Two warring nations. Two ambitious arch-rivals. A resourceful military advisor. A beautiful female spy.
Add them all up together and you have the perfect plot for a drama. Throw in some special effects, some intrigue and romance, some snappy conversations, a Cold War background, and you have a Hollywood blockbuster.
But no, none of these happened in the West, nor did it happen in recent times. To appreciate this story fully, let us go back to the Dynasty of Warring States of China, around the years of 476BC-221BC.
The aforementioned female spy is Xi Shi, the first of the Four Greatest Beauties of Ancient China.
The Emperors of China were quite notorious for their lavish lives, especially when it came to the sheer number of court ladies in the palace. The number 3000 was but a representation, in fact during the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong (Lady Yang's husband), it is said that he had 4 million ladies in the palace! Well, with such a staggering number, it was really hard to get to know them all personally. Besides, the camera was yet to be invented. But Emperor Yuan of the Western Han Dynasty(206BC-8AD) had just the perfect solution for it.
He employed artists to draw portraits of the beauties, which would be presented to him. He would then select whom to favour based on the portraits. It was the perfect chance for the artists to earn a fortune. The palace ladies, eager to win the emperor's favour, bribed the artists so that they could be painted in a more flattering manner. Talk about manual photoshop.
Things were going great for the artists, that is, until Wang Zhaojun came along.
This wouldn't be considered a history blog if there isn't a post about King Henry VIII! Hence, I shall make a short write up about Henry VIII and each of Henry's wives. I will write a more detailed one about them later in separate posts.
The Tudor Dynasty has been one of my favourites in History. Actually the 16th century is probably one of the best historical era everywhere in the world (e.g Joseon Dynasty in Korea). There is a saying that in Henry VIII and Elizabeth I (Henry VIII's daughter), the Tudor Dynasty produced the two most famous monarchs in English History. The ironic twist is this: Henry VIII was infamously known as the tyrant yet his daughter made her ruling era (the Elizabethan Era) known as England's Golden Age. Another fun fact is Henry's eldest daughter, Queen Mary I (also known as Bloody Mary), is the most hated Queen in British History! All in all, 16th century England has been one of the most dramatic periods in History
It was hard being a woman in Ancient China. Nor did being beautiful help much either, as there was a Chinese saying, “Beautiful women are often unfortunate/short-lived." A beautiful woman may be promoted to a higher station by winning the favour of the emperor or a high ranking noble officer. However, such beauty may even earn envy, and even ultimately death. Beautiful concubines often became the scapegoat for an emperor's foolery and even a nation's downfall. Perhaps such is the life of Yang Guifei, who, after a life of luxury, was strangled to death in the midst of a rebellion.
This story starts with the death of another woman, Emperor Xuan Zong's beloved concubine Lady Wu in the year of 737 A.D. The Emperor was deeply saddened, and none of the beautiful court ladies could entice his interest. His favourite attendant Gao Lishi was anxious to please him. He sought beauties from far and wide, but none of them could lift the Emperor's mood.
Cleopatra-- the last queen of Egypt; the most famous queen in history; infamous for her relationship with Julius Caesar; known for her relationship with Mark Anthony; killed herself; "beautiful." And often misunderstood.
First and foremost, if you observe carefully, her title "Cleopatra the seventh" is because her ancestors-- and daughter-- were also named Cleopatra. Yet, she is the only one referred to when the name "Cleopatra" is mentioned.
To note, here are some fun facts about this brilliant woman:-
She married both her brothers (very high degree of inbreeding among the Ptolemies, I'll come to that soon); not an Egyptian; not very pretty; rumoured to have a hooked nose (she might not have it because a hooked nose was also a symbol of authority in the Ptolemaic dynasty); a bit short and fat; killed her younger sister; and most importantly-- extremely intelligent. For example, she spoke nine languages; invented aroma therapy; a gynaecologist; wrote b…
You can't really blame Cleopatra's "husband" for not trusting his big sister. Firstly, Cleopatra had tried to pretend that Ptolemy didn't exist and ruled on her own. Then, during the time when she had taken refuge, she became an opportunist when news about the war between Pompey and Julius Caesar broke out. With the support from Julius Caesar, Cleopatra had the upper hand.
Almost everybody knows who Lord Horatio Nelson is: he won the Battle of Trafalgar; he lost an arm and an eye; and he said "kiss me Hardy" moments before his death. There is even a famous memorial of him in the streets of London. Yes, you are right, it's the monument in Trafalgar's Square, whereby perched on top of this column is a statue of Horatio, looking dead heroic as how people often portray him to be.
But what about his scandalous relationship with Lady Hamilton?
His relationship with Emma, Lady Hamilton was a very infamous one when he was alive, and the British government tried to quell this issue, because back then, his affair with Lady Hamilton had made Lord Nelson a laughing stock. An extramarital affair is an embarrassment and the people wanted to remember Horatio winning battles, not running around after Lady Hamilton. You don't want the man who is the epitome of heroism to be remembered for his "silliness" too now do you?
In a previous post about Lady Jane Grey, I’ve mentioned about ‘Innocent Traitor’ and ‘Lady Jane’, a book and a movie based on Lady Jane’s life. In this post I will do a brief review of both.
Book Title: Innocent Traitor Author: Alison Weir Review: I especially enjoyed reading ‘Innocent Traitor’. It describes the life of Lady Jane Grey in detail, and gives the readers an insight of her life. As Alison Weir is a well-known historian who has done much research, it can be assured that the details in this book are historically accurate. Well, most of it, anyway.
On this day in 1559, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey (I'm not joking on this one; her coronation really was on this day in history). When she first came to the throne, England was surrounded by much more powerful neighbours; hence, the speculation of her capability to govern a country such as this. Also, many people had thought that not only she had no right to the throne, but she was a gullible woman who can easily be manipulated.
Yet, she proved them all wrong: she eventually won the support of the ordinary citizens by avoiding the cruelty that had gone on during the reign of her predecessors. More importantly, she is best known for keeping her thoughts to herself, making her mind an unfathomable realm from her councillors and subjects. Throughout Queen Elizabeth I's life, she had strongly held on to this principle:-
Her mantra was: Video et taceo-- I see and keep silent.
In every field, there will be several shining exemplars, role models for aspiring beginners to look up to. The field of science is not lacking of such big names. Newton. Einstein. Darwin. Well, and Stephen Hawking, just to name a few. They were great men who were the distinguished players of their field.
And yet, it seems that women are not often included in this list. There has been many outstanding individuals, but their achievements and contributions were often overlooked or underestimated, and they remained but a faded imprint in the yellowed pages of a history book. Their names were often forgotten, or mentioned in passing, overshadowed by their male counterparts.
Even the great woman scientist Marie Curie was not totally free from gender discrimination during her time.Although she is now revered as the discoverer of radium, she used to be viewed as a mere helper of her husband, Pierre Curie.