Xishi is known as one of the Four Great Beauties of China. Celebrated as a woman of extraordinary natural beauty with a universal appeal, Xishi was the daughter of a tea trader in Zhuji County in the state of Yue (current Zhejiang Province) around 500BC during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC). At that time, China was divided into several kingdoms fighting for power.
When the State of Yue was vanquished by the State of Wu, the King of Yue, Gou Jian was forced to serve Prince Fuchai of Wu for three years. On his release, King Gou Jian slept on brushwood and drank gall before each meal to remind himself of the humiliation his country had suffered. He plotted the downfall of his conqueror as soon as he was released. He commissioned men to search far and wide for a woman whom he could send as a tribute to Prince Fuchai of Wu. Xishi, whose beauty was much talked of even from early childhood, was selected for this task and sent to the capital.
King Gou Jian approved of the choice and had Xishi trained in royal court etiquette. Gou Jian ordered his minister Fan Li to take Xishi to the Prince of Wu as a tribute gift from Yue. During the journey, Xishi fell deeply in love with the wise minister. Fan Li also grew to admire this courageous lady who was willing to give her life for her country. Consequently, before they parted, they made a secret pledge of undying love.
This story is unique in the history of feudal China as no one has ever found fault with Xishi, even though she had caused the downfall of the State of Wu.