When there is a great peace
Under the gold cup of the sun
Joy reaches its flowering.
In the twentieth year of the period Wan-li, there came, among the thousands of students
who gathered at Peking for the examinations, a certain
Li, whose first name was Chia and his surname Ch’ien-hsi,
or “Purified-a-thousand times.” His
family were from Shao-hsing fu in Chekiang; his father was Judge of the
province of Kang-su; and
Li himself was the eldest of three brothers.
He had studied in the village school from childhood
and, not having yet attained to literary rank, had
come, according to custom, to present himself for
examination at Peking. While in that city, he
consorted, before his springtide, with the young libertines,
the “willow twigs” of his country; and,
in order to gain experience, frequented the theatres
and music-halls. Thus he became acquainted with
a famous singing girl called Tu, whose first name was Mei, or Elegance.
As she was the tenth of her family, she was known at the theatre as Shih-niang,
The Tenth daughter. A delicate seduction diffused from her: her
body was all grace and perfume. The twin arches of her brows held the
black which is blue of distant mountains, and her eyes were as deep and bright
as autumn lakes. Her face had the glory of the lotus, and her lips the
glory of cherries. By what blunder of the gods had this piece of flawless
jade fallen in the windy dust, among the flowers beneath the willow? When
she was thirteen years old, Shih-niang had already
“broken her claws.” Now she was nineteen,
and it would not be possible to enumerate the young
Lords and Princes whose hearts she had besotted, whose
thoughts she had set in a turmoil, whose family treasures
she had swallowed without compunction. In the
theatres, they had composed an epigram about her:
When Tu Shih-niang comes to a banquet
The guests drink a thousand great cups
Instead of a single small one.
When Tu Mei appears upon the stage
The actresses look like devils.
It must be said that never, in the
young passions of his life, had Li Chia experienced the pain of beauty; but,
when he saw Shih-niang, emotion was awakened in him, and the feelings of a
flowering willow filled his breast. He himself was gifted with rare
beauty, and a sweet and gentle nature. He spent his money recklessly, with
an unbridled zeal for bestowing gifts. For this reason he held a double
attraction for Shih-niang, who considered that
falsehood and avarice were opposed to rectitude, and
had also by this time made up her mind to return to
a life of honor. She appreciated Li Chia’s
gentleness and generosity, and was drawn toward him.
But he was afraid of his father and did not dare to
marry her at once, as she wished. Their love was
not, on that account, any the less tender. In
the joys of dawn and the pleasures of twilight they
kept together as do husband and wife, and in their
vows they compared their love with the Ocean or with
the Mountain, recognizing no other vital motive.
Their tenderness was deeper than the sea
For it was past sounding,
Their love was as the mountains
But even higher.
Also, since Chia had been admitted to her favor, rich Lords and powerful
Ministers were no longer permitted to see the girls beauty. At first Li
used to give large sums of money, so that the matron to whom Shih-niang belonged, shrugged her
shoulders and smiled. But the days went quickly,
and the months too; and a year had passed. Chia’s
coffers had gradually become empty; and now his hand
could no longer keep pace with his wishes. But
the ancient ma-ma remained patient.
In the meanwhile the Judge had learned
that his son was frequenting the theatre, and sent
him repeated orders to return home. But Chia,
who was infatuated, kept on delaying his departure
until, hearing that his father was truly furious,
he no longer dared to return. It was well said
by the ancients: “As long as harmony endures
there is unity; when harmony ceases, there is separation.”
Shih-niang’s love was sincere,
and her heart only burned the more for him whose hands
were empty. The ma-ma frequently ordered her to
send her lover away; then, seeing that the young girl
was indifferent to her commands, she tried to exasperate Chia with stinging
words, hoping thus to compel him to depart. But her visitors nature was
so gentle that his anger could not be provoked, and the only result was to make
him more amiable in his behavior to the old woman, who in her impotence ended in
“We who keep open doors must
eat our visitors three times a day, and clothe ourselves
with them. We lead out the departing guest by
one door, but to receive a fresh one by another.
When desire is excited under our roof, our silver
and silks mount up like hills. But it is more
than a year since this Li Chia began troubling your curtains, and now old
patrons and new guests alike have discontinued their visiting. The spirit
Chung-k’uci no longer comes to our door; nay,
not the littlest devil. Therefore I am angry
and humiliated. What will become of us, now that
we have no trace of visitors?”
Shih-niang restrained herself with
difficulty under these reproaches, and answered calmly:
“Young Lord Li did not come
here with empty hands. He has paid us considerable
sums of money.”
“It was so at one time; but
it is now so no longer. Tell him to give me enough
to pay for rice for the two of you.... Indeed,
I have no luck! Most of the girls I buy claim
all the silver, and hardly care whether their clients
live or die. But now I have reared a white tiger
who refuses riches, opens wide the door, and makes
my old body bear the total burden. O miserable
child! You wish to keep the poor for nothing.
Where will you find clothes and food? Tell your
beggar to be wise enough to give me a few ounces of
silver. If you will not send him away, I shall
sell you and look for another slave. That would
be better for both of us.”
“Do you mean what you say?” asked the
“But you know that Li Chia has
neither money nor clothes, and cannot procure any.”
“I am not jesting,” answered the old woman.
“Then how much must he give to take me away?”
“If any one else were in question,
I should demand several thousand ounces. Alas!
This beggar cannot pay them! So I shall be satisfied
with three hundred ounces, with which to buy another
‘tinted face.’ If he brings them
within three days, I will take the silver with my left
hand and give the girl with my right. But after
three days, it matters not at all to me that three
times seven are twenty-one; Lord or no Lord, I shall
beat out this young spark with my broom, and you must
bear no grudge for it.”
“In spite of all, he should
be able to borrow three hundred ounces. But three
days is too little; he will need ten.”
“Ten days!” cried the
other. “A hundred would be more like!
Yet so be it. I will wait ten days.”
“If he cannot get the money,
he will not have the face to return. My only
fear is that you will go back on your promise, if he
does bring the three hundred ounces.”
“I am nearly fifty-one years
old,” answered the ma-ma. “Ten times
I have offered the great sacrifices. How should
I dare not to keep my word? If you mistrust me,
let us strike the palms of our hands together to fix
the agreement. Nay, if I break my word, may I
be changed into a pig or dog!”
That same evening, by the pillow-side,
Shih-niang explained how her body might be re-bought,
and Li Qua said:
“That would delight me, but
how can I pay so much? My purse is as empty as
if it had been washed.”
“Your slave has arranged all
with the ma-ma. She requires three hundred ounces
within ten days. Even if you have spent all that
your family gave you for your journey, you have still
some friends or relations from whom you can borrow.
Then you will have me entirely to yourself, and I
shall never again have to endure that woman’s
“Since I became obsessed by
our love, my friends and relations have ceased to
recognize me. But perhaps, if I asked them to
help me to pay for my journey I might make up the
In the morning, when he had arranged
his hair and, clothed himself, and was about to leave
Shih-niang, she said to him:
“Do your uttermost, and come back to me with
He went to all his relations and friends,
pretending that he was taking leave of them before
his departure. They all congratulated him; but
when he spoke of the expenses of the journey and asked
for a loan, all, without exception, told him that
they could do nothing. His friends knew the weakness
of his character, and that he was besotted with love
for some “Flower-in-the-Mist” or other.
He had remained in Peking, up to that time, they knew,
not daring to face his father’s anger.
Was this departure genuine, now, or but pretended?
If he spent the borrowed money on “tinted faces,”
would not his father bear a grudge against those who
lent it? The most he could get together was from
ten to twenty ounces.
Ashamed of his failure after a full
three days of endeavor, he did not dare to return
to Shih-niang; yet, since he used to spend every night
with his mistress, he had no other lodging. After
the first evening, therefore, he went and asked shelter
from his fellow-countryman, the very learned Liu Yu-ch’un.
This man, seeing the growing sadness of the young
man, at last ventured to question him and learned his
story and of his plan of marriage. Liu shook
his head: “That is hardly possible.
She is the most famous of all the singing girls.
Who would be content with three hundred ounces for
such a beauty? The old woman has conceived this
method of sending you away, and Shih-niang, knowing
that your hands are empty, asks you for this sum because
she does not dare to tell you to leave her. If
you offered the silver, she would laugh at you.
It is a common trick. Do not trouble yourself
further, but resign yourself to the breaking off of
your relations with the girl.”
Li Chia was speechless for a long
time, shaken by his doubts, and Liu added:
“Make no mistake about it.
If you show that you really mean to take your departure,
many will help you. But as for your plan, you
would need not ten days, but ten months to find three
answered Li, “your judgment is indeed profound.”
But none the less he continued his
vain search for three further days.
Shih-niang was most anxious when she
did not see her lover come back to her. She sent
a little servant to look for him, and the child met
Li by chance, and said:
“Lord, our Elder-Sister awaits you at the house.”
In his shame, Li answered:
“I have no time to-day. To-morrow I will
come to see her.”
But the boy had been commanded to
bring him back, and to die sooner than lose him, so
“It is the absolute wish of the Elder-Sister
that you come with me.”
Li could not refuse, and followed the messenger.
Once in Shih-niang’s presence
he stood still, sobbing mo-mo, mo-mo, without a word.
“How is our plan going?” she asked.
He only answered with a flood of tears; so she insisted:
“Can people have been so hard as to refuse three
Stifling his sobs, he answered with this verse:
It is easier to catch a tiger in the mountains
Than to move the world with speech alone.
“I have gone about for these
six days, and my hands are empty. Shame has kept
me away from my perfumed companion, and it is only
at her command that I have come back. I have
tried my hardest. Alas! such is the spirit of
“We will say nothing to the
ma-ma. Let my Lord stay here for the night:
his slave will propose another plan to him.”
She served him with a meal and wine,
and made him lie down. Then in the middle of
the night she asked:
“If you cannot find three hundred
ounces to free me, what are we to do?”
He wept without answering. Shih-niang
waited until the fifth watch; then she drew from under
her mattress a bag containing a hundred and fifty
ounces in small silver, and said:
“This is my secret reserve.
Since you cannot find the whole sum, I will give you
half of it. That should help you; but we have
only four days more. Above all, do not come too
Astonished and overjoyed, he carried
away the bag and went back to Liu, telling him what
had happened and showing him the money. Liu exclaimed:
“Surely this woman has a loyal
heart! Since she acts so, she must not be allowed
to suffer. I am going to act as mediator in your
Leaving Li in his house, he went himself
to ask for loans on all sides. In two days he
had amassed a hundred and fifty ounces. He gave
them to the young man, saying:
“I have stood guarantor for
you, for I am deeply touched by Shih-niang’s
Li took the silver, as delighted as
if the money had fallen from the sky, and ran to see
his mistress. It was the ninth day. She asked
him: “Has it been very difficult? Have
you found the hundred and fifty ounces?”
He then told her what Liu had done;
and both, rejoicing, spent a night of pleasure.
Next day she said to him:
“When this money is paid, I
must follow my Lord. But we have made no preparation
for the boats and conveyances of our journey.
I have borrowed twenty ounces from my friends.
My Lord may take them for travelling expenses.”
In his uneasiness concerning these
expenses, he had not dared to speak of them.
He took the money, and was full of joy.
At that moment there was a knock on
the door, and the old woman entered, saying:
“This is the tenth day.”
“I thank the ma-ma for recalling
the fact to us,” he answered. “I was
on the point of paying her a visit.”
And, taking up the bag, he poured
the three hundred ounces on to the table. The
old woman had not supposed he could succeed.
She changed color, and seemed on the
point of gainsaying her word. So Shih-niang said;
“I have stayed in your house for a long time,
and have brought in several thousands of ounces.
To-day I am marrying. If you do not keep your
word, I shall commit suicide before you, and you will
lose the money and the girl.”
The old woman could find no words
to express her feeling. She took the money in
silence, and finally muttered:
“If you mean to go away, you
go now. But you shall take none of your clothes
or jewels with you.”
Hustling the two young people along,
she led them through the door and shot the bolt.
It was then the ninth moon, and the
weather was cold. Shih-niang had but just risen
from bed, and was not dressed; nor was her hair done.
Yet she saluted the ma-ma with two genuflexions.
La Chia shook his two hands joined together.
Thus the married pair left that not too pleasant old
Even as a carp escapes the metal hook,
Flirts its tail and shakes its head
And returns not.
In front of the door La Chia said to his mistress:
“Wait a moment! I will
call a little palankeen to take you to the house of
“In this very court are my friends,
my sisters, who have always been in sympathy with
“I must take leave of them;
and I cannot neglect to thank them for the money they
have lent me.”
Accompanied by her Lord, she went to each pavilion to greet her friends.
Now, one of them, Yuch-lang, was a very close friend of
Shih-niang, so, seeing that she had not done her hair,
she led her to her own toilet-table, and ran to call
another friend, Hsu Su-Su. Then she took from
her coffers many ornaments of king-fisher leather
and bracelets and jasper pins, even embroidered robes
and girdles ornamented with phoenix. She gave
them to Shih-niang, over-coming her with gratitude.
She also ordered a feast of congratulation,
to which all their friends were invited, and finally,
at the end of day, offered the pair a bed for the
When she was alone with Li Chia, Shih-niang asked:
“Where shall we go when we have
left the capital? Has my Lord made a decision
on this point?”
“My father,” he answered,
“is still angry with me. If, in addition,
he learns that I have married my Little-Sister, and
that I am coming back with her, he will doubtless
be carried quite away by rage. I have not found
a satisfactory plan.”
“Your father has feelings from
Heaven. He could not break completely with you.
Would it not be better for us to go to him, and to
keep to our boat while you pray your friends to go
and ask for a harmonious reconciliation? After
that, leading your slave, you may re-enter your dwelling
“That is an excellent plan,” he answered.
Next day they thanked Yuch-lang
again, and went to the house of Liu. On seeing
the learned man, Shih-niang knelt down to express her
gratitude to him, saying:
“Later we may both know how to return your kindness.”
Liu hastened to answer, according to the polite formality:
“Your admirable sentiment far
exceeds my most poor action. You are a heroine
among women. Why, then, do you hang such words
All day the three of them drank wine of joy. Then the pair chose a
suitable day for their journey, and obtained horses and palankeens. When
the time for their departure drew near, Yuch-lang,
Hsu-Su, and all those friends came to bear the couple company. Yuch-lang sent her servants to
bring a metal casket, furnished with a golden lock,
and gave it to Shih-niang, who placed it in her palankeen
without opening it.
The porters and servants urged the
travelers forward, and they started. Liu and
the beautiful women escorted them as far as the other
side of the Ch’ung-wen gate, and there they drank
a last cup together. They separated with tears.
When they reached the river Lu, Li
Chia and Shih-niang abandoned the land way and hired
a cabin in a large junk which was going to Kua-chow.
After he had paid their passage in advance, there was
only a single piece of bronze left in Li Chia’s
bag; the twenty ounces which Shih-niang had given
him had vanished as if they had never been. The
young man had not been able to avoid giving certain
presents, and he had also bought blankets and other
necessities for the journey. Sadly he asked himself
what to be done, but she said to him:
“My Lord may cease to disturb
himself. Our friends have given yet more help.”
She opened her metal casket, while
he looked on in shame. She took out a red silk
bag and put it on the table, bidding him open it.
He found the bag heavy; for, in fact, it contained
fifty ounces of silver. Shih-niang had already
shut the casket again, without saying what further
was in it, now she said smilingly:
“Have not our sisters the most
desirable instinct? They did not wish us to have
any difficulty on our journey, and in this way they
enable us to cross mountains and rivers.”
Li Chia exclaimed in his delight and surprise:
“If I had not met such generosity,
I should have had no choice but to wander, and at
last to die without burial. Even when my hair
turns white, I shall not forget such virtue and such
And he shed tears of emotion, until
Shih-niang consoled him by, diverting his thoughts.
Some days later they reached Kua-chow,
where the big junk stopped. But Li Chia was now
able to hire a smaller vessel for themselves alone,
and in this he stowed their baggage. On the morrow
they were to travel across the great river.
It was then the second quarter of
the second month of winter. The moon shone like
water. The pair were sitting on the deck of the
junk, and the boy said:
“Since we left the capital we
have not been able to talk freely, because we were
in a cabin and our neighbors could hear us. Now
we are alone on our own junk. Also, we have left
the cold of the North and will to-morrow be on the
south side of the river. Is it not a fitting
time to drink and rejoice, so as to forget our former
sorrows? You to whom I owe so much, what do you
“It is now long since your slave
was deprived of little pleasantries and laughters,
and she had the same sentiment as yourself. Your
words prove that we have but one soul.”
They brought wine on deck; and, seated
on a carpet beside his mistress, he offered her cups.
So they drank joyously, until they
were a little drunk; and at length he said:
“O my benefactress, your voice
of marvel used to trouble the six theatres. Every
time I heard you then, my spirit took wing from me.
It is long since you have overcome me in that way.
The moon is bright over the shimmering river.
The night is deep and solitary. Will you not
consent to favor me with a song?”
For a little, Shih-niang refused.
Then she looked at the moon, and a song escaped her.
It was an affecting melody, taken from one of the
pieces of the Yuan dynasty, called “The Light
Rose of the Peaches.” In truth:
Her voice took flight to the Milky Way,
And the clouds stopped to listen.
Its echo fell into the deep water and
the fishes hastened.
Shih-niang sang. And in a near-by junk there was a young man called
Sun; his first name was Fu, Rich, and his surname was Shan-lai, Excellent-in-Promise.
His family was one of the wealthiest in Hsin-an of
Hui-chow; his ancestors had owned the salt monopoly
in Yang-chow. He was just twenty years old, and
had moulded his character in accordance with his passion,
being a regular visitor at the blue pavilions, where
the smiles of painted roses are to be bought.
He was making a journey, and had cast anchor for the
night at Kua-chow. He was drinking in solitude,
bemoaning the absence of companions.
Suddenly in the night he heard a voice
more sweet than the sighs of the bird of passion,
or than the warbling phoenix. No words seemed
adequate, he felt, to describe the beauty of this song.
Walking out from his cabin, he found that the music
came from a junk not very far distant from his own.
In his eagerness to know who had enchanted
him, he told his men to go and question the boatmen.
But he learned no more than that the junk had been
hired by Li Chia. He obtained no information concerning
the singer. He reflected:
“Such a perfect voice could
not belong to a woman of good family. How can
I manage to see this bird?”
He could not sleep that night.
In the morning, at about the fifth watch, he heard
the wind roaring on the water. The light of day
was strangely veiled by cloud, and flakes of snow
were whirling madly. It has been said;
The clouds are swallowing
Countless thousands of trees upon the
Footprints disappear on many footpaths.
The fisher in the bamboo hat
On the frail boat
Catches only snow and the frozen river.
This snowstorm rendered it impossible
to cross the river, and the boats could not be set
in motion. Sun, therefore, told his rowers to
leave his moorings and to make fast alongside Li Chia’s
junk. Then, in a sable bonnet and wrapped in
his fox-skin robe, he opened his cabin window, pretending
to look at the white snow as it fell. Shih-niang
had just arranged her hair, and, with her tapering
fingers, was pushing back the short curtains to throw
out the dregs of tea in the bottom of her cup.
The freshened splendor of her rouge shone softly.
Sun saw that celestial beauty, that
incantation; he scented that perfume; and his soul
boiled over. For a long moment he gazed, and his
spirit was as if submerged. But he recovered himself
and, leaning out of the window, recited, nearly at
full voice, the poem of the “Blossom of the
Snow covers the mountain where the Sage
Under the trees in the moonlight
Li Chia heard the poem and came out
of his cabin, curious to see who was reciting it.
In this way he fell into the trap set by Sun, who
hastened to salute him, asking:
“Old-Elder-Brother, what is
your honorable name? And what is your first name
which one does not presume to repeat?”
Having answered in accordance with
the convention, Li Chia had to question Sun in his
turn. They exchanged such words as are customary
between educated men. Finally the libertine said:
“This snowstorm was sent by
Heaven to effect our meeting. It is a large piece
of fortune for your little brother. I was lonely
and without diversion in my cabin. Would it not
be my venerable brother’s pleasure that we should
go to a riverside pavilion and divert ourselves by
Li Chia answered:
“The water-chestnuts meet at
the caprice of the current. How should I not
be glad of this offer?”
“Between the four seas all men are brothers.”
Then Sun ordered his servant to come
with him, sheltering Li Chia under a large parasol.
The two men saluted each other again, landed on the
bank and, after walking a little distance, found a
Having entered, they chose seats by
the window and sat down. The attendant brought
them hot wine, Sun raised his cup to give the signal,
and soon the two were conversing freely and had become
friends. At length Sun leaned forward and said
in a low voice:
“Last night a song arose from
your honorable ship. Whose was that voice?”
Wishing to pose as a man of leisure
making a journey, Li Chia at once told the truth:
“It was Tu Shih-niang, the famous
singing girl of Peking.”
“How comes a singing girl to belong to my brother?”
Li Chia then ingeniously told his story, and the other
“To marry such a beauty is exceptional
good fortune. But will your honorable father
Li sighed and answered:
“There is no lack of anxiety
in my humble house. My father is of a very stern
disposition, and as yet knows nothing.”
Sun, developing his hidden traps, continued:
“If your honorable father is
not placable, where will my Elder-Brother shelter
the Beauty whom he has carried away? Have you
come to some arrangement with her on this point?”
With heavy brows, La answered:
“My little wife and I have already discussed
“Your Honorable Favor has doubtless some admirable
“Her ideas,” explained
La, “is to remain for the time at a place in
the country of Su and Hang, whilst I go forward to
my family and ask my friends and relations to appease
The other gave a deep sigh and assumed a saddened
“Our friendship is not yet deep
enough. I fear that you may consider my words
both strange and too outspoken.”
“When I have the good fortune
to receive your learned and enlightening counsel,
how could I fail to respect it?”
“Your honorable and noble father,
being of stern character, is certainly still angry
at your conduct in Peking. And now my Elder-Brother
marries in the face of convention. How could your
prudent relatives and valuable friends fail to share
the views of your honorable father? When you
rashly ask them to act on your behalf, they will certainly
refuse. Then will not the temporary residence
of your Honorable Favor become a permanent one?
In your position, it will be as difficult to advance
as to retire.”
Li Chia knew that he had only fifty
ounces in his purse, and that half this sum would
very soon have vanished. He could not help hanging
his head. His companion added:
“I have yet another thing to
say, and it comes from my heart. Will you hear
“Having already received your
sympathetic advice, I shall be most happy to listen.”
“Since earliest time,”
said Sun, “the hearts of women have been as
changeable as the waves of the sea. And among
the Flowers-in-the-Mist especially there are few who
are found faithful. Since the present case concerns
a famous singing girl, who knows the whole earth, it
is probable that she has some former associate in the
regions of the South. She has consequently availed
herself of your help to conduct her to the land where
this other lives.”
“I beg to say that that is not certain,”
“Even if it is not, the men
of the South are very adroit and very active.
You leave a beautiful woman to live there all alone:
can you guarantee that none will climb her wall or
penetrate her dwelling? After all, the relations
between father and son are from Heaven and cannot
be destroyed. If you abandon your family for the
sake of a singing girl, you will wander until you
become one of those incorrect Floating-on-the-Wave
individuals. A woman is not Heaven. You must
ponder this matter seriously.”
Hearing this, Li Chia felt as if he
were swept away by a torrent. At last he answered:
“What, in your enlightened opinion, ought I to
“Your servant has a plan which
should be very profitable to you. But I fear
lest, weakened by die soft pillow of your love, you
will not be able to put it into execution, and that
my words will therefore be wasted.”
“If you have a really good suggestion,
I shall be forever your debtor. Why do you fear
“My Elder-Brother, for more
than a year you have Fluttered-in-the-Rain, obsessed
by your brothel. You have not been able to give
your mind to the difficulties which will assail you
when you no longer know where to sleep or to eat.
Your father’s anger is only due to your having
become infatuated with Flowers, besotted by Willows,
until you poured out gold as if it were simple sand.
He tells himself that you will quickly consume the
abundant wealth of your family, and not be assured
of having children. By returning empty-handed
you will justify his anger. If, O my Elder-Brother,
you could cut the knot which binds you to your love,
I would willingly make you a gift of a thousand ounces.
With a thousand ounces of silver to show your father,
you could say that, during your stay at the capital,
you had rarely left your study chamber and that you
had never Skimmed the Waves. He will have confidence
in you, and the harmony of the house will be restored.
Thus, without idle words, you change your sorrow to
joy. Give the matter three thoughts. I do
not covet the Beauty! I speak with no idea but
of loyally helping a friend.”
La Chia was a man of naturally weak
character; moreover, he was afraid of his father.
Sun’s fine words troubled his heart. He
rose, made a deep bow, and said:
“O Brother! Your noble
counsel has cleared away the foolish and tangled obstruction
of my understanding. But my little favorite has
accompanied me for some thousands of li, and it
would not be just for me to leave her in this way.
I will return to deliberate with her, and to discover
whether her mind is favorable to your project.
I shall inform you shortly.”
“In our conversation,”
answered Sun, “we have abandoned the paths of
“That was because my loyal heart
could not endure to see the separation of a father
and son, and wished to help you to return to your
They both drank another cup of wine.
The wind had dropped, and the snow had ceased to fall.
The color of the sky proclaimed the evening.
Sun caused his servant to pay for the drinks, and,
taking Li Chia by the hand, accompanied him as far
as the junk. It is very true that:
You meet a stranger and say three words
And tear off a piece of your heart.
In the morning Shih-niang, on being
left alone in her cabin, had prepared a little feast
for her friend, wishing to spend the day with him
in happiness; but the sun had set before Chia came
back. She had lanterns lit to guide him and,
when he at last appeared and entered the cabin, raised
her eyes to his face and found the color of displeasure.
She poured out a cup of hot wine and offered it to
him; but he shook his head without a word, and refused
to drink. Then he went and threw himself on the
bed. Sad at heart, Shih-niang put the cups and
dishes in order. She then undid her husband’s
clothes and, leaning on the pillow, gently asked him:
“What news have you heard that has so upset
Li Chia sighed, but without answering.
She questioned him again three or four times, but
he was already asleep. Unable to be indifferent
to such lack of regard, she remained for a long time
sitting on the edge of the bed, incapable of sleep.
In the middle of the night he awoke
and gave another deep sigh; and she said to him:
“What is this difficult matter
with which my Lord is troubled? What are these
Li Chia threw off the blanket and
seemed about to speak, but the words would not come
from him. His lips trembled like leaves, and finally
he burst out sobbing. She clasped his head with
one arm and held it against her breast, trying to
comfort him, and saying tenderly:
“The love which unites us has
lasted for many days, for very nearly two years.
We have overcome a thousand hardships and bitter moments,
but now we are far beyond all difficulty. Why
do you show such grief to-day, when we are about to
cross the river and to taste the joy of a hundred
years? There must surely be a reason. All
things are shared in common between husband and wife,
in life and after death. If anything is the matter,
we must discuss it Why do you hide your sorrow from
Thus urged, the young man mastered his tears and said:
“I am crushed beneath the woe
which Heaven heaps upon me. In the generosity
of your soul, you have not cast me by. You have
endured a thousand wrongs for me. That is no
merit of mine. But I still think of my father,
whose commands I am defying and that against every
convention and all laws. He is of inflexible character,
and I fear that his wrath will grow double at the
sight of me. Where, then, shall we two, floating
with the current, come to our anchorage? How shall
I ensure our happiness, when my father has broken with
me? To-day my friend Sun invited me to drink
and spoke to me of my prospects, and what he said
has pierced my heart.”
“What is my Lord’s intention?”
she asked in great surprise.
“I was turning madly in the
web of our affairs, when my friend Sun sketched out
an excellent plan to me. But I fear that my benefactress
will refuse to allow it.”
“Who is this friend, Sun?
If his plan is good, why should I not agree to it?”
“His first name is Fu, and his
family had the salt monopoly at Hsin-an. He is
a man who has Drifted-in-the-Wind and knows life.
Last night he was charmed by your pure song.
I told him where we came from, and confided the difficulties
which beset our return. Then, under the impulsion
of a generous thought, he offered to give me a thousand
ounces if you will marry him. With these thousand
ounces as testimony I shall be able to speak to my
father. Also I shall know that you are not without
shelter. But I cannot contain my feeling, and
that is why I mourn.”
And his tears fell like a storm of
rain. Ceasing to hold his head against her breast,
Shih-niang gently pushed him aside. At last she
smiled like ice and said to him:
“This person must be a hero,
a man of courage and virtue, to have conceived a project
so advantageous to my Lord. Not only will my Lord
have a thousand ounces to take back with him, not only
will your slave gain shelter, but your baggage will
be lighter also and more easily handled. As a
plan it satisfies both convention and convenience.
Where are the thousand ounces?”
Struggling with his tears, Li Chia replied:
“I have not got your consent, so the silver
was not given me.”
“You must demand it first thing
to-morrow morning. A thousand ounces is a considerable
sum, and it must all be paid into your hand before
I enter his cabin. For I am not merchandise which
may be bought on credit.”
It was then the fourth watch of the night.
Shih-niang prepared her toilet-table,
saying: “To-day I must adorn myself to
bid farewell to my former protector and to do honor
to my new one. It is no commonplace event.
I must therefore take great pains with paint and perfume,
and put on my best jewels and embroidered robes.”
Thereafter, with perfume and paint
and jewelry, she added to the splendor of her petalled
seduction. The sun had already risen before she
completed her preparations.
Li Chia was disturbed, and yet seemed
almost happy. Shih-niang urged him to insist
upon the payment of the money, and he at once carried
her answer to the other junk. Then Sun said:
“It is easy for me to give the
money; but I ought to have the fair one’s jewelry
as a proof of her consent.”
Li Chia told this to Shih-niang, who
pointed to the casket with the golden lock, and caused
it to be taken to Sun, who joyfully counted out a
thousand ounces of silver and sent them to Li’s
ship. The young woman herself verified the weight
and standard of the metal; and then, leaning over
the bulwarks, half opened her scarlet lips and showed
her white teeth saying to the dazzled Sun:
“You can now, I think, give
me back my casket for a time. The Lord Li’s
passports are in it, and I must return them to him.”
The other at once ordered the little
chest to be brought back and placed on the bridge.
Shih-niang opened it Inside there were several compartments,
and she asked Li Chia to help her lift out each in
In the first there were jewels in
the shape of king-fisher feathers, jasper pins, and
precious earrings, to the value of many hundred ounces.
Shih-niang took up these things in handfuls and threw
them into the river. Li, Sun and the boatmen
uttered exclamations of dismay.
In the second compartment were a jade
flute and a golden flageolet. In a third were
antique jewels, gold furnishings and a hundred ornaments
worth thousands of ounces each. She threw them
all into the river. The stricken onlookers gave
voice to their regret.
Finally she drew out a box filled
with pearls and rubies and emeralds and cats’
eyes, whose number and value were beyond computation.
The cries of the wondering bystanders beat in the
air like thunder. She wanted to throw all these
into the river also; but Li Chia held her in his arms,
while Sun vehemently encouraged him.
So, pushing Li away, she turned to
the other and reviled him:
“The Lord Li and I suffered
many bitter moments before we came to yesterday.
And you, to serve a detestable and criminal lust, have
undone us and have caused me to hate the man I loved.
After my death I meet the Spirit of Retribution, and
I shall not forget your vile hypocrisy.”
Then, turning toward Li Chia, she continued:
“During those many years when
I lived in a disorder of the dust and breeze, I secretly
amassed these treasures, that they might some day
rescue my body. When I met my Lord, we vowed that
our union should be higher than the mountain, deeper
than the sea. We swore that, even when our hair
was white, we should have our love. Before leaving
the capital, I pretended to receive this casket as
a gift from my friends. It contained a treasure
of more than a myriad ounces. I intended to deposit
it in your treasury, when I had seen your father and
mother. Who would have thought your faith so
shallow, that, on the strength of a chance conversation,
you would consent to lose my loyal heart? To-day,
before the eyes of all these people, I have shown you
that your thousand ounces were a very little sum of
money. These persons are my witness that it is
my Lord who rejects his wife, that it is not I who
am wanting in my duty.”
Hearing these sad words, those who
were present wept, and called down curses upon Li,
and reviled him as an ingrate. And he, being both
ashamed and desolate, shed tears of bitter repentance.
He knelt down to beg for her forgiveness. But
Shih-niang, holding the jewels in each hand, leaped
into the yellow water of the river.
The onlookers uttered a cry and rushed
to save her. But, under a sombre cloud, the waves
in the heart of the river broke into boiling foam,
and no further trace was seen of that desperate woman.
Alas! she was an illustrious singing
girl, as beautiful as flowers or jade. She had
been swallowed in an instant by the water.
The people, grinding their teeth,
would have beaten Li and Sun; but these, in terror
and dismay, made haste to push their boats out from
the bank, and then went each his own way.
Li Chia, seeing the thousand ounces
of silver in his cabin, unceasingly wept for the death
of Shih-niang. His remorse gave birth to a kind
of madness in him, of which he could never be healed.
Sun was so prostrated that he had
to keep his bed. He thought he saw Shih-niang
standing in front of him all day and every day.
It was not long before he expiated his crime in death.
We must now tell how Liu, having left
the capital to return to his own village, also halted
at Kua-chow. Leaning over the river to take up
some water in a bronze basin, he let the thing slip,
and therefore begged certain fishermen to drag their
net for it.
When they drew up, there was a little
box in the net. Liu opened it, and it was full
of pearls and precious stones. He rewarded the
fishermen generously, and placed the box near his pillow.
In the night he had a dream.
A young woman rose from the troubled waters of the
river, and he recognized Shih-niang. She drew
near, wishing him ten thousand happinesses. Then
she recounted the unworthy ingratitude of Li, and
“Of your bounty you gave me
a hundred and fifty ounces. I have not forgotten
your generosity, and I put this little box in the
fishermen’s net as an offering of recognition.”
He awoke and, having learned thus
of Shih-niang’s death, sighed for a long time.
Later, those who told me this story
declared that Sun, since he thought he could acquire
a beautiful woman for a thousand ounces, was evidently
not a respectable man. Li Chia, they said, had
not understood the sorrowful heart of Shih-niang,
and was consequently stupid, without refinement, and
not worthy of mention. Shih-niang alone was heroic.
She was, in fact, unique since furtherest antiquity.
Why could she not meet some charming companion, some
phoenix worthy of her? Why did she make the mistake
of loving Li Chia? An admirable piece of jade
was thrown to him who did not deserve it; so that love
turned to hate, and a thousand passionate impulses
were drowned in the deep water. Alas!
Tu Shih-niang nu ch’en pai
(Tu Shih-niang, being put to shame drowns
herself with her casket of a hundred treasures.)
Chin ku chi’i kuan (17th Century.)