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王昭君 Wang Zhaojun is the earliest and best known of China's "political brides". In 33 BC she became the bride of the Xiongnu (Hun) Emperor. Since then, over the past 2,000 plus years, countless poems and folktales have gathered around her memory.

A native of Zigui at the lower adge of the Three Gorges in Hubei province, she entered the imperial harem during the reign of Emperor Yuan of Western Han (48-33 BC). The emperor chose companions from his vast harem of maidens by looking at their portraits. As a result of this practice, it was the custom for palace ladies to offer large bribes to court artists to ensure that they painted a flattering likeness. Zhaojun however, confident of her natural beauty, refused to bribe the court painter. In retaliation he painted an ugly likeness and the emperor never called her.

When the Xiongnu (Hun) chieftain asked for the hand of a daughter of the Han Emperor Yuan, he decided to instead select one of his least desirable concubines and Zhaojun received the order.

At the point of departure, the emperor saw her for the first time and regretted his choice. Furious with the court painter he ordered him put to death.

But it was too late for Wang Zhaojun. Dressed in the regalia of the Han court, clutching her Pipa to her bosom, she travelled beyond the Great Wall never to return.

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