西施傳說 Legend of Xishi
Inscribed list: National List, First Batch
Inventory no.: I-10
Nominating unit(s): Zhejiang Province, Zhuji County
Xishi was one the Four Beauties of ancient China. She was believed to have lived in a village located in today’s Zhuji county(諸暨市) during the end of the Spring and Autumn period. She was also known by the name Xizi (西子). At that time, the King Goujian(勾踐) of Yue was imprisoned by King Fucai(夫差) of Wu. In order to take revenge on Fucai, it was suggested to Goujian that some beautiful women should be trained and then offered to Fucai in order to distract Fucai’s attention from politics. Xishi was one of beautiful women sent to Fucai as a tribute. Fucai was enthralled by the beauty of Xishi, to the point where he even ignored his great general Wu Zixu(伍子胥)’s advice 閑and later killed him. Fucai also ordered people to build a palace for his women. Gradually, Fucai forgot about the state affairs as he was only bewitched by the beauty of Xishi. Everything went according to Goujian’s plan, and Goujian and his people were powerful enough to fight back. He eventually successfully defeated the Wu army.
There are many different versions of the legend of Xishi after the war. Some said the wife of Goujian was jealous of Xishi’s beauty so she ordered someone to throw Xishi into a lake. Some said Xishi followed Fan Li (范蠡), a minister of Goujian’s, and retreated from the political life.
However Xishi ended her life, her story and legacy has endured. For example, some Chinese idioms are related to her, such as as ‘東施效顰’(Dongshi xiaopin, meaning that an ugly woman trying to imitate the behavior of a beauty will only make herself foolish) and ‘沉魚落雁’(Chenyu luoyan, meaning that one’s beauty is so great to even make fish sink and wild geese fall because of their shame in comparison to one so beautiful). The story of Xishi has also inspired some poets to write beautiful poems. For instance, Su shi compared Xishi’s beauty to the West Lake in Hangzhou in his famous poem ‘Drinks at West Lake through Sunshine and Rain’ (飲湖上初晴後雨). Xishi is well known by almost all Chinese. Today, there is a Xishi Temple built in Zhuji county to commemorate this legendary beauty.
In 2006, the legend of Xishi was included on the first batch of the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China.
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