The story of Du Shiniang in Three Words of Wisdom
The “Two Slaps” later joined three other books compiled by Feng Menglong known as “Three Words of Wisdom” (三言). Together, the series is known as “Three Words of Wisdom and Two Slaps” (三言二拍 Sān Yán Èr Pāi). This has been passed down as a classic collection of short stories that vividly reflect life in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) period.
When Ling Menchu’s friends finished his book, they were so pleased by what they had read that they slapped their palms against the table, exclaiming “Hao! Excellent!” And so this book and another of Ling’s works came to be known as “Two Slaps” (二拍).
In cooperation with CCTV’s hallmark program “Lecture Room” (百家讲坛 Bǎi Jiā Jiǎngtán) we bring you such a story from “Three Words of Wisdom and Two Slaps.”
Li Jia was a student at the Imperial College when he visited a brothel that was popular with aristocrats and merchants, all drawn by one beautiful woman—Du Shiniang. Though it was Li’s first visit, his encounter with Du caused a stir.
In short, the lady fell in love with him. As their relationship blossomed, Li’s pockets emptied and Du began rejecting her other clients. The madam of the house cursed him. Li’s father heard of his boy’s “studies” and wrote him ordering him home. Du’s affection grew wild and she planned her escape from the brothel.
“Have Li pay me 300 liang of silver in ten days and you can go free!” the madam spat at Du, secretly knowing Li didn’t have the money. Du agreed and after giving her lover half the funds, sent him to borrow the rest. One friend who was moved by Du’s story handed him the coins, scolding, “This is for her good, not yours!”
Soon, Du and Li were on their way, sent off by the merry dances and singing of teary-eyed friends. They bought a boat with the glamorous gifts that Du’s friends had showered upon them, only saving one small trunk. And then they traveled the waterways to Li’s home—the boy needed his father’s permission to marry.
Not far into their journey, a snowstorm trapped the couple in a harbor. Du started singing to pass the time, and soon was overheard by Sun Fu, a salt merchant also trapped in the harbor. He peered out of his boat and searched for her figure, knowing that only a prostitute could sing so well. When his eyes fell on Du, he was hypnotized by her beauty. The merchant began to scheme.
He invited Li into his boat for a drink and got the boy drunk. “How can your father approve a marriage with a prostitute?” Sun asked Li. “And even if, where will you live in such poverty? What if Du becomes unfaithful?” The merchant’s feigned concern worked like a charm and Li bowed his head in agreement. Sun pounced, “To please your father, sell me the girl for 1000 liang.”
The boy returned to Du and wept through the night. She pushed Li gently until he confessed Sun’s offer. “Fine!” she retorted, “We shouldn’t miss this opportunity. Return to your father and I will settle down with the merchant.”
Trembling, Li started for Sun’s boat. Meanwhile, Du opened the small trunk they had saved. It was filled with gold, pearls, and riches the likes of which neither man had seen before. The two of them gasped. Piece by piece Du threw the treasures into the water. The splashing awoke Li from his stupor. Howling, he clutched Du’s waist and slid to his knees.
The girl turned to face Sun, “We have gone through so much to get this far, and you separate us for your pathetic lust; I will tell God your sin after I die!” She looked down at the groveling boy. “These are not gifts, but everything that I saved over the years. I planned to present them to your parents, so they may be moved by my love for you. I’ve been sincere, but you turned out to be fickle.” And then, before Li could stop her, Du wrapped her arms around the trunk, leapt into the river, and sank straight to the bottom。
负心人 (fùxīn rén, a heartless person)
伪君子 (wèijūnzǐ, a hypocrite)