Generally speaking, prostitutes were despised by the other social status in the past. However, in Chinese history, there were some prostitutes that served pivotal role. Here are eight most famous prostitutes in Chinese history:
1. Su Xiaoxiao 苏小小
Su Xiaoxiao, also known as Su Xiaojun, was a Chinese courtesan who lived in Qiantang City (modern Hangzhou) during the Southern Qi Dynasty (479–502). She died at a mere 19 years of age. She was highly regarded both as a poetess and as a courtesan. Some think she did not wish to be a man’s wife or mistress, preferring to share her beauty at that time when other women were caged as housewives.
2. Li Shishi 李师师
Li Shishi was a courtesan in Kaifeng, the capital of the Song Dynasty (960-1127), Ms Li was so attractive that Emperor Huizong was a regular client of hers. Li was good at singing, dancing and poetry. Many writers, poets and people in high society were her clients.
3. Chen Yuanyuan 陈圆圆
Chen Yuanyuan was a well-known prostitute from Suzhou in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty. She was a good singer and dancer. She married to Wu Sangui as his concubine. She was said to be exceptionally beautiful and her capture by Li Zicheng was one of the reasons (although not the main one) that caused Wu Sangui to open Shanhaiguan to the Manchus. In her late years Chen Yuanyuan became a Taoist nun who then renamed herself Jijing, style name Yu’an.
4. Liu Rushi 柳如是
Liu Rushi (1618–1664) was a famous courtesan in the late Ming dynasty who married Qian Qianyi at the age of 25. she is considered to be the most respectable prostitute in China’s history. She was not only good at poem, calligraphy, drawing and Chinese zither, but also showed high moral value when the country facing danger. She committed suicide on the death of her husband.
5. Dong Xiaowan 董小婉
Dong Xiaowan was one of the “eight most popular courtesans” in the upscale “Red-light District” along the Qinhuaihe River. She was attracted by Mao Pijiang, who had fine-looking appearance, casual and elegant bearing and was well-educated, wealthy and ambitious. Thereafter, Dong Xiaowan suddenly transformed herself from a prostitute to his concubine. Dong Xiaowan passed away at only 28 years for falling sick in taking care of Mao.
6. Li Xiangjun 李香君
Li Xiangjun was from Suzhou. She was known as one of the “eight most popular courtesans” along the Qinhuaihe River together with Dong Xiaowan, Chen Yuanyuan and other four ladies. Li Xiangjun and Hou Fangyu (a famous young scholar in South Ming Dynasty) fell in love. who was devoted to fighting against the eunuch factions and overturning the Qing regime to restore the Ming Dynasty, Li Xiangjun was always there supporting him. However, due to her low birth and her past as a courtesan, Li Xiangjun was later banished to Manor of the Hou Family, where she was depressed to death.
7. Sai Jinhua 赛金花
Sai Jinhua was born in 1870 or 1864 and died in 1936. She was a famous courtesan in the late Qing Dynasty. Sai Jinhua became a prostitute since 20 years old. When she was 23 years old, she married with Hong Jun, a retired top rank imperial official to be his concubine. Then she went to Russia, Germany, Australia and Holland with Hong Jun as ambassador’s wife. She lived in forced to leave Hong’s home after Hong Jun’s death. After Eight-Nation Army entered Beijing, Sai Jinhua was obliged to affiliate with a German officer. Sai Jin hue married with a man named wei Finally, she died in 1936. she is really worthy of the title of “famous prostitute”, “ambassador’s wife” and so on.
8. Xiao Fengxian 小凤仙
She was a famous prostitute in Late Qing Dynasty. She was the mistress of General Cai, who supposedly mumbled to the General’s ears during bedtime activities. Her mumbling became a significant factor for the General to decide to risk his life and flee to Yunnan where he declared independence. Hence, Xiao Fengxian was known as the architect in rebuilding the republic.