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Wu Yan and Su Liu
Two Ugly Imperial Concubines
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In ancient China most men chose their wives by appearance, let alone the emperors. But during the Spring and Autumn Period, two ugly but virtuous and able women became imperial concubines in succession in a kingdom called Qi.

It is said there was a girl so ugly that her eyes sank deep in her face, sparse hair could hardly cover her head, and her skin was as dark as pitch. Born in Wu Yan, she was called after the place. Since she was so bad looking, she lived alone until her 40. At that time wars surged up between the kingdoms from time to time. One day Wu Yan summoned up courage and went to see the Emperor Xuan. When she was presented at court, she said, 'Your majesty, I would like to be at your service since our country is in great danger.' Of course, she was asked to explain why, 'It is in a chaotic state at home with two strong kingdoms, Qin and Chu, surrounding us. But your majesty haven't sensed the slightest danger at this moment of life and death.' The emperor was struck dumb with her words and gave up his luxurious life and put himself in efforts to make the country prosperous. Wu Yan was not only the spouse, but also a straight friend to the emperor.

Things came not singly but in pairs. Several generations later there lived in Qi another ugly girl. Since she had a tumor in her neck, she was named Su Liu. It was goiter in fact. Because of it, people kept away from her. Once Emperor Min went on a sightseeing tour to the suburbs. All the people crowded along the road while Su Liu concentrated on picking mulberry leaves. As she was called before the emperor, she explained she was doing her job wholeheartedly and not noticing things else. Emperor Min thought her a virtuous woman and wanted to take her back. And unexpectedly, she refused and said she should ask her parents' permission first. The emperor respected her will and held a grand marriage for her. Later she assisted in governing the country and brought peace and prosperity to people.

Written by our column writer Hao Zhuo.

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