The Four Great Ugly Women of China

Recently ChinesePod was preparing to do a podcast on some of the “Four Greats” (四大) of China [more info in Chinese]. If you’re not familiar with any of these, you might want to listen to the podcast (it’s free). Otherwise, a quick sum-up of some of the most famous ones will suffice:

The funny thing is that in addition to the “Four Great Beauties” (of ancient China), there are also “Four Great Ugly Women” (who don’t seem to have their own Wikipedia page):

  • 四大丑女 (the Four Great Ugly Women)
    1. 嫫母 (Mo Mu)
    2. 钟离春 (Zhong Lichun)
    3. 孟光 (Meng Guang)
    4. 阮氏 (Ruan Shi)

I talked to a ChinesePod co-worker about these famous ugly women. The conversation went something like this:

> Me: So these women were so ugly that they went down in the history books just for that? Isn’t that kind of mean?

> Her: Well, they weren’t just ugly. They also had great talent.

> Me: Well, why not just call them “the four great women of talent” then?

> Her: Well, they were also ugly.

Point taken. Cultural lesson learned!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. a very chinese answer, if I may say so. I dig.

  2. bababardwan Says: August 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    No wikipedia page for the sidachounu but they have a baidu page:

  3. jen_not_jenny Says: August 30, 2011 at 4:45 am

    This post made me think of adjective order in English…you know, how you have to say “big red rubber ball,” not “rubber red big ball.” Basically, the adjective which is most inherent to that particular noun is positioned closest to the noun, i.e the ball is more “rubber” than it is “red” or “big.” So in Chinese culture, one’s personal beauty (or lack thereof) is a more inherent description of an individual than their talents? Interesting. Perhaps talents are easier to acquire than beauty.
    nitpicky alert! Shouldn’t it be Yang YuHuan, not Yang YuHan?

  4. 哈哈, 很有意思!

Leave a Reply