Compiled from Secrets of the
During the reign of Emperor Yuandi of the Han Dynasty, more than 40,000 beautiful women were selected to be court ladies. To help him make his choice of companion for the night, the emperor ordered the imperial artist, Mao Yanshou, to draw portraits of each girl, from which he would pick his choice.
It was no surprise that Mao used this as leverage against the court ladies. In order to get Mao to draw a beautiful portrait of them, some of the court ladies resorted to bribing him. When Mao saw Wang Zhaojun, he was bowled over by her beauty. However, because she had nothing for him, Mao drew a plain-looking portrait and sent it to the emperor. Not surprisingly, the emperor automatically dismissed it.
Seven years later, Shan Yu, the ruler of Xiongnu, requested for a bride from the palace. The emperor granted his request and summoned one of his officials to inform the court ladies of this latest development. Upon hearing this, Wang Zhaojun volunteered herself. The emperor, recalling Wang Zhaojun as an average-looking woman, immediate summoned Shan Yu to ‘pick up’ his new wife. The next day, Wang Zhaojun appeared before the emperor, dressed in an elegant robe. The emperor did a double take at the sight of her.
Alas, he knew it was too late to go back on his word, and with a heavy heart, handed her over to a delighted Shan Yu. The furious emperor ordered Mao to be beheaded at once. From that day onwards, not one day went by without the emperor pining for Wang Zhaojun. A year later, he died of depression.