Meng Jiangnu and Qin Shihuang
The story of Meng Jiangnu is perhaps the most popular folklore concerning the Great Wall of China. It talks about the separation of a loving couple and the heart-breaking tragic ending as a result of building the Wall.
There was a Jiang family in the ancient times. They had a calabash tree in the garden. One of the fruit from the calabash trees grew to into the garden belonging to the neigbours, who was the Meng family. When the Mengs broke the fruit, a baby girl was sitting happily inside. She was then named Meng Jiangnu.
One night, Avalokitesvara (Buddhisttava Guanyin) appeared in Meng Jiangnu’s dream and revealed to her that she could only marry a man who could see her skin and she trusted every word Avalokitesvara said. The girl grew more and more beautiful with each passing day. She was often compared to fairies as she was charming and soon made a small reputation for her beauty.
There came a time when Qin Shihuang ordered for the construction of the Great Wall. Officials had no choice but to force the commoners to work unpaid for the construction. People suffered greatly under this. Once, the officials were after a scholar, named Fan Xiliang, who lost his parents. He refused to comply with the forced labour and made a desperate attempt to escape from the officials. He was running away with the officials hot at his heels. Soon, he was about to be outrun. Just then, he came across the Meng family’s house, which was big enough for him to hide from the officials. He climbed over the wall and disappeared behind a tree in the garden.
So happens, Meng Jiangnu was then trying to catch a butterfly with her fan. When the butterfly flew across a pond in the garden, the lady made another attempt in vain and dropped her fan into the water. She thought that nobody was around and therefore lifted up her sleeves and tried to retrieve her fan. Fan Xiliang saw all this and grew anxious of the girl’s safety of falling into the pond with each passing second. Finally, he could no longer bear it and shouted, " Be careful, Miss!" The girl was shocked and surprised and took a moment to realize how handsome the young man was. Her arm was exposed to the stranger and this matched what Avalokitesvara once told her. The couple fell in love on the first sight. They immediately went to see the lady’s father who agreed readily of the marriage. The wedding was decided to be staged that night.
However, the long tragedy soon began. The officials found out where the Fan Xiliang was. They came to the Meng family that night and forced the bridegroom to go with them to the construction site for the Great Wall. The newly wed were separated in this way and to nobody’s expectation, they never met each other again in their lives. The couples’ hearts were torn apart and bled heavily and unstoppably in the form of tears.
Meng Jiangnu waited for the return of her husband and months went by like centuries. October came and there was a Chinese tradition of sending winter clothing to the loved ones at this time. Fan Xiliang was working under harsh climates and this increased his wife’s anxiety, who decided to send him some winter clothing by herself. She had to travel a long distance before getting to the construction site of the Great Wall. Her determination was set and was unstoppable. Her father then allowed her to visit her husband with a servant as a company.
She dressed herself plainly but the plainness failed to hide her beauty. When they were about to arrive at the site, an official approached her as a routine check up. She was allowed to pass. However, her servant who was a wolf in a sheep’s fur finally put down his mask. He forced her to marry him. Meng Jiangnu had no choice but to kill him. She set up a trap and ended the devil’s life.
She eventually reached the construction site but was greeted by the news that her husband did not endure the hardships and passed away a long time ago. His corpse was buried under the Great Wall. She became extremely grieved and cried for three days and nights in front of the portion of the Great Wall that her husband was buried under. So happened, one corner of the Great Wall collapsed after three days of crying, exposing the skeletons under it. However, there were lots of them in the place, it was impossible to identify which one belonged to her husband. She decided to let heaven make the choice. She pricked her finger and let blood drip onto the skeletons. When her blood dripped onto Fan Xiliang’s bones, the warm red liquid drained into the bones. In this case, Meng Jiangnu found the right skeleton and carried it back to her village to bury her husband.
That time, the general in charge of building the Great Wall was Mengtian. He was informed of this and soon ordered for the girl. He was touched by her beauty and became determined to marry her as a concubine. In this desperate situation, Meng Jiangnu did not immediately agree, but told her forced fiancé to give a package which was said to contain a well sewed yellow coat to the emperor, Qin Shihuang. Maybe, he could get some reward from the package. Only then, she would talk about marriage with him. When Qin Shihuang opened up the package, he found an ordinary coat meant for the commoners. He was frustrated and arrested Mengtian and his family. Meng Jiangnu was arrested, too. When the emperor saw the beauty of Meng Jiangnu, he immediatly became interested in her and wanted to marry her. Meng Jiangnu raised three conditions and only under the given conditions, she would marry the emperor. She wanted the permission to be in mourning and wear the traditional white clothes for three months. She wanted the emperor to bury her husband on a luxurious funeral. The third condition was to let the emperor himself and all the officials to be wearing white clothes and go on mourning. The conditions were extreme but to everybody’s surprise, Qin Shihuang agreed.
During the process of carrying Xiliang’s body back to his own hometown, they came across a river and Meng Jiangnu deliberately jumped into the running water and took her very own life. Qin Shihuang became very much depressed about this and began to ask crazy questions and doing unreasonable things.
One day, he asked one of his officials, "will the stone horse outside eat grass?" The answer was of course, "no." The emperor became angry and killed the official. In this way, one official would be killed per day on such a question. Nobody had found a good answer till then. It would be an official’s turn for the next day. He was a good and impartial judge who worked hard for the people’s benefits. He was worried of his own life as he had found out no solution to the question that the emperor asked everyday. A god from heaven wanted to help him and descended to the earth. He appeared in front of the official as a Taoist priest. He took out a lash and presented it to the official and told him that the lash was called the Mountain Chasing Lash. With a slash from the lash, the stone horse would eat grass and the mountains can be chased away with a slash from it to help the emperor to find the body of Meng Jiangnu.
On the next day, when the official went to the court, he did just as he was told to. This amused the emperor who did not kill him. Instead, the emperor asked him what the lash was and what it could do. The honest official answered as he was told by the god from heaven.
The emperor was willing to try the lash out and soon chased mountains into the sea in the search of Meng Jiangnu’s body. Things were going well on land but not in the sea as the god of sea, who was a dragon, his family, who were mostly dragons, too, and his officials and subjects were suffering. When they came to know that the emperor was looking for Meng Jiangnu’s body, the daughter of the god who was actually a dragon changed herself to Meng Jiangnu’s body and came floating to the surface of the sea. The imperial doctors managed to "save" the life of Meng Jiangnu whom then married the emperor and born him a son a year later.
The daughter of the god then revealed the secret of whom she was and left the palace together with her son and the Mountain Chasing Lash to where she belonged. Before she went into the sea again, she left the baby in a mountain. So happened, there was a tigress in the mountain. However, she did not kill the baby but contrary to that, she fed him with her milk and raised him for one year. After that, she left the baby on a road constructed by man. An old couple picked up the baby. They were the Xiang Family. They had no children and therefore adopted the baby to raise as their own child. The baby was named Xiang Yu.
Xiang Yu, born by a dragon and raised by a tiger, defeated the descendent of Qin Shihuang and ended the rule of Qin Dynasty even though he did not become the emperor after that.
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