Tales of Daji

By Simon Nguyen
A collection of fictionalized stories about Daji of the Shang.
Daji was the favorite concubine of the Shang emperor. She was infamous for the atrocities brought about by her wild and brutal ideas.



Daji was one curious being who loved to gain hands-on knowledge of things. One time, she saw a street entertainer performing the old “walking on burning coals” trick. Impressed by the performance, Daji ordered the man’s feet removed so she could study why his feet were not burned by the hot coals. Another time, Daji encountered a pregnant woman and became curious as to what was inside her womb. She swiftly ordered the woman’s belly be sliced open so she could see what was inside.


It happened that the empress was a lady of great virtues. She was beloved for her uprightness and strong sense of justice. Daji found herself fascinated by the empress, leading her to devise a brilliant plan to test the empress’ virtues. First, she falsely accused the empress of treason. She then offered her leniency in exchange for an admittance of guilt. When the honorable empress refused the offer, Daji had the guards cut off both of her arms.

Despite great pain, the queen remained persistent in her proclamation of innocence. Daji decided to test her further by having the empress’ eyes forcefully removed.  To her surprise, the empress refused to give in even after such a cruel treatment. Daji was greatly impressed by the queen’s persistence. She finally reached the conclusion that the empress was indeed a virtuous woman and subsequently cleared her of all charges. Unfortunately, the queen passed away soon after because of her injuries.


Imperial Uncle Bi Gan was a man known for his rectitude and loyalty. It was said that he was born with a sage's heart. When speculative words about Bi Gan's heart reached Daji, they aroused her curiosity. She pretended to have fallen ill and bribed the court's physician to tell Emperor Zhou that only the heart of a righteous man could cure her.

Believing their lie, the emperor executed all the righteous men in the empire and brought their hearts to Daji. None of them could cure Daji's faked illness however. It was then that the corrupt physician suggested Bi Gan's heart would be able to cure Daji's ailment. "He is renowned for his righteousness. There is no one greater."

"Bi is my uncle. If I forcefully extract his heart, what would my subjects think of me?" Emperor Zhou sighed.

"Your majesty, you should send words to him that you are seriously ill and only the heart of a royal blood could cure your illness. Bi Gan is extremely loyal to the empire. He will surely donate his own heart for your sake."

The emperor took the physician's advice and sent words to his uncle. As expected, Bi Gan killed himself and willed his heart to the emperor. When Bi's heart was shown to Daji, she was severely disappointed. Unlike the rumors, it was just an ordinary heart.

"I faked my illness for nothing," she murmured.


Duke Wen and his eldest son Yikao visited the imperial capital to pay tribute to the emperor. Daji took a romantic interest in the handsome Yikao, but was coldly rejected. It happened that the emperor was envious of Wen, who was widely admired for his virtues. Daji took advantage of this rift to plot her revenge. She falsely accused the son of making advances toward her. The emperor believed her words and hastily executed the young man without giving him a chance to profess his innocence.

When Duke Wen learned of his beloved son's demise, he was drowned in sorrow. However, he dared not to complain for that would be treasonous against the emperor. Wen's muted response agitated Emperor Zhou, because he was looking for an excuse to get rid of the duke as well. Daji offered the emperor a ploy to trap the duke.

"Your majesty, invite him to an imperial banquet and stealthily serve him a dish made from his son's flesh. If he refused to eat it, you can frame him for treason. If he ate it, spread words around the empire that he ate his son's flesh. Either way, his virtuous reputation will be shattered."

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