pe­ri­ence and his­toric con­tri­bu­tion were recog­nised by the em­per­ors and re­spected by the masses, and also aroused com­pli­ment among schol­ars in dif­fer­ent dy­nas­ties. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics, there are over 700 po­ems alone and over 500 writ­ers and po­ets, in­clud­ing play­wright Ma Zhiyuan (1250–1324) in the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368) who wrote the tragic drama Han­gongqiu (Au­tumn in Han Palace) and mod­ern play­wright Cao Yu (1910–1996) who pro­duced the play Wang Zhao­jun. Li Bai (AD 701–762), Du Fu (AD 712–770), Bai Juyi (AD 772–864), Guo Moruo (1892–1978) and Lao She (also named Shu Qingchun, 1899–1966) are all fa­mous literati who used to sing praises of Wang Zhao­jun.

After the Silk Road for­mally came into be­ing, it en­dured a dif­fi­cult start-up pe­riod and also wit­nessed the peace­ful and pros­per­ous view that gates of the bor­der towns were locked at night and peo­ple em­braced pros­per­ity and cows and horses were ev­ery­where in the wild, just like what hap­pened after the mar­riage of Zhao­jun. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the story that Ban Chao (AD 32–102) and his younger son Ban Yong (?–AD 127) had been to the West­ern Re­gions three times has al­ways been eu­lo­gised. They made im­mor­tal con­tri­bu­tions to link­ing the West­ern Re­gions with the Cen­tral Plains through­out the hard and bit­ter strug­gle for suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions to keep the Silk Road open.

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