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The Four Beauties of Ancient China (Intermediate)

Jun. 10, 2011

中国古代四大美女 (Zhōngguó gǔdài sì dà měinǚ) The Four Beauties of Ancient China


Key Learning Points (Preview):

美女 (měinǚ): n. beauty


含蓄 (hánxù): adj. reserved/implicit


温柔 (wēnróu): adj. gentle/tender


Throughout China's five thousand year history, numerous heroic figures have emerged and captured the people's fancy. But what most impresses and remains in the people's minds are the ancient "美女 (měinǚ) beauties." Particularly well remembered are 西施 (Xī Shī), 王昭君 (Wáng Zhāojūn ), 貂蝉 (Diāo Chán), and 杨贵妃 (Yáng Guìfēi), the four most famous China's ancient beauties who were each superior in their beauty and lived legendary lives.

Unlike western beauties who are characterized by prototypical western facial features, i.e. sexy figures, passion and openness, Chinese beauties are characterized more for their "含蓄 (hánxù)reserve" and "温柔 (wēnróu) gentle nature." When combined with their stunning appearance, the four ancient beauties can really take one's breath away.

The description of the four ancient beauties can be best summarized by the following saying: "沉鱼落雁,闭月羞花 (Chén yú luò yàn, bì yuè xiū huā)." Although the beauty of the language cannot be captured perfectly in English, the essential meaning is as follows: The beauty of "西施" would even startle the fish when she washed her clothes near the river; wild geese fell out of the sky after having a glance at "王昭君;" "貂蝉" outshined the moon and made it hide itself behind the clouds; and "杨贵妃" put the flowers to shame and made them wither.

西施 (Xī Shī)


王昭君 (Wáng Zhāojūn


 貂蝉 (Diāo Chán)


杨贵妃 (Yáng Guìfēi


Key Learning Points:

美女 (měinǚ): n. beauty



Tā shì gè tiānshēng de měinǚ.
她   是 个     天生      的   美女.


She is a natural beauty.

含蓄 (hánxù): adj. reserved/implicit



Tā shuōhuà shífēn hánxù.
他    说话       十分    含蓄。


He speaks in quite an implicit way.

Zhè ge huídá hěn hánxù.
这   个  回答    很    含蓄。


This answer is quite implicit.

温柔 (wēnróu): adj. gentle/tender



Tā duì tā nán péngyou hěn wēnróu.
她 对 他 男      朋友     很     温柔。


She is very tender to her boyfriend. 

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My online Mandarin tutor told me that 西施 (Xī Shī) is generally recognized as the most beautiful of all.

I wonder who ranks first among the four beauties.

From my online Mandarin lessons, I’ve learned that you can say 美女(měinǚ) to address a lady in China.


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