The Story of Zhongli Chun, One of Four Great Ugly Woman

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Editor; Michelle Gao, Contributing Translator

The most detailed and merciless description of a woman’s ugliness is probably found in Biographies of Exemplary Women. It tells of Zhongli Chun. According to the ancient text, her head resembled a stone mill, her eyes were deeply sunk; she had a large head, big joints, upturned nostrils, a prominent Adam's apple, a thick neck, sparse hair, a hunched back, and dark skin. In summary, she is described as "extremely ugly and unparalleled."

However, despite being such a woman, she not only became the queen consort of the King in the State of Qi during the Warring States Period, but was also known as a bulwark of the state. This is her story.

Zhongli Chun, also known as Zhong Wuyan, came from Wuyan in the State of Qi during the Warring States Period (now in Shandong Province). Because of her ugliness, by the time she reached forty, not only was there no one proposing marriage to her, but she couldn't even find anyone willing to marry her if she sought it herself.

One day, Zhongli Chun made a shocking move: she casually dusted off her everyday clothes and went straight to the gates of the royal palace to request an audience with King Xuan of Qi State. She said to the palace gatekeeper: "I am an unmarried old maid from the State of Qi. I have heard of the king's saintly virtues, so I am willing to enter the palace to serve the King. Here, I humbly request the King's consent."

Fortunately, the gatekeeper was sensible enough to report this to King Xuan truthfully. At that time, King Xuan was feasting with his courtiers in the luxurious five-story pavilion called "Jian Tai." When the courtiers heard the gatekeeper's report, they burst into laughter, covering their mouths, saying, "There is actually such a shameless woman in the world!"

Out of curiosity or perhaps kindness, King Xuan summoned Zhongli Chun into the court and asked her, "My predecessor has already chosen concubines for me. Madame, among the common folk, no one would marry you, yet you volunteered yourself to the king of ten thousand chariots. Do you possess some extraordinary ability?"

Zhongli Chun calmly replied, "I don't have any extraordinary abilities, I just admire the king's righteousness." King Xuan pursued, "But you must have some remarkable qualities." Zhongli Chun said, "I don't have any great skills, I am just good at being invisible."

This piqued King Xuan's interest. "Invisible? That's something I like. Please demonstrate." But before he could finish his sentence, Zhongli Chun suddenly disappeared. King Xuan was astonished and quickly had people bring books on the art of hiding. After leaving the hall, he carefully studied them but couldn't figure anything out.

The next day, King Xuan summoned Zhongli Chun again to inquire about the art of hiding. But Zhong Lichun made another astounding move; she completely ignored the matter of hiding and instead stared, gritting her teeth, pounding her thigh, and repeatedly saying, "Too dangerous, too dangerous!" four times in a row. King Xuan could only say, "I am willing to hear your opinion."

At this, Zhongli Chun solemnly began: "Your Majesty, your country is threatened by the State of Qin to the west and watched by the State of Chu to the south, posing external dangers. Internally, traitorous ministers gather, talents are not returning. You are over forty and have no heir, disregarding the people while focusing on concubines. You promote those you like and ignore those you don't. Sooner or later, the ancestral temple will collapse, and the state will be unstable. This is the first danger."

"Furthermore, the extravagant pavilion you built, adorned with gold, jade, and precious fabrics everywhere, has made the people suffer for your enjoyment. This is the second danger. In your country, the talented people hide in the mountains and forests, while flatterers and sycophants serve you. Evil and deceitful individuals hold great power, while those who speak honestly and advise you find it difficult to approach you. This is the third danger."

"And also, you indulge in wine and women, drinking and reveling day and night. Musicians, actors, and officials all laugh together without distinction. You do not observe the rites of the feudal lords externally, nor do you govern the country rigorously internally. This is the fourth danger. So, I say, it's too dangerous!"

After listening to these words, King Xuan felt as if he had been struck by a heavy blow. He sincerely said, "Lady Wuyan, your words hit the mark. I am fortunate to hear them today." From then on, King Xuan changed his ways, ordering the dismantling of Jian Tai, cessation of music and dance, dismissal of sycophants, removal of decorations, strict selection of soldiers, replenishment of the treasury, and opening the doors for anyone, regardless of wealth, to offer frank advice. He also chose an auspicious day to formally crown his heir.

King Xuan sought his mother's approval and appointed Zhongli Chun as queen, honoring her as "Lady Wuyan." From then on, the State of Qi grew stronger, and the people lived in peace and happiness. And all of this was thanks to the efforts of the ugly woman, Zhongli Chun.

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