Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 25 Zhang Xun’s Wife

No. 30 Zhang Xun’s Wife: the maid was innocent, her death senseless1.

Zhang Xun was an important general under the founder of Wu Kingdom Yang Xingme. His mouth was very large, so his nickname was “Zhang Da Kou”2.

When Yang Xingme was in Xuan Zhou, one time armors where distributed to all the generals. The ones Zhang got was very old and tattered. He was very angry. Seeing that, his wife said “Don’t let it bother you. I’m sure the he didn’t know, that it was not intentional. If he knew, he wouldn’t give you old ones”. The next day, Yang Xingme asked Zhang: “how was the armor you received?” Zhang told him about it, so Yang ordered new, better ones be issued to Zhang’s troops instead.

Later on when they were in Guangling, horses were awarded to the commanders. The ones given to Zhang’s troops were very inferior. Again Zhang was very frustrated. His wife consoled him as before. The next day Yang Xingme asked him about the horse, and Zhang told him everything.

This time, Yang Xingme asked him, “Do you have an altar for the gods at your house?” Yang replied “No”. “Well,” Yang said “when we were in Xuan Zhou, and I distributed the armors, that night I had a dream, in the dream a woman wearing cloth made of pearls said to me ‘Sir, the armor you awarded to Zhang Xun were very old and tattered, please switch them.’ The next day when I asked you about it, that turned out to be the case. Then when we were at Guangling, the same thing happened with the horse. Do you know how this could be?” Zhang Xun, also amazed and puzzled, had no answer.

Zhang Xun’s wife had a big clothing chest, the content of which she never allowed Zhang to see. One day she was out on some errands, and Zhang secretly opened it. Inside was a set of clothing made of pearls. He started to wonder. When the wife returned, she said to him “You opened my chest didn’t you?”

His wife normally waited for him to come home to eat their meals together. But one day when Zhang came back, she already ate. “Today’s food is a little special,” she said, “so I ate first without you.” Zhang Xun went to the kitchen. Inside the steamer he found the remains of a human skull. Horrified and repulsed, he decided to kill his wife. Again, the wife seemed to knew exactly what he was thinking: “You want to betray me don’t you? Later on you would become a very important person, a governor of several prefecture, so I cannot kill you.” Pointing to a maid, she said “But if you want to kill me, you must kill her first, otherwise you are unlikely to survive.”

So Zhang Xun killed both the wife and the maid. As his wife predicted, later he became governor of several prefectures.

Notes and Commentary:
1 Not sure why Ren Weichang couldn’t see this: obviously the maid was close confidant of the wife, and capable of killing Zhang Xun in revenge.

2 Zhang means open in Chinese. So Zhang Da (big) Kou (mouth) sounds like an action: “open the mouth wide”.

This was a period of ceaseless warfare and turmoil. Such things of course disrupted agricultural production. In an agrarian society, that often meant mass famine, starvation. In one famous siege conducted by Yang Xingme, when Yang finally took the city, he found not only the defeated army, but the civilians as well, have resorted to cannibalism on a large scale. Yang’s most tenacious opponent, Sun Ru, his army was infamous for killing civilians on a large scale, and cut their bodies into small pieces, prepared with salt, and used as rations when food supplies ran out. Sun was later captured and killed by Yang.



訓妻有衣箱,常自啟閉,未嘗見之。一日,妻出,訓竊啟之,果見珠衣一襲。及妻歸,謂訓曰:“君開吾衣箱耶?”初,其妻每食,必待其夫。一日訓歸,妻已先食,謂訓曰:“今日以食味异常,不待君先食矣。”訓入廚,見甑中蒸一人頭。訓心惡,陰欲殺之。妻謂曰:“君欲負我耶!然君方為數郡刺史,我不能殺君。” 因指一婢曰:“殺我必先殺此,不爾,君必不免。”訓遂殺妻及其婢,后果為刺史。


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