Remarkable Women in Ancient China (8)- Xu Zhao Pei

Who is she:

  • The first divorced wife of a royalty (in death)
  • Was associated with the idiom “Mistress Xu was half-old” referring to a woman past her prime but still charming

Notable Life Events:

  • Born to a line of prominent officials (her grandfather was the Prime Minister and her father was also a high ranking official) under the Southern Qi kingdom in the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties around 420-589 AD
  • Married Xiao Yi, the would-be second Emperor of the Southern Qi kingdom, when he was the Crown Prince (a thoroughly political marriage, apparently the Crown Prince was only 9 when they married) 
  • Was ordered to commit suicide by her husband for reputedly murdering his favoured concubine
  • After she killed herself by drowning in a well, Xiao Yi sent her body back to her family as a divorced wife. This happened three years before he ascended the throne as Emperor.

Why is she remarkable:

  • She probably wins hands down on ‘most discourteous royal wife’. Not only did was she boldly jealous while cheating on him with multiple men- that idiom of hers came about due to the praise of one of her lovers, she would also only make up half of her face (see the pic for potential effects) whenever her husband visited her (which was seldom) in order to mock the fact that he was blind in one eye.  

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

In a way, she tickles my fancy in a karmic justice sense. I mean, here is this woman who is unhappily married and she will just do anything that pleases herself to get back at her husband. And she had the power to do so, which was not how dramas and movies starring Court women in ancient China usually made me believe (although I have to say with this series, I’m starting to learn that’s not always true. There are a number of exceptions but that doesn’t shake the overall impression). Not that I condone this kind of vicious revenge cycle that she had with her husband but I understand this is a way of her coping with her fate in a feudal society. In some ways, she reminds me of the first woman I blogged about in this series, except not as smart but equally willful in others’ eyes. 

English reference on her:

Published by moonlakeku

intermediate Chinese fantasy writer working on her debut series

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