How a Beauty Trap Ended a Brutal Dictatorship
Nearly 2,000 years ago, toward the end of the once-glorious Han Dynasty, a warlord named Dong Zhuo seized control of the capital. He pushed the young emperor out of power, wrongfully accused officials, and brutally executed them left and right.
He even routinely killed people for entertainment during large banquets, severing their limbs one by one while they were still alive, then dumping their remains in boiling oil before disturbed dinner guests, who were sometimes forced to drink soup boiled in their colleagues’ blood.
And so, with the kingdom teetering on the verge of collapse, the dynasty’s trusted servants were at a total loss. The only hope for ousting the tyrant, it turned out, rested with one of most beautiful women in Chinese history—Lady Diao Chan.
Diao Chan was not only beautiful but also an excellent singer and dancer. She had been orphaned at a young age, and the emperor’s loyal minister Wang Yun took her in and raised her as his own. Having blossomed into a young lady, she was eager to repay her father for all the kindness he had shown her.
The tyrant Dong Zhuo relied on more than fear alone to keep the emperor powerless and the officials heeding his overbearing orders. He was also protected by his adopted son—a heartless mercenary named Lü Bu.
Lü Bu was a handsome young man of great talent and little integrity. He had already betrayed and murdered his previous patron, and became Dong Zhuo’s adopted son more out of opportunism than anything else. Still, he was an invincible warrior who enforced Dong Zhuo’s reign of terror and killed his enemies.
With such protection, nobody could challenge Dong Zhuo’s iron-fisted rule. When would peace be restored?
Minister Wang Yun was deeply troubled, and his adopted daughter Diao Chan knew it. One evening, the minister was out for a stroll trying to think of a way to get rid of the despot. He noticed Diao Chan in the courtyard observing the moon, when the moon suddenly became obscured by clouds. In awe of his daughter's beauty, he thought to himself that it was as if even the moon was ashamed to see her face-to-face. That’s when it struck him. Of the “Thirty Six Stratagems,” there was one stratagem that could be used in desperate times—the beauty trap.
The minister, with tears in his eyes, knelt down in front of his 16-year-old daughter.
“Why are you doing this, my lord?” cried Diao Chan in alarm.
“Will you do something to help our country?” he asked.
“If the country really needs me,” she replied, “I will give my life to save it. How can I stand here while you kneel? Please rise, my lord.”
Seeing the determination in her eyes, the minister whispered to her his plan. Diao Chan appeared troubled. But, upon deep consideration, she slowly nodded.
The next day, the minister threw a lavish banquet for Lü Bu with delicious food and fine wine. Pretending he didn’t have enough servants, he called upon his daughter to serve the general.
“Gosh, how could there be such beauty on earth?” exclaimed Lü Bu. “She’s an angel!”
Lü Bu was hooked the moment he laid eyes on Diao Chan’s pretty face. He hoped she would sit by his side as he ate, but she coyly withdrew, opting to sit by her father’s side.
Noticing how Lü Bu kept glancing over at Diao Chan, the minister decided to make his move.
“The general is a hero on the battlefield,” the minister told Diao Chan, with Lü Bu within earshot. “It’s an honor to be admired by him.”
“If,” he continued, now turning to the warrior, “General Lü would condescend to accept my humble daughter, I could arrange for your wedding.”
When the minister offered to wed Diao Chan to Lü Bu, the latter was overcome with joy. He accepted the proposal at once.
Dong Zhuo was next. The minister arranged another grand banquet, this time for the warlord, offering him lots of wine and letting him get very drunk. That’s when Diao Chan emerged, danced, and awakened the tyrant’s licentiousness at once.
It didn’t take much convincing on the minister’s part. “If Master Dong is interested,” he said, “I’d be only honored to have my daughter serve you.”
Upon hearing this Dong Zhuo grabbed Diao Chan and took her back to his residence.
Lovesick Lü Bu
Lü Bu couldn’t help but notice that Diao Chan was no longer at the minister’s mansion, and enquired with the Minister of his daughter’s whereabouts.
“I invited His Excellency over for dinner a few nights ago,” explained the minister. “But he spotted my daughter and insisted on taking her home with him.”
Lü Bu was shocked and enraged! “Diao Chan was promised to me!” The lovesick warrior couldn’t stop thinking about her and felt as if his life had fallen apart.
One day, he tried sneaking into Dong Zhuo’s chambers to see her, but Dong Zhuo, who was inside sleeping, awoke and discovered him. “Have you been flirting with my favorite concubine?” He shouted. “Never enter here again!”
Thinking on his feet, Lü Bu pretended to have heard an assassin, explained himself, and quickly left.
Despite his incredible bravery on the battlefield, he felt utterly helpless. He resolved to sneak back into the chambers when Dong Zhuo was away and embrace his love, hear her voice, and look into her beautiful eyes again.
At great risk, Lü Bu crept back into Dong Zhuo’s room. Diao Chan was inside, alone.
When Diao Chan saw him approach, she turned away, saying she was too ashamed to face him. “Dong Zhuo has violated me,” she said. “And you have no idea how miserable my life is, living with someone I so despise.”
Pained to hear of her torment, Lü Bu embraced her. As much as he longed to be reunited with Diao Chan, he knew he could no longer be with her, and the feeling of hopelessness grew only more overwhelming. His emotions were tearing him up inside. When Diao Chan tearfully whispered into his ear, telling him how much she missed him, his heart could barely take it.
Lü Bu was so lost in the moment that when he heard Dong Zhuo storming back to his room, he fled in great haste, forgetting to grab his weapon.
When an alarmed Dong Zhuo rushed inside, he spotted Lü Bu making a getaway through the rear exit.
“What’s going on? Are you having an affair with Lü Bu?”
“My lord,” cried Diao Chan, “he just barged in and started saying inappropriate things to me. Thank goodness you came!”
“That beast!” yelled Dong Zhuo with murder in his eyes. With all familial relations out the window, he picked up the general’s abandoned halberd and chased after his adopted son.
Lü Bu was actually still hiding nearby to make sure Dong Zhuo didn’t hurt Diao Chan. Seeing Dong Zhuo in hot pursuit, Lü Bu took off.
There was no way the overweight Dong Zhuo could catch up with the athletic Lü Bu, so he furiously chucked the halberd at Lü Bu, narrowly missing him.
But Dong Zhuo picked the wrong warrior to go head-to-head with. Lü Bu reclaimed his weapon and, with one stab, slayed Dong Zhuo.
The young general had no idea he was playing right into the final stage of the minister’s trap. Diao Chan screamed bloody murder, and the emperor’s guards stormed in to find Dong Zhuo lying dead on the ground, Lü Bu standing over him.
Lü Bu ran out and bolted away on his horse, only to later be caught and executed by Cao Cao, but that’s another story.
The minister approached his daughter and bowed low in front her. Diao Chan had saved the empire.
The above story is based on the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Shen Yun’s 2020 rendition, The Beauty Trap.