Fable: Meng JiangNv Cries the Great Wall Down

Seeing as how I just got back from a trip to the Wall myself, I figured I’d stay on that theme. This traditional and very famous story, called 孟姜女哭长城 mèng jiāng nǚ kū cháng chéng, is set in the Qin Dynasty, and is super sad in the way that only East Asian stories can be sad (are we noticing a trend, here?). If you’re the “watches a lot of anime” type, you’ll easily find the beauty here (which lies in the power of tears – where else?), but if you like your fairy-tale endings, prepare for a big downer.

I happen to enjoy sad stories as long as there’s some sweetness in them, and this one is paced very nicely, so I’m translating it for you here, though it’s much longer than my usual fare (I seem to be trending towards longer stuff these days).

This story happens between 259 B.C. and 210 B.C., and describes two characters, our heroine 孟姜女mèng jiāng nǚ, and her love, 范喜良 fàn xǐ liáng, who live under the rule of emperor 秦始皇 qín shǐ huáng during the building of the Great Wall. The story describes how they meet and how they finally part, and dwells on the strength of 孟姜女’s love for her man. There are a few specialized words here pertaining to weddings. One is 喜酒 xǐ jiǔ, meaning “happiness wine”, which is alcohol drunk at weddings to wish the bride and groom well. Another is 洞房 dòng fáng, or “marriage chamber” (literally “cave room”). And yet another is 成亲, meaning “to get married”.

An interesting word here is 眼看 yǎn kàn, which means “in a moment”, or “when ____ is just about to happen”, not “the eye sees” or “to look”, as may be supposed.

One difficult few words to puzzle out here is in the second paragraph, when it’s stated that some soldiers “不容分说” bù róng fēn shuō charge into the room. 不容 here means “without tolerating” or “would not tolerate”, and 分说 means “to explain”. So we can imagine that this means the soldiers barged in and though people tried to explain the situation to them, they weren’t interested in listening.






Show English translation »
During the Qin dynasty, there was a kind and beautify woman, called Meng JiangNv. One day, she was in her garden doing housework, when she suddenly realized that someone was hiding in the grape arbor. She was hugely startled, and was about to call out, when she saw the person repeatedly wave his hands, and begged her, “Don’t call out, don’t call out, save me! I am Fan XiLiang, and I’m running away from trouble.” Well, during this time, [Emperor] Qin Shi Huang, in order to build the great wall, was seizing people from everywhere to [force them to] do labor, and he’d already worked and starved countless people to death! Meng JiangNv rescued Fan XiLiang, and when she saw that he was well educated and sensible, and good looking with delicate features as well, she began to love him, and Fan XiLiang also liked Meng JiangNv. Their two hearts beat as one, and after seeking the approval of their parents, prepared to become husband and wife.

On the wedding day, the Meng house was lit with lanterns and colored banners, and was jam-packed with guests – it was a joyous scene. When it was almost dark out, and those that had come to drink the marriage wine slowly scattered, the bride and groom prepared to enter the marriage chamber, suddenly came the sounds of birds crying and dogs barking, and soon after a company of fierce officers and soldiers charged in, and without listening to any explanation, locked up Fan XiLiang in iron chains and hauled him off to the Great Wall to work. The lovely wedding had come to nothing, and Meng JiangNv felt both grief and indignation, and she longed for her husband day and night. She thought: Instead of sitting here worrying hopelessly, it’s better if I go to the Great Wall and search for him. Yes! That’s what I’ll do! So Meng JiangNv immediately prepared her traveling clothes and set out on the road.

On the road, though she couldn’t count how many times she endured wind, frost, rain and snow, trudged across dangerous mountains and treacherous rapids, Meng JiangNv never spoke one word of complaint, never spilled one tear, and finally, drawing strength from her tenacious willpower, and drawing strength from her deep love for her husband, she reached the Great Wall. The Great Wall at this time was made up of many small construction sites that had been strung together to form a long city wall, and Meng JiangNv went from each construction site to the next, but she never saw a trace of her husband. Finally, she drummed up her courage, and asked a group of workers who were just about to begin work: “Do any of you know a Fan XiLiang?” The workers said, “Yes, there was a man like that, he’d just arrived.” When Meng JiangNv heard that, she was indescribably happy! She immediately asked, “Where is he?” The worker said, “He’s dead, his corpse has already been tossed into the wall.”

When Meng JiangNv heard this grievous news, it was like a clap of thunder from a clear sky, Meng’s eyes went dark, and [she felt] a burst of sadness, and began to sob. She cried for a full three days and three nights, she cried until the sky was twilight and the earth was dark, [until] even Heaven and Earth were moved. The sky became more and more gloomy, the wind more and more fierce, and then there was a great “crash”, and a section of the Wall had been cried down, and Fan XiLiang’s corpse was revealed; Meng JiangNv’s tears dripped on his badly mutilated face. She finally was able to see the husband she loved, but he wasn’t able to see her, because he had already been killed by the cruel Qin ShiHuang.

22 replies on “Fable: Meng JiangNv Cries the Great Wall Down”

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