How Zhong Lichun, the Ugliest Woman in the Warring States Period, Became a Queen

The Great Wall of China.

It may surprise you that China has 'Four Greats' when it comes to inventions, literary works, beauties, and ugly women, among whom Zhong Lichun is remembered not only for her ugliness but her brilliance as well. (Image: Chuyu via Dreamstime)

During the Warring States Period, there was a woman living in the State of Qi who was famous for her ugliness. She was even described by some historians as being the ugliest woman alive at the time. Her name was Zhong Lichun.

Although Zhong Lichun had always tried her best to advertise that she was ready to marry, she would not commit herself to others casually. As expected, she still couldn’t find a husband at the age of 40. In ancient China, women usually got married when they were 15 to 20 years old. Therefore, Zhong Lichun, who was 40, would be regarded as a “grandmother.”

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However, Zhong Lichun was said to have many great hidden talents. At the age of 40, to everyone’s surprise, she got married to the King of Qi, and this made many women at the time look up to her with admiration!

One day, Zhong Lichun tidied up her appearance, put on a coarse jacket, and went out to Linzi, the capital city of the State of Qi. When she arrived at the gate of the palace, she told the servant: “I am the girl that is wanted by no one in the State of Qi. Upon hearing the great virtue of the king, I am willing to offer my hand to him. I will humbly wait outside and hope that I may be lucky enough to marry him.”

Zhong Lichun arrived at the palace and told the servant that she was willing to marry the King.
Zhong Lichun arrived at the palace and told the servant that she was willing to marry the King. (Image: Public Domain via Flickr)

Inside the palace, a grand banquet was about to start, and a group of ministers and distinguished guests surrounded King Xuan of Qi. The servant approached and conveyed Zhong Lichun’s wish to King Xuan. The people around King Xuan covered their mouths and laughed in disbelief when they heard this, and some even commented: “What a shameless woman, and what a strange wish; this old woman who can’t get married wants to marry the king!”

King Xuan of Qi was curious about such a strange woman, so he summoned her.

Zhong Lichun was indeed an ugly woman, but King Xuan was mentally prepared so he wasn’t too surprised. King Xuan said to her: “In the early years, my father arranged my marriage and I already have a few concubines in the royal court. You are unable to find someone to marry even among the common people, yet you propose to marry the king. Is it because you have some special talents?”

Zhong Lichun replied: “I don’t have any special talents. I just admire the king for his benevolence and upright behavior.”

King Xuan then asked: “Even though that’s the case, are you good at anything?”

Zhong Lichun’s special talents

Zhong Lichun was silent for a while, and then said: “I can become invisible.”

King Xuan said with great interest: “I have always wanted to be invisible. You may show me.” Before he finished speaking, Zhong Lichun suddenly disappeared. This shocked King Xuan greatly!

Zhong Lichun, the ugliest woman in the Warring States Period, indeed had some hidden talents. Maybe she had spent the first half of her life preparing just for this moment.

The banquet and the beautiful dancers in charming costumes now seemed less important to King Xuan as he was becoming enchanted by Zhong Lichun’s ability. He asked the librarians to bring him all the literature available on the art of invisibility, but he had no success though he tried every method.

The king asked the librarians to bring him all the literature available on the art of invisibility.
The king asked the librarians to bring him all the literature available on the art of invisibility. (Image: Vincentho via Dreamstime)

The next day, King Xuan summoned Zhong Lichun again. It seemed King Xuan’s heart had gradually been captured by her! Upon meeting the king, Zhong Lichun seized the opportunity to demonstrate her other hidden talents! She opened her eyes widely, gritted her teeth tightly, raised her hands and slapped them on her knees vigorously, and repeatedly shouted: “There is danger! There is danger!”

King Xuan thought to himself: “I am the monarch of a great nation and my people living in the capital city enjoy great wealth so they have time to gamble and play games. Today, brilliant scholars and cultural celebrities all gathered in my court and the academy of the Qi State. Also, I am served by powerful characters such as the great military adviser Sun Tzu. Where could the danger be coming from?”

However, he felt a little uneasy upon hearing Zhong Lichun’s voice yelling “danger,” so he said: “I am willing to listen to your explanation of the danger.” King Xuan’s words showed he had started to have respect for this strange woman in front of him.

Zhong Lichun replied bluntly: “The State of Qi has two powerful neighbors — the State of Qin in the west and the State of Chu in the south. They can potentially become enemies and yet my lord is surrounded by many treacherous ministers. Your majesty is 40 years old and yet you have not chosen your heir to the throne. The king’s focus is mostly on his hobbies while ignoring the nation’s security. Once the mountain collapses [a metaphor for the death of the king], the country will fall into turmoil. This is the first danger!

“Besides, your high tower of Jiantai is decorated with gold and jade, and the building is full of priceless treasures, yet the common people are mostly exhausted and poor. This is the second danger!

“The wise men are hidden in the mountains and forests, yet those who are flatterers surround the king. The treacherous and hypocritical people stand in the court, and yet those who truly worry about the country are kept out of the court. This is the third danger!

Zhong Lichun observed that the wise men were all hidden in the mountains and forests.
Zhong Lichun observed that the wise men were all hidden in the mountains and forests. (Image: Jun Mu via Dreamstime)

“The king is indulging in women and alcohol day and night, and the actresses and entertainers freely offer cheap laughs in the court. He is not practicing the etiquette of the feudal lords externally, and neither is he governing the country properly internally. This is the fourth danger.”

After listening to her, King Xuan sighed and said to Zhong Lichun: “Your words really hit me hard and it’s a pity I have just heard them today.”

King Xuan was an ambitious king, but later he started to indulge in feasting and hobbies, and he loved to listen to flattery, which led him to lose his clarity of mind.

Zhong Lichun’s words had awakened King Xuan of Qi. He immediately ordered the luxurious Jiantai tower to be dismantled so that all its decorations of gold and jade, along with the treasure it held, could be used to enrich the nation’s treasury; he dismissed all the entertainers of the royal court and recruited soldiers and prepared horses; he got rid of the flatterers around him and opened the palace door to outspoken righteous ministers, officials, and common people. At the same time, he chose an auspicious day to ordain an heir, and welcomed Zhong Lichun as his queen.

Why did Zhong Lichun go and meet King Xuan at the age of 40 instead of when she was young? Can it be said that she had been waiting for the right time or that she had been spending the first half of her life in preparation? Some historians wrote of her that she was “an ugly woman who brought peace to the nation.” Looking back on history, Zhong Lichun successfully fulfilled her mission.

Translated by Wendy Huang

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