Archive for February, 2011


Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 31 Xia wife

No. 31 Xia wife: no need for [offering of] gold, when there is this robe.

Dong Guodu, formal name Yuanqing, of Jiangxi province, passed the national exams in the sixth year of Song emperor Huizong, and became Jiaoshui (in Shandong province) county governor’s secretary. Upon Jin army’s incursion south, he stayed at his post by himself, while his family remained in Jiangxi. After the central plains fell to the Jin army, he became stranded. Abandoning his post, he sought refuge in the neighboring countryside. He became good friends with his landlord who, sympathetic toward his situation, arranged the purchase of a concubine for him.

It’s not clear where that concubine is from, but she is smart as well as beautiful. Seeing Dong’s financial straits, she started to plan a way out. She used the entire savings to purchase donkeys and wheat. She would mill the wheat using the donkeys, then every couple of days, would ride the donkey into the city to sell the flours, returning in the evening with money. Three years passed like this, a lot of money was earned, enough to purchase house and land.

Never less, separated from his mother, wife, and two sons, with all communications cut off, Dong was often melancholic, rarely joyful. Over the years the concubine often asked him reasons for his poor mood, now he told her everything: “I was actually a Song official, my whole family is in the south, I alone am drifting outside, not sure when I would return. My heart breaks every time I think about this.” The concubine replied “why didn’t you say so earlier. I have an older brother who loves to help people. He will arrive soon, and we can ask him for help.”

In ten days or so, a tall man with big curly beards showed up. He rode in on a tall horse, trailed by ten or so carriages. The concubine said “Here he is, my older brother has arrived!” She rushed out to greet the man, and introduced him to Dong. The three of them drank until deep into the night. Only then did the concubine brought up the issue of returning to the south.

But now Dong started to become afraid. At this time there was a standing order by the Jin government, anyone who was a Song official must volunteer his status. If it was revealed by others, he would be put to death. Afraid to let this secret come out, Dong started to deny he was a Song official. The curly bearded man started to become angry, but held it in check “You and my younger sister had been a couple several years now. You are like my flesh-and-blood now. This is why I’m willing to risk my life to help you return south. If you’re discovered, I would be in trouble because of you. Seeing how you are behaving now, how can I be sure you won’t betray me when we encounter trouble? Here, hand over the official order for you assignment as collateral, otherwise I will turn you over first thing in the morning.” Dong, becoming even more afraid, thinking he would be dead no matter what he does, handed over the document. After the curly bearded man was gone, he spent the rest of the night in tears, panicking, not knowing what to do, what to expect.

Early next morning, the bearded man showed up with an additional horse, telling Dong “Let’s go.” Surprised and overjoyed, Dong rushed back inside to get the concubine. But she said to him “I have some urgent matters that I must take care off, I can’t leave just yet, I shall come looking for you next year. I’ve sewn a quilted robe for you. I wear it and go with older brother. When you arrive in the south, my brother will attempt to give you money, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, but you must refuse it no matter what. If he persists, hold up this robe and show it to him. The reason for this is I’ve done a big favor for him before. Escorting you back to the south by itself is not enough to return that favor. If he accepted his money, he’d think we’re even and he won’t bother helping me come over as well. So be careful, take care not to lose this robe.”

Dong was stunned, all of this is just too bizarre. Afraid to draw the curiosity of neighbors, he hastily bid his concubine a teary farewell. They sped to the coastline, where a large ship is about to leave. The bearded man ordered Dong to board immediately, and bid farewell himself. The ship immediately sailed south.

Alone on his journey, with hardly any money on him, Dong felt awkward. However everyone on the ship was extremely courteous toward him, offering him food, drink, everything he needed. Yet no one asked a word about his destination.

Several days later, the ship arrived in the Song territory. When they docked, the bearded man was already waiting by the bank. He took Dong to a restaurant to celebrate his arrival, where he offered Dong twenty ounces of gold. Remembering what the concubine told him, Dong firmly declined. The bearded man was equally firm: “You arrive home with empty pockets. What are you planning to do, have your wife and children starve together with you?!” With that said, he got up and left. Dong chased him down outside, and held up the quilted robe. Staring at the robe, the bearded man was astonished, but he quickly recovered and laughed, “Sigh, she is indeed smarter than me. Looks like my work is not done yet. I will escort your beauty back here next year.” With that, he turned around and left.

Upon returning home, Dong Guodu found everyone to be fine. They spent much time talking about what had transpired since the separation. At one point Dong’s wife held up the robe to examine it closely, and saw yellowish light dimly emanating from it. Upon taking it apart, they saw there’s a gold leaf inside each quilted patch.

After settling things at home, Dong reported back to the central government, where he received a promotion as a county level junior military officer. In the second year of his return, the big curly bearded man brought over his beloved concubine as promised. The two of them lived together to happy old age.








Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 32 Xie Xun’s Concubine

No. 32 Xie Xun’s Concubine: should have just left, why harm others, jealousy is reproachable*.

Xie Qian and his younger brother Xie Xun have always loved each other. During the Jing Kang Incident, Xie Qian was stationed in Hubei province, and became a highly decorated general. Meanwhile, Xie Xun was trapped in the occupied northern territories. His wife had attempted to return to her mother’s home in the south, but was abducted by the defeated army midway. Separated from wife and family, Xie Xun was poor, miserable, and alone. Later, through introduction, he took a concubine who brought a lot of money with her. Only then did Jie Xun’s start having good days in his life again.

Still, Xie Xun missed his wife. One year, during the Chong Yang Festival, he was thinking about his wife, and tears started to stream down his face. Seeing this, the concubine was moved, and decided to help him return south, even saying “if your formal wife is still alive, I would gladly offer half of my dowry to her.” She was extraordinarily capable: planning and arranging every detail of the journey, passing through each checkpoint without incident, and overcoming all manners of obstacles and difficulties on land as well as on water.

Ecstatic upon reuniting with his beloved younger brother, in addition to a new residence, Xie Qian offer Xun four young servant girls. Thinking the concubine would object, Xun initial instinct was to decline. But the concubine advised otherwise: “We really need them right now, and should count ourselves lucky. If you like we could raise them as our children. So why refuse?” Soon however, Jie Xun, being a man still in his physical prime, started to drift away and neglect the concubine, and shift his affection and attention to the new, younger girls.

One day, while drinking with the concubine, they started arguing. The concubine accused him “when you were stranded in the north, you didn’t know where your next meal would come from. If not for me, most likely you would’ve been starved to death by now. But as soon as fortunes changed, you forgot all about past kindness and righteous conduct, such is not the behavior of a real man!” Xie Xun, shouting back, started to punch the concubine. The concubine just sneered, neither saying anything nor doing anything to physically defend herself. Meanwhile, Jie Xun continued with his angry tirade and wild punches. Then suddenly, the concubine stood up, all the lamps went out at the same moment, an oppressive chill struck the bodies of all who stood around. The four servant girls, terrified, all fell helplessly to the floor.

A long time passed before someone dared to light the candles. They can see Xie Xun’s body on the ground, separated from his head. The concubine is gone without a trace.

General Xie Qian, shocked by the report of his brother’s sudden death, immediately sent 3,000 of his elite troops after the concubine. They found nothing.

Notes and commentary
* Ren Xong’s attitude is typical of his time, that in a situation like this, the discarded woman should just leave. In a society where polygamy was the norm, jealousy was deemed a vice unbecoming of a good women.


解潛与其弟洵,素相友愛。建炎、靖康之際,潛積軍功,帥湖南。洵獨陷北境。其妻歸母家,又為潰兵所惊。數年后,為間關得歸。見潛,相持悲慟,潛置酒勞苦,而語之曰:“吾弟雖不幸流落。而兄幸蒙國恩,握兵權。每与虜及群盜戰,奏功于朝,必為弟審名籍中,已至正使,誥命皆在此。”即畀之。洵再拜謝過望,因言: “頃自汴都過河朔,孤單羈困,或見怜,為娶婦,奩裝丰厚,不暇深詳其出處。正無以為活,殊用自慰。偶以重陽日把盞,起故妻之思,不覺墮淚。婦惻然曰:“君豈非欲本朝乎?茲事易辦也。經旬日來告曰:“川陸之計已具,惟命是從。我亦俱行。倘君夫人固存,自當家嫁而分囊橐之半;万一捐館,當為偕老。”遂登途,水宿山行,防閑營護,皆此婦力也。今在舟中,未敢輒參謁。”潘嗟异,途命車招迎。見其眉宇秀茹,言詞明慧,益加敬重。


February 2011
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