Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Li Shishi -- A Famous Courtesan and Lover of Emperor

The Most Beautiful and Talented Courtesan in Song Dynasty

Li Shishi, born into a worker’s family, was one of the most famous courtesans in the Song Dynasty.

 

She had love stories with the emperor, important ministers, talent literalist and chivalrous expert; also, she witnessed both the best and worst times of the Empire Song. 

When she was four years old, her father passed away and she was sold to a bawdy house, where she learnt lots of things. 

 

When she was 15 years old, she was a stunningly beautiful woman who was great at singing, dancing and literature.

 

She became quite famous very soon, which gave her rights to be very choosy; only people with splendid talent would have the chance to see her.

 

Many famous poets wrote beautiful poems for her to appreciate or sing, some of whom had romantic relationships with her as well. 

 

Encounter with Emperor and Life in the Royal Palace

Then emperor Zhao Ji, who had hundreds of beautiful imperial concubines already, heard about Li Shishi and wanted to see her. With the help of his followers, he disguised himself and used a fake name to visit her.

 

Zhao Ji, the Emperor Huizong of Song, was a horrible monarch, but was an extremely talented artist as well; he won Shishi’s heart with his outstanding artistic works, while he was impressed by her beauty and talent, and fell in love with her at the first sight.

 

Afterwards, he started to visit Shishi in the bawdy house frequently; soon he invited her to his royal palace and made her an imperial concubine. 

 

Years later, a nomadic army invaded the Song Empire; Zhao Ji abdicated the throne to his son Zhao Huan, but they all got captured in the end. The capital city encounterd huge destruction afterwards. 

When the emperors and the entire government were in captivity, when the whole city was occupied by the cruel nomadic army, everyone’s fate had changed cruelly, so did Shishi’s. 

 

There were several versions about her ending, in different novels, poems or gossips, all of which were reflections of people living in this destructive tragedy. 

 

Mysterious Ending of Li Shishi After the Catastrophic War

The most popular saying was she didn’t escape successfully. Her beauty and famous reputation were spread to regime Jin, whose general asked people to search for her as soon as they broke into the capital city.

Li Shishi was caught soon and forced to serve the nomadic lord, but she didn’t want to. So she swallowed her golden jewelry and passed away. In the end, she stuck on her rule that only to be with people that she appreciated, and never went against her own will. 

 

Many people highly appraised her behavior, for being loyal, staunch and brave. Everyone knew that she had the ability to make any of Jin’s monarchs to love her, but she still wouldn’t comply to things or people she disliked. 

 

Another version was that she got expelled from the royal family after Emperor Zhao Ji abdicated.

 

When the Jin’s army invaded the Song's capital for the first time, a great minister Li Gang was in charge of Song’s troop, and was trying their best to defend the city.

 

Li Shishi, as a smart person who had experienced a lot, and as friends of many intelligent ministers and celebrities, she donated all of her money, went to a temple, and lived a very simple life there afterwards.

 

Her insightfulness allowed her to outguess the tragic end, so she tried her best to be contributive, and then left all of the chaos and conflicting behind. 

 

In some other novels, Li Shishi escaped out of the capital successfully, under the protection of a brave chivalrous expert with whom she had a relationship before. 

 

They suffered a lot, until they arrived in southern part of China, and established a new life there.

 

Shishi buried her unusual past and lived as a normal worker since after. 

 

Anyway, this beautiful and intelligent woman disappeared after the destructive tragedy. Like other civilians living in those invaded areas, she experienced and witnessed countless blood, desperation, and separation.

 

When the country was falling apart and left civilians without any protection from the cruel enemies, everyone was equally destroyed.