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Daji (Chinese: 妲己; pinyin: Dájǐ; Wade–Giles: Ta2-chi3), was the favorite consort of King Zhou of Shang, the last king of the Shang dynasty in ancient China. She is portrayed as a malevolent fox spirit in legends as well as novels. Her identification as a fox spirit seems to have originated from at least the Tang dynasty. These accounts have been popularized in works such as the Wu Wang Fa Zhou Pinghua (武王伐紂平話), the Fengshen Yanyi, and the Lieguo Zhi. She is considered a classic example of how a beauty causes the downfall of a dynasty in Chinese culture.
In the Song dynasty, fox spirit cults, including those dedicated to Daji, became outlawed, but their suppression was unsuccessful. For example, in 1111, an imperial edict was issued for the destruction of many spirit shrines within Kaifeng, including those of Daji.
Daji was from a noble family called Su (蘇) from the state of Yousu (有蘇). Hence, she is also known as Su Daji. In 1047 BC, King Zhou of Shang invaded Yousu and took Daji as his prize. In Feng Shen Yan Yi, she was a daughter of Su Hu (蘇護); in the early chapters, she was killed by a thousand-year-old vixen spirit who possessed her body before becoming a concubine of King Zhou.
King Zhou became extremely infatuated with Daji and started to neglect state affairs in order to keep her company. He used any means necessary to ingratiate himself with her and to please her. Daji liked animals so he built her a zoological Xanadu with several rare species of birds and animals. He also ordered artists to compose lewd music and choreograph bawdy dances to satisfy her musical taste. He gathered 3000 guests at one party to indulge in his "pond of alcohol" and "forest of meat". He allowed the guests to play a cat and mouse game nude in the forest to amuse Daji. When one of King Zhou's concubines, the daughter of Lord Jiu, protested, King Zhou had her executed. Her father was ground in pieces and his flesh fed to King Zhou's vassals.
Daji's greatest joy was to hear people cry in physical torment. Once, she saw a farmer walking barefoot on ice and ordered his feet cut off so she could study them and figure out why they were so resistant to low temperatures. On another occasion, she had a pregnant woman's belly cut open so it satisfied her curiosity to find out what happened inside. To verify an ancient saying that "a good man's heart has seven apertures", she even had the heart of the minister Bi Gan (King Zhou's uncle) dugout and subjected to her scrutiny.
Daji was best known for her invention of a method of torture known as Paolao (炮烙). A bronze cylinder covered with oil was heated like a furnace with charcoal beneath until its sides became extremely hot. The victim was made to walk on top of the slowly heating cylinder and he was forced to shift his feet to avoid the burning. The oily surface made it difficult for the victim to maintain his position and balance. If the victim fell into the charcoal below, he would be burnt to death. The victim was forced to dance and scream in agony before dying while the observing King Zhou and Daji would laugh in delight.
Daji is featured in the Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi as a major antagonist. She was the first featured corrupter of the declining Shang dynasty in the novel. Her father Su Hu gave her to King Zhou of Shang as an appeasement offer after armed conflict broke out between Su's and Shang military forces.
One night before Daji was sent to the capital city of Zhaoge, she was possessed by an evil nine-tailed fox spirit (aka Thousand-Year-Old Vixen). When Daji arrived in Zhaoge, she became the center of attention of King Zhou and caused the king to be extremely obsessed with her. King Zhou neglected state affairs to keep her company and ignored the advice of his subjects. Yunzhongzi was the first man to act against Daji by giving the king a magical peach-wood sword which would make Daji ill and kill her eventually. She rose above the ranks from a minor concubine to become the queen based on the king's favoritism towards her.
Daji was blamed for the fall of the Shang dynasty by corrupting King Zhou and causing him to neglect state affairs and rule with tyranny and despotism. This ultimately led to the dynasty's decline and widespread chaos. King Zhou's tyranny incurred the anger and resentment of the common people, who eventually rose up in revolt against him under King Wu of Zhou's leadership. After the fall of the Shang dynasty, Daji was exorcised by Jiang Ziya (aka Jiang Taigong) and died eventually.
- Chen, Ya-chen (2012). Women in Chinese martial arts films of the new millennium narrative analyses and gender politics. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 11. ISBN 9780739139103.
- Huntington, Rania (2003). Alien kind : foxes and late imperial Chinese narrative. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 195. ISBN 9780674010949.
- Epstein, Maram (2001). Competing discourses: Orthodoxy, authenticity, and endangered meanings in late Imperial Chinese fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center. p. 136. ISBN 9780674005129.
- Kang, Xiaofei (2006). The cult of the fox: Power, gender, and popular religion in late imperial and modern China. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 9780231133388.
- Lin, Fu-shih. ""Old Customs and New Fashions": An Examination of Features of Shamanism in Song China". Modern Chinese Religion I. Leiden: Brill. pp. 262–263. ISBN 9789004271647.
- Xu, Zhong Lin (1600s). Fengshen Yanyi.Chapter 3 wrote: "[After Su Hu's eldest son were captured...] Su Hu looks anxious, carrying his [Su Hu's] sword into the back hall, seeing the young miss Daji, who is wearing a graceful smile with her slightly spit lips, asking 'Father, why are you carrying your sword [in your own home]?' Su Hu saw Daji, his sweet daughter, [knowing that she is] not an enemy, [wonders] how he can do anything [like slaying her]". Translated from original text: 蘇護帶十分煩惱，仗劍走進後廳，只見小姐妲己，盈盈笑臉，微吐朱唇，口稱：「爹爹，為何提劍進來？」蘇護一見妲己，乃親生之女，又非讎敵，此劍焉能舉的起。
- Xu, Zhong Lin (1600s). Fengshen Yanyi. Chapter 4 wrote: "——Without knowing that an answer not from Daji but the Thousand-year-old Vixen. When the lamps are off, so are the lights in the front hall and the back, it's time the Vixen sucks all of Daji's soul out of her body, then she [Daji] is dead; She [the vixen] possesses her [Daji's] body, ready to seduce King Zhou and ruin his beautiful country". Translated from the original text: ──不知這個回話的乃是千年狐狸，不是妲己。方纔滅燈之時，再出廳前取得燈火來，這是多少時候了，妲己魂魄已被狐狸吸去，死之久矣；乃借體成形，迷惑紂王，斷送他錦繡江山。
- Chen, Ya-chen - Women in Chinese martial arts films of the new millennium narrative analyses and gender politics (2012) - ISBN 9780739139103
- Epstein, Maram - Competing discourses: Orthodoxy, authenticity, and endangered meanings in late Imperial Chinese fiction (2001) - ISBN 9780674005129
- Huntington, Rania - Alien kind : foxes and late imperial Chinese narrative (2003) - ISBN 9780674010949
- Kang, Xiaofei - The cult of the fox: Power, gender, and popular religion in late imperial and modern China (2006) - ISBN 9780231133388.
- Lin, Fu-shih - Modern Chinese Religion I - ISBN 9789004271647.
- Xu, Zhonglin - Fengshen Yanyi (16th century)