Diao Chan Praying in front of Burning Incense


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This is a scene from a popular traditional play ‘A Set of Interlocking Stratagems (连环计)’.

The war lord Dong Zhuo (董卓, ? – 192 CE) became a senior minister in the Han court. His tendency to dominate the young sovereign, Emperor Xian of Han (汉献帝, 181–234 CE), gave other ministers cause for concern. They asked Wang Yun (王允), a high-ranking official, to devise a stratagem to get rid of Dong Zhuo in the interests of the state. Wang Yun was burdened with the task, with no appetite to eat and no desire to sleep. One evening, when Wang Yun was cudgeling his brains for a perfect plan on his way to the back garden, he suddenly saw his adopted daughter, Diao Chan (貂蝉), burning joss sticks (焚香) to pray for her lost fiancé Lv Bu (吕布, also Lü Bu), who had been separated from her during the war and had become one of Dong Zhuo’s right-hand men. Wang Yun’s face lit up and came up with a perfect plan. The following plot is represented on a series of late Ming to Qing dynasty porcelain wares.

He first invited Lv Bu to his house and reunited him with Diao Chan. On the next day, Wang Yun invited Dong Zhuo for a dinner at home with Diao Chan serving the food, knowing that Dong would drool over her and fall into his trap. Sure enough, Dong Zhuo immediately fell for Diao Chan and took her home on the spot. Then Wang Yun told Lv Bu that Dong Zhuo had married Diao Chan by force. Being Dong Zhuo’s subordinate, Lv Bu had to repress his jealousy and anger. Lv Bu had been tormented emotionally for days before he finally managed to meet with Diao Chan in the back garden of Dong’s residence. Dong Zhuo discovered Lv Bu’s absence and grew suspicious. He rushed back and saw the couple together. A wedge thus was lodged between Dong Zhuo and his first lieutenant Lv Bu, which eventually caused Dong’s downfall.


  • Ni, Yibin (倪亦斌)《王允貂蝉合谋连环计,董卓吕布翻脸成仇敌》, Reader’s Taste《读者欣赏》 (October 2017): 114-119
  • Jeffrey P. Stamen and Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni (2017), A Culture Revealed: Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection 文采卓然:潔蕊堂藏康熙盛世瓷, Jieruitang Publishing, p. 28

Fig 1-2: lidded jar with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen period (1628–44), Ming dynasty, courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, Accession no. EA1978.2006

Fig 3: porcelain plate with overglaze enamelled decoration, Kangxi period (1662–1722), courtesy of the Jie Rui Tang Collection

Fig 4: porcelain plate with overglaze enamelled decoration, Kangxi period (1662–1722), from Porcelain Treasures of the Kangxi Period, by Daniel Suebsman & Daniela Antonin (Hg.), Hetjens Edition, Deutsches Keramikmuseum, 2015, p. 217

Fig 5: porcelain plaque with overglaze enamelled decoration, Kangxi period (1662–1722), courtesy of Nanjing Municipal Museum (Chaotian Palace site)

Fig 6: porcelain brush holder with overglaze enamelled decoration, Qianlong period (1736–95), courtesy of the Marc Michot Gallery

Fig 7: new-year colour print, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), courtesy of Yangliuqing Printing, Tianjin

Fig 8: fresco, Republic period (1911–49), the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace, Beijing

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