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The Elegant Eight of the Qinhuai River

In China’s history, towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the banks of the Qinhuai River were home to eight courtesans, who were surpassingly beautiful. During the turmoil and upheaval which marked the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, their fate was tied to several famous and important people of the time. It is said, they may even have influenced the course of the history.

Wu Sanggui was a General of the Ming Dynasty and very much in love with Chen Yuanyuan, one of the eight beauties. Wu was defending a stronghold along the Great Wall to keep the Qing armies at bay. When a man named Li Zicheng led a peasant uprising and overthrew the Ming Empire, he took Chen Yuanyuan captive. Wu Sanggui was about to join forces with Li, but instead surrendered to the Qing Dynasty. Wu opened a gate of the Great Wall to the Qing army which went on to destroy the forces of Li Zicheng. Later, people have conjectured that, if Chen Yuanyuan had not existed, Wu may not have acted the way he did and Qing Dynasty would not have been victorious.

Liu Rushi earned her a place among the eight ladies through her literary talents. She married the 51 years old Qian Qianyi, a leading figure in literary circles, when she was only 20 years old. As the Qing army advanced towards Beijing, Liu Rushi supported her husband’s opposition of the invaders. When the Qing army arrived at Nanjing, Liu urged her husband die for the country by diving into the river together, but Qian declined because he could not jump into cold water. Later, Qian surrendered to the Qing government and even served in an official position. Liu, on the other hand, continued to support and fund the opposition to the Qing army. In the end, Qian felt too ashamed to maintain his position and returned home after resigning.

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