Ten Conditions for Beauty in Ancient Vietnam 2

(Continued from Ten Conditions for Beauty in Ancient Times 1)

As promised, here are the remaining Requirements of an Ancient Beauty, as written by an ancient scholar of anonymity.

5. The Three Arts

So far, the first four requirements are something that is beyond the scope and ability of any young beauty of the day to be able to set up for herself. This is because the most important determination of beauty does not lie with her but with her family and their wealth.

Although it may not seem to be the case, wealth continues to be a critical component for the fifth condition because being born within an upper class family allows for a female to become well-educated in the three arts.

In ancient Vietnam, girls were educated in the same manner as boys were because the ancient Viets were Taoists. They placed a high value on the Taoist idea of the balance between yin and yang.

This meant that girls were just as valued as boys and were given equal chances to succeed. The only thing that would keep a female from achieving literacy would be a lack of financial ability to give her a proper education.

The three arts of that time period were: the visual arts, music, and literature.

To the ancients, the literate woman possessed a more refined and elegant appearance because she was able to learn the art of beauty by reading books about, and looking at paintings of famous Beauties throughout the ages.

Examples of these Beauties would be along the lines of tiên nữ Hà Cô, nữ hiệp Mộc Lan, Hồng Phất, Cư Cử Án, Đề Úng, Tiệt Phát, and Hoàn Hùng. These role models would exemplify how a beauty should look and act. (Note: I’ll try to showcase one or two of these women in future posts as examples of real life Ancient Beauties).

The Beauty would also present herself in a rosy light to the men of that time because she would have been able to discuss the classics with equally educated males of her time.

He mentioned classics such as Cung khuê truyện, Liệt nữ truyện, Chư gia ngoại truyện, Tây tương, Hoàn hương ký, and Điêu trùng quán đàn từ, which he deemed to be good pieces of literature that should be in every Beauty’s library.

Sadly, many of these books, which had been in wide circulation over two thousand years ago, are no longer available. All we have left are titles.

But reading is only one of the three Arts. A beautiful woman should also have been schooled on the visual art and craft of painting, drawing, sculpting, origami, and calligraphy. There is also artistic embroidery, weaving, sewing, and artistic floral arrangements and flower cultivation.

And then there is the art of music. The Beauty would have been taught to master at least one musical instrument such as a bamboo flute, a small rice drum, or any of the stringed instruments available at that time (more on this in a future posting). She would have also developed a beautiful singing voice to accompany her instrument of choice and would have been taught to write new songs and to perform them in front of her family and spouse.

In this fifth category, the ancient author also ties in the role that the Beauty’s attendants play. Since they are there to assist the Beauty, they will also be helping her with various things having to do with the arts, such as holding the rosaries while chanting prayers, fanning her while she reads or meditates, and being her audience as she discusses with them fairy tales and historical accounts of female heroines of distant past (and I use this word to mean heroes who are women–those who know how to wield swords and martial arts to fight against the enemies of their lands).

6. Beautiful Personality Manifested Physically

And we finally get to the first of what a woman has direct control over–her basic personality.

The ancients reference a human’s personality as a combination of four things: attitude, spirit, mindfulness, and animation (not the cartoon, the physical gestures and facial dynamism). Through the amalgamation of these four attributes, a well-developed woman would exemplify her personality in a physical manifestation that would be unmistakably Beautiful.

To the ancient author of this commentary, the personality of a true Beauty shows up via the infusion of her features with pink lips, and cheeks the color of the bright sun. Her inner spirit imbues her with the glow of spring time youth.  Even in anger, her eyes should glow with starlight; her eyebrows should be raised like elegant arching willow branches. 

When fast asleep, her long hair should be loose and tousled across her chest. When the Beauty is late to a predetermined date, she should be on tippy toes or seated askance and rueful on her embroidered bed. Her gentle scent should permeate the air with quietly melancholy. Her voice and demeanor should be gentle, her gentle breeding constant throughout the day and the night. This is what causes a man to lose his heart (or so he opines).

Even when illness hits or if she is unwell, the Beauty should still look beautiful. Her eyebrows should show a slight frown, her facial features, pale and pinched.  Her frailty should inspire the onlooker to wax nostalgic sorrow for her wasted state.

When she is sorrowful, the Beauty should be as the pear flowers drenched in rain, or cicadas perched on wet branches in a cloudburst. 

Okay, the image of cicadas perching on wet branches is not cutting it for me because wet bugs is what I think of when I read about dripping cicadas in the rain.

I’m sure, back in the ancient days, this cicada moment might look romantic to the average guy walking down the road with his horse and his sword, but bugs don’t really evoke much of a warm and fuzzy feeling for most guys nowadays.

All this waxing of the poetic does not mean the ancient guys don’t know a thing or two about what makes a physically desirous Beauty. Within this section, evocative images detail with stunning visuals of what makes a woman a first-class Beauty.

Within his commentary, the scholar speaks of the face in the mirror, the shadow under the moon, the figure behind the curtains–that is called enticing.  Eyes lit up by lamplight, feet peeking out from the blankets, that erotic sound within the tent, that is deeply desirous.  Heavy with wine, drowsy and intoxicated, she removes her jewelry with unsteady fingers–that is called beastly arousal. 

The perspiration that permeates the brocade sheets, the tears that fall from being thoroughly loved, in her half-dreaming state, her soul fluttering on the wind and the clouds–that is called the strange love.  Her body is a beautiful flower, her spirit as refreshing as the autumn moon, her soul as pure as a piece of ice in the middle of a jade lake. She is serene like a quiet cloud, drifting like the scent of tea on a filament of smoke, disappearing and then reappearing again.

The ancient scholar assures us that those images are all real pictures of a Beauty.  Could it be that he is describing the woman of his dreams? Perhaps.

7. Beauteous Joyous Life

Coming in at number seven: Beauties must live a beautiful joyous life, from the moment they become aware of themselves as possessing a beautiful spirit, all the way through young adult, to mature adult, and into gentle aging years. Joyous living should be a year-round state-of-being. There should never be a time not to enjoy life with loved ones.

A 15-year-old Beauty is beautiful in a fresh tender way. By the time the Beauty is 28 years old, she has grown into an elegant willow, a fragrant jasmine bud, a rare green tea.  Her body is purely scented, her face enchanting.  She possesses exuberant health and is strong like a midday sun, glowing like the full moon at night, blossoming like cherry blossoms in mid spring, and like peonies in full bloom.

She goes through life in a perennial state of joy, always blooming, always sophisticated, always mature. When the sun finally sets on her delicate willowy form, even at the twilight of her life, her posture is still elegant and regal. Her beauty may fade, but her mind is wise and still sharp, open to all possibilities. Adding hints makeup will add to her elegance and posture, and the Beauty will still feel secure in her mature beauty.

The mature Beauty is loved and treasured like precious aged wine, and sweetened tangerines after the winter’s frost.

Like an old general leading an army, she possesses a poignant self-control that only the Beauty who has experienced life can possess. Truthfully, this is the most enjoyable time of her life. 

At this point, the ancient scholar describes this time in the Beauty’s life.

On a bright sunny spring day, in a delicate silk gown, with precious flowers trailing her steps, she walks hand in hand with her lover through a field of fragrant grass stretching as far as the eye can see. 

In the summer when the southern winds blow, the scent of her skin wafts towards her lover, as she gently waves her silk fan. They bathe together and sleep together, their intertwined sweet fragrance lingers on. 

Autumn returns and the cool bed gradually feels more and more intimate. Moonlight drenches the castle walls, peeking her round head through the window sill and shimmering on the Beauty being held in the arms of her lover. Morning dawns and the Beauty and her lover swims together in the autumn lake, among the shade of the lotus blooms. 

Winter comes scattering frosty snow flowers across the skies. The Beauty is sitting alone applying makeup. She hugs to her body, a pillow-enclosed warming stone (a heated stone wrapped in fabric and held to the body to keep warm in the winter time). Morning comes, and as she gets ready for the day, she smiles and asks her lover about the night flowers (beautiful dreams).

8. Meetings of the Mind

The eighth Beauty requirement is what’s known as the three meetings of the mind between soulmates.

The first (and most important) is the burning of the incense, the serving of fragrant tea, and having divine ethereal conversation about the Tam Giao (the three Great Philosophies–Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism). 

The second meeting of the mind between soulmates is the humorous story, walking hand in hand is second. For good wine, drunken stagger is the third.

9. Faithfulness

To the ancients, aside from physical love, there is also that deep abiding faithful love. To be considered Beautiful, a woman had to also be faithful to her lover.  But faithfulness, as defined by the ancients, is not the simple (don’t physically cheat on your lover with another person) sort of faithfulness that we modern-day people think it is.

The faithful woman in ancient time shares her lover’s joys, dissolves his anger and resentment, soothes his heartaches and sadness, and gives comforts in times of sickness and injuries. 

She cares for his well-being in winter and in summer. If separated due to whatever reason, she is joyful and attentive upon reunion. When she talks and laughs with her lover, she shows sincerity. 

This is akin to the western understanding of “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish”, (to which I will also add the very Asian, “through pain and suffering”), until death do us part.”

For the ancients, an integral part of what makes a woman beautiful is faithfulness. Without it, there can be no Beauty.

10. Beauty from Within

A beautiful woman not only looks poetic and acts poetic, she is the epitome of poetry. She does not need for anyone to wave a fairy wand over her and declare her a Beauty, nor does she need to do anything for the sole purpose of proving that she is beautiful.

She simply is the embodiment of Beauty.

The Beauty is supremely capable, not only of taking care of herself, but can also be of great assistance to her lover. In times of trouble, she can assist by using her wits and intelligence. Even a frown or a smile from her can unleash magical ideas that will aid in untangling any tough situation. 

Her eyes are like autumn tidal waves, strong enough to open the door of understanding. 

With clarity comes an endless flow of poetry and ideas. Meditation does not need incense. (This last sentence means that one can achieve enlightenment without the need for extraneous aid).

And with that ends the ten requirements for a woman to be considered a Great Beauty in ancient Asia.

I have to admit it’s a tall order. Most women will not be able to meet the extremely stringent requirements of the ancients.

Not only does this woman need to be well-educated, multi-talented, imbued with good common sense, and physically attractive, she also needs to have been born within a royal or upperclass family, possess her own wealth in terms of real estate, money, and servants. She must also have a good personality and be devoid of any negativity.

In all my years of living, I have yet to meet such a saint. I wonder if such people even exist…

At any rate, there is another beauty requirements list for women, but that one is not the same sort of ‘beauty requirement’ that this one is. This list of requirements is targeted at identifying the ideal woman with whom a high lord or prince would want to marry.

The other list of requirements was more widely disseminated because it was used in ancient times to find concubines for a king. It solely focused on the physical attributes of a woman and did not address anything other than her physical beauty. I will cover the ‘Concubine Beauty Requirements’ list in another post, on another day. For now, stay happy, stay joyful, and stay Beautiful.


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