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Xi Shi — Honey Trap in Contention Between Wu and Yue

Xi Shi, original name Shi Yiguang, was one of the Four Beauties in Chinese history. 


Besides her stunning allure, as part of a well-planned honey trap, she was also involved in perishing a strong kingdom during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC).  

Well trained Xi Shi the first honey trap and her attractive dancing

Flourishing and Expanding of the State Wu

About 2,500 years ago, the Zhou Dynasty gradually lost control over powerful vassal states.


Some ambitious overlords, such as Lyu Xiaobai and Ji Chonger, strengthened their kingdoms and vastly expanded their territories through annexation wars when power and land kept transferring among different states. 

Decades later, Wu became a strong and large kingdom, with the assistance of brilliant prime minister Wu Zixu (? — 484 BC) and his best friend Sun Tzu (author of Art of War). 

Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge)

Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge), Produced for A King of Wu — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Unfortunately, when the king of Wu was leading his army fighting against the Empire Yue, he got shot and soon passed away.


His crown prince Fu Chai (? — 473 BC), a brave and ambitious monarch, inherited the throne. 

After two years of training and preparation, in the year 494 BC, Fu Chai, the current King of Wu, under the assistance of Sun Tzu and Wu Zixu, defeated Empire Yue and completed vengeance for his father. 

After this big success, King Fu Chai kept expanding in the following decades and competing to be the overlord of all states. 

Unearthed Spear of Fu Chai the King of Wu

Unearthed Spear of Fu Chai the King of Wu — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Failure and Preparation of the Kingdom Yue

After the big failure against Kingdom Wu on the battlefield, Gou Jian (about 520 BC — 465 BC), the King of Yue, tried his best to beg for a truce.


He sent countless treasures and money to nobles and ministers of Empire Wu, and he volunteered to serve King Fu Chai for years. 

Gou Jian stayed cautious and humble during his serving period and showed great respect to King Fu Chai.


Gradually, King Fu Chai and many officials in Kingdom Wu believed that Gou Jian truly surrendered, so they sent him back to Kingdom Yue. 

After Gou Jian returned, he implemented a series of policies to increase the population and develop agriculture. 

Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Period— Nanyang Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Meanwhile, Gou Jian kept eating the worst food, sleeping in rigid wooden beds, and participating in productive activities.


He did everything he could to stay alert, remind himself of that big failure, work harder, and seek revenge.


Soon, his state became wealthier and his army much stronger.

Gou Jian also kept tributing to the King of Wu while bribing powerful officials of Empire Wu.


Finally, in 484 BC, insightful prime minister Wu Zixu was framed and committed suicide, and his best friend Sun Tzu resigned and has lived in seclusion since then.

Besides those preparations, Empire Yue also trained some beautiful women and sent them to Empire Wu as honey traps to seduce and distract Fu Chai.

Unearthed Sword of Gou Jian the King of Yue

Unearthed Sword of Gou Jian the King of Yue — Hubei Museum

Appearing and Training of Beauty Spy Xi Shi

Born into a poverty family, Xi Shi used to do laundry with her mother for a living.


Fishes in the river were also impressed by her beauty since they would hide and forget to swim when they saw Xi Shi showing up by the river.

Some ministers of Yue selected her in their vengeance plan. 

Xi Shi studied singing, dancing, elegant behaviors, and etiquette for the next three years. Then, she was sent to the King of Wu. 

Fu Chai, a talented and diligent monarch, was attracted to and indulged by her beauty, talent, and softness after having laid his eyes on Xi Shi for the first time. 


He loved her company very much and gradually paid less attention to his kingdom. 

Beauty Xi Shi Dancing

Beauty Xi Shi Dancing, Picture from Nifeng Feiyang.

Final War of Kingdom Wu and Yue

Decades later, when the King of Wu was competing with overlords up in the north, Gou Jian led his elite army to attack Wu and capture Wu’s crown prince. 

King Fu Chai sent people to plead for a truce that lasted only six years.

King Gou Jian then kept attacking Empire Wu.


In 473 BC, Gou Jian finally defeated Fu Chai’s army and soon occupied Wu’s capital city. 

Fu Chai, the ambitious king of a vast empire, the monarch who was once full of accomplishments, committed suicide; the kingdom Wu perished.


After 20 years of hard work and preparation, Gou Jian finally fulfilled his vengeance. 

Bronze Weapon Ji of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Weapon Ji of the Spring and Autumn Period — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Mysterious Ending of Xi Shi

As for beauty Xi Shi, there are many versions of her ending throughout history.

In the first version, she committed suicide.


After twenty years of living together, she had already fallen in love with King Fu Chai.


She could not betray her kingdom Yue, so she finished her mission but chose to die with her beloved one. 

Unearthed Bronze Wine Container (He) of Fu Chai the King of Wu

Unearthed Bronze Wine Container (He) of Fu Chai the King of Wu — Shanghai Museum 

The inscriptions said that it was made for a woman, under the command of Fu Chai the King of Wu. This woman is widely believed as the civilian born Xi Shi, whose name could not be carved on a valuable bronze ware for certain reasons.

Another frequently documented version is that she was put into a bag and thrown into a river.


Some said the people of Empire Wu did this because they blamed her for being the reason for the perishing of their country.


Others believe this was done by King Gou Jian or his queen, trying to prevent Xi Shi from ruining Empire Yue, just like what she did to Wu. 

Unearthed Crystal and Agate Accessory of the Spring and Autumn Period

Crystal and Agate Accessory of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Meanwhile, there is another saying that most people would like to believe, in which the minister named Fan Li, who found and trained Xi Shi to participate in this honey trap, quit his job and took her away. 


After they both completed their mission of assisting their king in revenging and defeating Wu, they changed their names, buried their past, and traveled around other states since then. 

Taihu Lake in Jiangsu Province, Photo from Official Site of Lake Tai of Wuxi.

Tai Lake in Jiangsu Province, Where Xi Shi and Fan Li Have been Boating in their Seclusion Lives, Photo from Official Site of Lake Tai of Wuxi.

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