–A poem by Li Shangyin (Tang
Two criteria by which a man’s
charisma is judged:
韩掾少 少[shào] : physical beauty, youth
魏王才 才[cái] : prodigious literary talent
韩掾 : Han Shou, ( ?- 300AD), a young advisor to the then Prime Minister,
with considerable literary talent, remarkable beauty and oratory, won the heart
of the daughter of his boss, subsequently visited the young lady’s bedchamber
in a similar manner as Romeo did at Juliet’s. The two were eventually able to
marry at the PM’s blessing, however, much to his annoyance, for the young man’s
social status was no match to that of his bride.
魏王 :Cao Zhi, (192-232), prince of the Kingdom Wei. Often considered as unrivalled,
throughout his era, in literary mastery, the prince was both young and Byronic.
One great critic of his time even went so far as to claim that the prince
accounted for 80% of China’s entire literary gravity. Envied and often victimised
by his brother, the King, the prince died young and in dismay.
I did mean to select 10 lethally charming men to present to you, hence the
title, however, after much struggle, I have decided: there aren’t 10, in fact,
there are only 6, to be categorised into three levels.
The lethally good-looking, legendarily
Gongsun Yan, a.k.a. Zidu (around 700s BC), member of the ruling
acristocratic family in the Dukedom of Zheng, and, as a young man, was in the
fantasy of every young woman in his time and his name remained iconic of such
until this day in China.
Merit: arguably the most skilled martial artist and the most valiant
military leader of his day in the Dukedom.
Downfall: lost to another general in a weight-lifting game, thence bearing
grudge, and consequently, in an active battle, shot from behind and killed with
an arrow the said general, for which crime, he was punished with death at a
Song Wengong ( ?-589 BC), younger brother of the Duke of
Song. Hopelessly attracted to his youthful spirit and unearthly beauty, his
grandmother (not biological), the young widow of the late duke his grandfather,
took fancy to him and in a deliberately plotted accident murdered his brother
the current duke and made him ruler and Duke of Song. He is considered as “the
man who won a dukedom by beauty”.
Merit: able, wise and determined as a ruler, unlike his
brother, he was much loved and cherished by his male subjects, and worshiped by
the female ones.
Downfall: due to the inconvenient accident through which the
duke gained power, he was constantly criticised and occasionally attacked by
rulers of other dukedoms, therefore attracting consistent military threats from
outside, and eventually died of exhaustion.
No. 4 卫阶
Wei Jie (286-312 AD), dubbed as the “jade man”, was a member
of a politically distinguished family. From a very young age, he was pursued by
female, sometimes also male, crowds whenever he appeared in public.
Merit: one of the top three orator/debater and philosophers
of his time. He was often not allowed to speak by his protective mother, but
when he did speak, the audience listened with a half-fallen jaw and danced in
dreams to the tune of his speech.
Downfall: he was never robust in health, and at the age of
26, when he travelled to the southern capital city of Nanjing, he was pursued
and surrounded by fan crowds who had heard too much about him and were
determined to never let him go out of their sight, hence, he fell gravely ill
due to the 24-hour all-weather hot pursuit. Later the same year, he died.
The level of the
historic Sages both in beauty and in literature
No. 3 潘安
Pan An (247-300), as a young man, he was often trapped by
large fanatic fan crowds in town, and when he decided to take a stroll in the
more quiet suburbs, women ranging from teens to housewives pursued him and
threw fruit into his carriage (not an unfriendly action), and by dusk when he
returned home, he would have a whole carriage of fruit.
Merit: a giant of beauty as well as of literature, Pan An was
a leading figure among the top men of letters of his time. His works can still
be found and are read until this day. Although desperately handsome, he was an exemplary
husband of loyalty. He met his wife when he was 12, and the two were thence
betrothed, and married when they were grown. Years after the death of his wife,
by then both still in their 20s, he mourned and wrote heart-sinking prose for
the woman he had always loved. The prose is still read today and puts all men
and women, who have loved, into tears.
Downfall: although an enormously talented man, Pan An was not
wise in politics. He befriended the wrong lot and, in the end, brought ruin to
himself and his family.
No. 2 宋玉
Song Yu (298BC- 222BC), rising from an obscure background,
was the envy to everyone’s eye. The King envied him for his youth, the
intellectual for his overwhelming outburst of talent, the clowns for his oppressive
beauty. Words are too feeble to describe the awe.
Merit: in China’s literature hall of fame, his name is among
those such as Confucius, Qu Yuan and Li Bai. His 《登徒子好色赋》 is
a queer piece of art to have combined both beauty and genius in one single form
to vanquish any challenges from the same category. One still laughs and
sometimes sinks down on ones knees when reading it today.
The level of “The Only
No. 1 高长恭
Gao Changgong (541-573), Prince of Lanling, cousin of the
King of Qi. His beauty and valour were a gift of heaven, which elevated him to
a semi-deity status that had never been achieved before him and would never be
reached again after him. His beauty was that which was unaccountable,
contrasting that of other famously good-looking men, and unanswerable by any
human devise, therefore, the beauty itself had transformed into a decisive
force that changed tides in battle as well as in life. He knew it well, so that
he often wore a mask to battle.
Masterpiece: in the year 560, at 19 years old, the prince,
masked as usual, led a 500 strong cavalry to rescue the siege of Luoyang. The
battle became a bloody tangle and the ally forces inside the castle were hesitating
as they were unsure of the identity of the masked figure. At a moment of life
and death, the prince removed the mask from his face. The world went quiet,
gasped and frozen, and the next moment, the gate flung open, soldiers bewitched.
The prince triumphed.
Downfall: increasingly envied by his cousin, the King, the
prince enchanted the heart of the whole kingdom and blinded the public eye to
such an extent that the King could no longer feel safe to rule. At the age of
32, the prince was awarded a glass of wine by royal appointment, one ingredient
of which was the deadly 鸩.