A Chinese Folktale
There was a young man, named Wan Hsi-liang, among those who had been pressed into the service of building Emperor Shih Huang’s Great Wall. Wan Hsi-liang had a beautiful and virtuous wife, whose name was Meng Chiang-nu. For a long, long time after her husband was forced to leave her, Meng Chiang-nu had no news of him. Her hatred of the wicked ruler grew apace with her longing for the husband.
But even as the seasons changed, there still was no news about Wan Hsi-liang. It was rumored that the Great Wall was being built somewhere way up north where it was so cold that one could hardly dare sticks one’s hands out of one’s sleeves. When Meng Chiang-nu heard this, she hurriedly made cotton-padded clothes and shoes for her husband. But who should take these to him when it was such a long way to the Great Wall? Pondering the matter over and over, she finally decided she would take the clothes and shoes to Wan Hsi-liang herself.
It was cold when Meng Chiang-nu started out and very lonely for her to walk by herself. One evening, she failed to reach the town she was going to, so she spent the night in a little temple in a grove beside the road. Having walked the whole day, she was very tired and fell asleep as soon as she lay down on a stone table. She dreamed her husband was coming towards her and a feeling of great happiness enveloped her. But than he told her that he had died and she cried bitterly. When she woke in the morning, she was overwhelmed by doubts and sadness as she remembered this dream. With curses on the emperor, Meng Chiang-nu continued on her journey.
Meng Chiang-nu walked on until, one day, she came to a deep valley between the mountains. She walked a long time through the valley without finding a single house. All she could see were weeds, brambles and rocks. It was getting so dark that she could no longer see the road. She decided to spend the night among some bushes. As she had not eaten anything for the whole day, she shivered all the more violently in the cold. Thinking of how her husband must be suffering in the ice cold weather, her heart contracted with a pain as sharp as a knife. When Meng Chiang-nu opened her eyes the next morning, she found to her amazement that the whole valley and her own body were covered in a blanket of snow. How was she to continue her journey?
While she was still at a loss as to what to do, a crow suddenly alighted before her. It cawed twice and flew on a short distance, then sat down again in front of her and cawed again twice. Meng Chiang-nu decided that the bird was inviting her to follow its direction and so the resumed her travel, a little cheered because of the company of this living creature. And so, she walked on passing mountain ranges and crossing big rivers and small streams.
Many dreary days had passed before Meng Chiang-nu at last reached the Great Wall. She walked along the Great Wall, trying to find her husband among those who were toiling there. She asked after her husband, but nobody knew anything about him. Her anguish over her husband’s unknown fate increased and she shed many bitter tears as she continued her search.
At last, she learned the sad truth. Her husband had died long ago because of the unbearably hard toil, and his body had been put underground where he fell, under the Great Wall. Hearing this tragic news, Meng Chiang-nu fell into a swoon. Some of the builders tried to revive her, but it was a long while before she regained consciousness. When she did, she burst into a flood of tears for several days. Many of the toilers wept with her. So bitter was her lament that, suddenly, a length of over two hundred miles of the Great Wall came crumbling down while a violent storm made the sand and bricks whirl about in the air.
“It was Meng Chiang-nu who, by her tears, caused the Great Wall to crumble!” the people along the edifice told one another with amazement. At the same time, they were filled wit hatred of the cruel emperor who caused nothing, but misery to his subjects.
When the emperor heard how Meng Chiang-nu had brought part of his Great Wall down, he immediately went to see for himself what sort of person she was. He found that she was as beautiful as a fairy, so he asked her to become his wife. Meng Chiang-nu, who hated him so deeply for his cruel ways, would of course not consent to this. But she felt a ruse would serve her purpose better than frankness, so she answered: “Yes, I will, if you do three things for me. The first is that you bury my husband in a golden coffin with a silver lid on it; the second is that all your ministers and generals go into mourning for my husband and attend his funeral; the third is that you attend his funeral yourself, wearing deep mourning clothes as your own would do.”
Being so taken with her beauty, the emperor consented to her requests at once. Everything was, therefore, arranged accordingly. But when Meng Chiang-nu saw her husband properly buried, she cried bitterly for a long time. Then, all of a sudden, she jumped into the river that flowed close by the tomb. The emperor was infuriated at being thwarted in his desires. He ordered his attendants to pull her out of the water again. But before they could seize her, Meng Chiang-nu hand turned into a beautiful, silvery fish and swam gracefully out of sight deep down into the green-blue water.