Diaochan was one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. Unlike the other three beauties, however, there is no known evidence suggesting her existence; she is mostly a fictional character. She is best known for her role in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events in the late Eastern Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, she has a romance with the warrior Lü Bu and causes him to betray and kill his foster father, the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo.

Chinese historical records indicate that Lü Bu had a secret affair with one of Dong Zhuo’s maids and he constantly feared that Dong Zhuo would find out. This was one of the reasons why he betrayed and assassinated Dong Zhuo in 192. The maid’s name was not recorded in history, however. The name “Diaochan”, which literally means “sable cicada”, is believed to have been derived from the sable tails and jade decorations in the shape of cicadas which adorned the hats of high-ranking officials in the Eastern Han dynasty.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Diaochan assists the official Wang Yun in a plot to persuade Lü Bu to kill his foster father, the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo. Wang Yun presents her to Dong Zhuo as a concubine, but also betrothes her to Lü Bu at the same time. Diaochan uses her beauty to turn Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu against each other by inciting jealousy between them.

While Dong Zhuo is out one day, Lü Bu sneaks into his bedroom in the hope of seeing Diaochan. Diaochan pretends to be very upset and attempts suicide by throwing herself into the pond, saying that she is ashamed to see Lü Bu because she had been violated by Dong Zhuo. Lü Bu is heartbroken and promises that he will not let her suffer further at the hands of Dong Zhuo. Just then, Dong Zhuo returns and sees them embracing each other. As Lü Bu flees, Dong Zhuo chases him and hurls a spear at him, but misses. On the way, Dong Zhuo meets his adviser, Li Ru, who suggests to him to let Lü Bu have Diaochan, so as to win Lü Bu’s trust. Dong Zhuo goes back to Diaochan later and accuses her of betraying his love, saying that he intends to present her to Lü Bu. Diaochan replies indignantly that Lü Bu embraced her against her will and attempts suicide to “prove her love” for Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo is moved and dismisses the idea of relinquishing her.

Lü Bu is outraged and goes to Wang Yun’s house to vent his frustration. Wang Yun then uses the opportunity to instigate Lü Bu to join the plot to kill Dong Zhuo. Lü Bu kills Dong Zhuo when the latter shows up at a ceremony for Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him; the ceremony is actually a trap set by Wang Yun and Lü Bu. After Dong Zhuo’s death, his former followers, led by Li Jue and Guo Si, attack Chang’an to avenge their lord. Lü Bu is defeated in battle and forced to flee.

Diaochan’s eventual fate differs in various accounts: some said that she is killed by Dong Zhuo’s followers, along with Wang Yun, after Lü Bu escapes; others claim that she follows Lü Bu while he roams around with his forces. In some adaptations of the novel, Diaochan is executed along with Lü Bu after Lü Bu’s defeat at the Battle of Xiapi.

In folk tales

In one folktale, Diaochan is captured by Cao Cao after the Battle of Xiapi. Cao Cao presents her to Guan Yu in the hope of winning Guan Yu’s loyalty. Guan Yu, however, suspects that he is being tricked when he recalls how Diaochan had betrayed Lü Bu and Dong Zhuo. He kills her to prevent her from doing further harm.[citation needed] In another tale, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei all want to marry Diaochan, and they argue bitterly over the issue. Guan Yu kills her to end the dispute.

In the Yuan dynasty play Lianhuan Ji (連環計), Diaochan is said to be the daughter of Ren Ang (任昂), and her real name is Ren Hongchang (任紅昌). She is in charge of taking care of the Sable Cicada Hat (貂蟬冠), so she becomes known as “Diaochan” (literally “sable cicada”). She is introduced to Guan Yu by Zhang Fei after Lü Bu’s death. Instead of accepting her as the spoils of war, Guan Yu decapitates her with his sword. This event is not mentioned in historical records or the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but is propagated through mass media such as operas and storytelling.


In 189 A.D. the death of the Han emperor caused the Han dynasty to fall apart. There was national unrest and chaos with the lack of governmental leadership. This chaos would continue until the formation of a three kingdom government. This story is about how these three kingdoms formed and the one woman who fostered the death of the evil warlord who prevented this formation. 

 I bet you would like to know about this next Chinese heroine. Her name was Diaochan and she was selected as a maid of honor for the Han court at the very young age of fifteen. I met her in Emperor Han’s palace while she was setting up decorations for the fall season. I had become accustomed to the palace life with Wang Zhaojun so I decided to return. I knew I would find adventure and drama if I stayed in the emperor’s palace.

Diaochan was hanging a beautiful lamp above my head when she almost stepped on me! I am usually very careful about these things but the red lamp that was brightening the entire room distracted me. I chirped really loud, which caused Diaochan to pick up her foot and look down. She saw my green skin against the wood floor and scooped me up. I traveled up on her shoulder so that she knew I was planning on staying. I had a feeling I would find adventure with Diaochan.

The most energetic girl of the court was Diaochan. She was friends with many of the concubines and women of the court. I remember one of the first nights I met her, she planned a talent show for everyone in the court. Once the sunset, the festivities began and everyone in the court performed in the talent show. She was always the life of the party and I loved being her trusty sidekick. We even performed a duet as one of our talents in the show. I provided a chorus of chirps that harmonized perfectly with her lovely soprano voice. The party was a success and of course Diaochan and I were the most popular in the court.

A month and five days passed and news in the palace was spreading that Emperor Han was dying. He was not leaving a successor, which would mean that China would be left without a leader. Five days later the emperor died and Diaochan was very sad. She always felt like the emperor was her second father. He always appreciated her and was a great leader for China.

With the death of Emperor Han, many warlords began to ransack the palace. Many warlords fought for the title of emperor, because a successor had not been named. One evil warlord named Dong Zhuo took over the palace and named a child as the new emperor. The warlord Dong Zhuo also had a son named Lu Bu who was a great warrior.

Lu Bu was walking around the palace one day when he laid eyes on Diaochan. I don’t think Diaochan really loved Lu Bu but Lu Bu immediately fell in love with Diaochan’s beauty. Later that night Diaochan discussed this experience with her adopted father Diao Yun. Diao Yun was a government official during the Han dynasty. He made a plan for how Diaochan could destroy Dong Zhuo and unite the three kingdoms. Diaochan had to make Lu Bu kill his own father, Dong Zhuo. Lu Bu was the only one who could get close enough to Dong Zhuo to catch him off guard.

After several months of courting, Diaochan married Lu Bu. After their honeymoon, they returned to the palace. Diaochan would flirt with Dong Zhuo while Lu Bu was away and she would claim that her marriage to Lu Bu was the only thing prohibiting her from marrying Dong Zhuo. This made Dong Zhuo very angry. One day he saw Lu Bu dancing with Diaochan in the courtyard. Dong Zhuo attacked Lu Bu without thinking about the fact that Lu Bu was his only son and the most talented warrior in his kingdom. Lu Bu felt insulted that Dong Zhuo would attack him for dancing with his own wife.

Dong Zhuo drew his sword on Lu Bu. Lu Bu remembered Diaochan’s advice. She convinced Lu Bu that killing Dong Zhuo was only right because then he could be the most powerful warlord. Lu Bu stabbed Dong Zhuo in the heart and sliced his head off of his body.

With the death of the tyrannical warlord, the three kingdoms were able to unite and rule China for years to come. Many of the warlords wanted to unite and the only person who was prohibiting this peace was Dong Zhuo.

There have been many books that have been written about Dioachan and her heroism, but I was the one who got to experience her heroism. She was a beautiful woman who sacrificed much of her life to defeat a tyrannical warlord for the country that she loved.

Author’s Note:

In this story I wanted to include a more informative background. This is why I included Diaochan’s life during the Han dynasty. The adventure really began after the emperor died. I left out the information of how she was adopted by Diao Yun who was the court official. I wanted to emphasize her relationship with Lu Bu and how she defeated Dong Zhuo using both men as her puppets. 

I changed a few things about the story because I did not want the reader to get confused with all of the different Chinese names. I made the emperor Han not have a child successor. In the real story, the child successor was killed by Dong Zhuo and replaced with a new emperor. I also made Diaochan marry Lu Bu so that Lu Bu would have more of a claim over Diaochan. I also wanted Dong Zhuo to seem like more of a villain for fighting for another man’s wife. In the story Lu Bu does kill Dong Zhuo but the sequence of events probably happened slower then how I portrayed it in my story.

Written By Brooke Korkames


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