Appendix to Chapter Two

Cathy Silber

A Girl Grows Up

(Xie: 843)

A girl at one is

a pearl in the hand.

A girl at two

clings to your skirts.

At three she learns to walk

At four she takes the basket to the vegetable plot.

At five she picks violets with her father’s mother

At six she raises silkworms with her mother’s mother.

At seven she takes up spinning

At eight she learns to weave.

At nine she learns to make clothes,

At ten she can embroider without needing to ask how.

At eleven she knows how to weave patterned belts.

At twelve she can handle the shuttle better than anybody.

At thirteen she starts to wear new hairstyles.

At fourteen she wears her hair just like her mother.

At fifteen she’s her father’s daughter,

At sixteen you can’t keep the matchmakers away.

At seventeen, the groom’s betrothal gifts are received.

At eighteen, her parents make her dowry.

At nineteen, she has her wedding.

At twenty, she thanks her parents

She thanks them for rearing their daughter

She thanks her grandparents for rearing their granddaughter.

Four Character Classic For Girls

(Silber, II: 152)

This will teach you to be smart.

To be a proper daughter at your mother’s side, don’t leave the women’s quarter.

In walking, don’t be wild; when sitting, don’t sway your body.

When smiling, don’t show your teeth; when speaking, don’t be too loud.

Speak softly and gently; walk slowly.

Comb and dress neatly; wash yourself well.

No makeup is needed; keep yourself clean.

Practice your needlework; be diligent at your work.

Scissors and thread: use them often and do not stop.

When you marry and become a daughter-in-law, serve your elders properly.

Treat your husband like an elder, take care to show him respect.

When serving tea, offer it with both hands.

With male relatives, be proper and obedient.

When serving plates of food, refrain from physical contact.

With female relatives, treat each other like guests.

When the whole family is harmonious, your good reputation will be known far and wide.

Early to bed, early to rise; begin your day at five a.m.

Sit on the bed and bind your feet; make sure your collar is straight.

Comb and put up your hair; only then do you leave your room.

Make the fire; sprinkle and sweep the kitchen floor.

Don’t take after the lazy wife, who just sits by the fire eating all day.

If your hair is a mess, your husband will be mad.

Wives like that haven’t been taught well enough by their mothers.

During the day, do not laugh aloud; at night, do not go out walking.

If you must go out at night, take a lamp; if you don’t have one, then stay in.

To go out in the garden, take a companion; if you don’t have one, then don’t go.

When you go home to see your mother, don’t say anything bad about your in-laws.

Your parents won’t understand, and it will just make them angry.

Don’t talk back; let this be your guide.

You are but a guest in your parents’ home; you will spend your whole life at your husband’s.

When you receive guests, be proper and sincere.

Keep your eyes averted when serving tea.

When preparing food and drink, let them be fragrantly seasoned.

Bowls and plates must be clean; the teapot must be emptied.

Whether it is wine or tea, they must be clear, not murky.

In matters big and small, never lose your temper.

In keeping the household finances, make sure there is always good food.

Don’t decide according to your own cravings what to serve friends and relatives.

In behaving like this, wives make the family’s reputation.

Follow the proper way in serving the family; be diligent in your weaving.

Give birth and multiply.

Help your husband to establish himself, and the family reputation will rise.

When dealing with girl servants, first make sure they are clothed and fed.

If they are not cold or hungry, they will give their all to their work.

Should they cause any difficulty, tell your husband.

This is how things should be, whether your family is rich or poor.

Don’t show envy, and avoid pettiness.

Whether you bear sons or daughters, take care of your own health.

Don’t eat spoiled food and your children will be smart.

If you don’t have sons, you will cut off your husband’s line.

Urge your husband to take a second wife, and thus do right by the ancestors.

Principal and secondary wives should get along; don’t be envious.

Help your husband educate your sons, and your family fortunes will rise accordingly.

If you have a good and loyal husband he will often leave home,

Perhaps to do business, perhaps to seek office.

He may be gone for one year, or two; this has happened since time immemorial.

As his wife at home, keep patient and steady;

Don’t do anything rash, like remarry.

One instance of unfaithfulness will dirty and ruin your whole life.

There are people to spread the news in daylight, and ghosts to tell the tale in the dark.

Don’t cheapen yourself or disturb the family reputation.

If you find yourself in reduced circumstances, don’t blame your husband.

Maichen in days of old had a bad wife

Who left him because of poverty, and when she sorely regretted it,

Her husband had become wealthy, and refused to take her back.

As the old saying goes, once the water is spilled it’s hard to get back.

Should your husband fall ill, this too was fated in a former life.

Don’t blame his parents; don’t start looking elsewhere.

Women do not have two husbands; ministers do not serve two rulers.

What are the three obediences? Listen and you will understand.

As a girl at home, obey your father; don’t disobey your parents.

When you marry, obey your husband; obey and respect him.

When your husband dies, obey your son; let him take over the household.

If you have no son, whom to obey? Observe mourning for three years.

Starving to death is nothing compared with the bad reputation of losing your chastity.

Meng Guang held the tray at eyebrow level, serving her husband with utmost respect.1

Ling nü cut off her nose in order to remain faithful to her husband.

Dan Shi messed up her hair when her husband was far away.

This is the proper woman’s way, wise and virtuous through the ages.

The Xie daughter Daoyun listened to fu and wrote poetry.2

Cai nü was an educated gentlewoman who could distinguish the tones of the qin.3

All of these wise and talented women dipped their brushes and produced writing.

Be intelligent and steadfast, and compare yourself with these educated women.

If you live in the city, don’t sit in shop doorways with your legs crossed.

If you live in the country, don’t go out visiting the neighbors.

If you go out to amuse yourself, people will talk.

Don’t dispute whatever the neighbors may say about you, for the wise moon will know all.

Heed this warning: think before you act and you will avoid regret.

Prayer of 12 year old girl to die and join the goddesses at the temple

(Zhao, 525)

Upstairs, I gather writing brush and inkstone

To write a letter to the worthy goddess

Today on the first of the second month

I send this far away to Longyan Temple (in Dao)

To trouble Niangniang to receive this with your jade hand

To respectfully ask Niangniang to hear me

I was born a He,

a pitiful girl who lost her father so young,

My mother was widowed while I was still in her belly

She was widowed so young, and had no one to make her feel better

No elder or younger brothers-in-law to depend on

She was a widow with no one to depend on,

no one to depend on, above or below,

And she raised me, a useless girl

She cried all through the night

Because she only had a daughter, how it made her mad,

If only her daughter had been born a son,

For when he was reared up, she’d have someone to take care of her for the rest of her life.

But I’ve been born in error a girl,

Who will requite the caring of some other mother when I grow up.

My mother cried every single day to be raising a daughter;

She was up all night sleepless with tears running down her face.

She had fields and land, but no one to work them for her.

And it’s so hard to get somebody to do this.

Other girls, the ones who had a father, were like precious jewels.

But I was so pitiful.

Night and day I/she cried so hard my heart broke

When would this daughter finally be raised to grown up?

My mother wracked her brains to calmly get by day to day

To slowly, patiently rear up her daughter,

And when I had made it to 12,

On top of everything, my mother died.

When my mother was alive, we got by okay

But when she died, I was truly pitiful

I realized that I had accumulated such sin in a former life

That this lifetime would be completely impossible for me

When my father died, of course I didn’t know anything

When my mother died, tears ran down my face

How would I survive with no parents?

I was so pitiful, who would be my companion?

Even though I had a cousin about my age to be with,

Who in the whole household could I really depend on?

Crying through the night for my mother cut me like knives

Who would really wholeheartedly take care of me?

There was no shade tree before me

And no mountain to lean on behind me

And no younger brother of my mother’s to step in and take care of me

Nor sisters of my mother to care for me

My mother’s mother had died of old age

Day and night I cried in sorrow, but no one knew

Sitting alone upstairs with no one to let out my feelings with

I write a letter to you, worthy goddess

I just envy you, Niangniang, for having attained through cultivation

All you goddesses…

I ask Niangniang to take care of me

I just hope Niangniang will love and care for me

If you have the power, please come and take me

Please take my life and take me in.

My surname is He, a desolate girl by the name of Yinse

I am positive I want Niangniang to take me

Life is good for you goddesses, and I want to join you,

Like living in the cave of the immortals,

With the opera stage out front blocking the landscape

And the green mountains out back, so lush and lovely

With younger elder sisters to your left

And the sound of flutes wafting by the cave of the immortals

And incense burned to you, year after year

And all the thousands of people who worship you

I have no other purpose in coming to make obeisance to you

With incense and paper money I pay my gratitude to you

Niangniang, you are truly efficacious

You have protected thousands upon thousands of people:

Countless numbers have sought sons from you

Thousands have prayed for wealth to you

Plus all those thousands who prayed to you for official office

Niangniang, your powers have protected thousands

People have prayed to you for official office, and gotten it

And when they become high officials, they come to thank you.

Those who prayed to you for sons and bore sons, came to tell you the good news.

And those who prayed for wealth and now have money also pay their thanks.

Everybody says how effective you spirits are,

You have taken care of the people for eons

When people are sick they come to make vows

In exchange for being protected from illness

And when they are cured, they come to kowtow in thanks

With incense and paper money and candles they thank the gods.

Laotong reply to the letter Yi wrote on the sly

(Silber, II: 89; Zhao, 415)

Dipping my brush, I write a letter to your worthy home,

I’m writing you back, so thoughtful you are.

When I received your worthy letter and opened it and read it,

It made perfect sense, it was so right.

You’re the girl who knows my heart, and you’re really something

To be the one to write me first (in verse)

The Dragon Boat Festival’s coming up.

My clumsy letter back to you doesn’t measure up to yours, dear.

You are, of course, an educated daughter from a good family,

And everything you wrote makes my heart beautiful.

My lowly family just can’t compare with yours,

And I just have to obey my parents.

If it was up to me, I’d love to come visit you,

And the two of us would share affection.

My heart is so red hot to make this bond with you,

I even have dreams about visiting you.

We’d sit together upstairs in the loft embroidering,

Choosing our threads and threading our needles and talking.

I’ve been reciting your letter every single day,

As if we’d sworn our bond but haven’t visited yet.

Because you are a darling girl from a good family,

Our match would be ten times better than anyone else’s.

We were fated to match in a former life,

And we’re fated to match in this life.

It’s like building a bridge over the river so we can cross all the time,

It’s keeping our bond for a lifetime, and never stopping,

It’s like two streams flowing for a thousand miles into one river,

It’s like flowers for ten thousand miles growing in one garden.

We’d be so happy and carefree, sitting together,

Talking to each other in the whispers of girls,

Embroidering together on summer days,

Doing needlework everyone admires.

Even though I do have brothers,

My parents are getting old and so we do have worries.

You said you’re ill-fated, that you don’t have brothers,

And you’re sad that you don’t have a father.

I know, dear, but listen to me,

I want you to try to be happy.

Your grandfather is still alive and healthy,

And he loves you just like a father.

His new wife is young4

And we just hope to heaven that she will bear a son.

Don’t be sad that you don’t have brothers or a father.

There’s all kinds of fortune in this world, good and bad.

You’ve got food and shelter and get by fine,

So put aside your troubles,

And we’ll be better than the moon in the sky.

When the moon is full on the sixteenth, the night is bright

And we’d be as carefree as immortals,

So happy with our feelings for each other,

Like young green bamboo in the garden,

Leaves hanging, colors clear.

Or, two, like the colors of peonies,

A profusion of blooms, fresh every day,

Three, like the pine tree in the garden,

Green all year round.

Four, like the phoenix who stay mated all year long,

Whose calls can be heard far and wide.

Five, like the goldfish in five rivers,

Which, in the third month, swim into caves.

Six, like the full moon in the sky,

Which shines all the way to the bottom of the river.

Seven, like the seven immortals drifting on the four seas,

The seven immortals coming down to play on earth.

Eight, like pairs and pairs of butterflies,

Girls watching them without a care in the world.

Nine, like needles threaded with ten colors of floss,

This clumsy letter of mine isn’t saying much.

Fangxiang mother of the one who knows my heart:

You’re laughing at my clumsy letter for how poor it is.

I just hope that you’ll go easy on me:

I’m young and have no manners.

Today I write back to you, girl,

Hoping you’ll put up with me;

Although I have brothers,

Our family is poor, we have our worries.

But if everything were fine with us,

You and I would be a pair of mandarin ducks quacking in the same tree,

Or a pair of mated phoenixes flying over the sea,

Flapping our wings and singing up into the sky,

The envy of everyone around,

A pair of phoenixes, flying as a pair.

Four Laotong in Pujia

(Silber, I: 95; Zhao 445 contains Gao Yinxian’s garbled version)

The Pu family lived in Yongzhou fu in Hunan,

In the county of Yongming, the Pus did.

Imperial Academician Pu had a daughter

Who matched four laotong

First, with the daughter of Wenba

Second with the sixth [Tang] daughter

Third with a girl from Yutian,

Whose name was Shanxin; she was 18.

This is not some story from the distant past;

It’s a new piece from Guangxu times [1875-1908].

It was the Double Ninth festival.

Shanxin picked up the Pu daughter and they went to visit the Wang girl

On the thirteenth, they had the welcome meal

On the fourteenth the Pu girl wanted to go home

But Shanxin from Yutian tried to persuade her

To be patient and stay a few days longer.

They went home on the morning of the sixteenth

When the laotong got home she was upset,

And fell ill from the inauspicious timing.

On the seventeenth she was much worse,

It was time to kneel and beseech heaven for her full lifespan,

She was about to die.

They hired an exorcist, but it didn’t work,

And she was even worse on the morning of the twentieth.

The sixth Tang daughter came to visit,

Was seated in the main room,

And asked where her laotong was.

Her laotong’s father’s older brother’s wife told her

That she was sick in bed upstairs.

The Tang girl raced up the stairs,

Her left foot at the bottom, her right foot suddenly at the top,

And when she got to the top, she called to her friend

She told her laotong to rest easy.

The laotong opened her eyes

And saw Six standing beside her bed,

But she was too weak to speak,

Only ten percent alive, about to die.

The father’s older brother’s wife and elder sisters

Talked it over and decided to hire a doctor;

They would hire Qiaosheng, her father’s younger brother’s laotong

They went to the west entrance of Hejia Village [to get the doctor]

Yuchen, the doctor came quickly,

Came to the main entrance of Pujia Village

The academician brought him in and offered him a seat,

Then he could have a smoke and then go upstairs to see.

The doctor felt her pulse and determined she was very sick

So sick her condition was grave indeed.

All he could do was write a prescription,

And it was as if the gods themselves had prescribed the medicine;

They wrapped his payment of 400 cash in red paper

And Yuchen took it and went home.

When he got home he said to his wife

The academician’s daughter is going to die.

The only recourse now was the temple;

You don’t want to be going all over the place hiring doctors.

She died during the night of the 24th,

How pitiful the three young people were

They cried and cried and cried,

They wailed and cried, but she wouldn’t come back.

She was a tender hibiscus leaf

It was the joyful time of her life

On the morning of the 25th, the body was moved from the bed to the floor,

And then taken downstairs to be groomed and dressed.

Sixth daughter Tang combed her hair and dressed her,

And after lunch the body went into the coffin.

On the morning of the seventh, the Daoists performed their rites

And friends saw them off.

The young people sat in the main room,

Watching with heartwrenching sorrow as their laotong’s coffin was carried out.

When Sixth Daughter Tang got home she had an idea:

She took some cash and bought incense to burn.

Qiunü of Pujia didn’t have any money of her own,

So she pawned a pair of bracelets to buy incense to burn.

Shanxin of Yutian didn’t have anything, no candles, no incense

No money or rice to buy incense with

On the morning of the 10th, they took the coffin to the grave,

Along with the coffin of a younger brother of her father’s who had also died.

First they came out with the coffin of the young man,

And then the coffin of the laotong.

Eight pallbearers walked briskly along

Carrying the coffin to the mountain outside the village.

Dirt rained on the coffin as it was buried,

And two spirit tablets were placed in the ancestral hall

Two spirit tablets, one on the left, one on the right

Young people now worshipped as spirits.

Laotong invitation

The phoenix rises to invite a companion,

Surprising a same.

The Dragon Boat Festival has come,

I write a letter to your worthy gate

To ask you, girl, to join together.

I ask: girl, are you true?

If you are true, and wouldn’t mind,

Answer my letter, write true words.

I am poor, improper,

No companion for the proper people of your worthy home.

The sunbird told me; we haven’t met.

Hearing from afar life is good in your worthy home,

I got the idea to join with you.

First I send a letter poem to your worthy gate.

Open and read it; the meaning’s not deep.

I just hope Same won’t mind.

We’ll join together.

Today, I write the first letter,

To ask you, girl, to listen to me:

It was fated in a former life that we join,

It is fated in this life that we make a good match.

I, upstairs, would be happy to.

Moonlight shone on the immortals and had them match us.

People everywhere will envy us,

Joining on this good feeling, ten times better.

I’ve heard from afar of the girl who can write in your worthy home.

All along, a proper family, educated people.

We’ll join, match well.

We each have one elder brother, one younger.

Our parents are healthy and carefree.

A pair of mandarin ducks in the cave of the immortals,

A bridge over the river, we’ll walk to and fro,

The river flows long to the deepening sea.


Fine brush in hand, I write

To answer Girl: truly you have heart.

Two days ago I received your gift,

All along proper people, an educated family.

When I received your worthy letter, opened it and read,

Every line had cause, meaning most profound.

I return a crude missive to your worthy home,

Offered to you who know my heart to fan herself.

You are the daughter of a worthy home.

The fan you did makes my heart beautiful.

I’ve taken your fan in hand and read it many times,

Every moment I recite it in my heart, in my mouth.

We’ll join together, join,

Join good sympathy, our hearts happy.

Same like a pearl by Mother’s side,

I just hope you won’t mind,

We’ll join on good feeling, our hearts glad.

People everywhere will envy our good match.

We each have one elder brother, one younger.

Today I send a letter to receive you,

I ask you, girl, to come to my home,

Even though our lowly gate hardly compares with yours.

I’ve a coarse heart, careless.

I’ll have you stay a few days,

We’ll speak in whispers, exchange sympathy.

You asked me if I was true,

My heart is true to go with you.

We’ll embroider together upstairs,

Choose our colors, thread our needles, talk it over.

Your mother was a girl like us,

Born of an educated family, proper people,

When you open to read my crude writing, don’t laugh.

I just hope the two of you will be tolerant.

Laotong invitation

The true dragon dwells in the palace in the sea,

The carp spit pearls.

I go first with a useless idea,

I ask you dear, are you true?

The phoenix frolics in water.

Same, do you agree?

My whole heart’s for this.

I ask dear you, yes or no?

Snowbeans and papaya:

Long vines, deep roots.

Palm trees inside the garden wall

Have deep roots, stand one thousand years.

Let’s join on closeness [qin],

Not be picky.

A pair of thrush birds,

Pair upon pair like beautiful eyebrows.

Mother and Father’s rules are good,

Every heart is glad.

Same, if you really agree,

Let’s the two of us make a match.

On the fourth day of the seventh month,

My village poles punts.

I’ll come for you on the second.

These are not empty words.

We’re proper daughters,

My good dear let’s match,

Become of one family.

Everyone will look on us with envy.

Cultivated girls in the flowerbowl,

Lotus blossoms in the flowerbowl,

Same, true love,

Our hearts are one.

The two of us will sit upstairs,

Thread our needles, choose our colors.

Our parents really agree.

Same, our hearts are glad.

In the fifth month comes the Dragon Boat Festival,

A hundred birds fly high, form lines.

Watching people passing each other on the road,

I think of you, same, and my heart is glad.

I get up and comb and dress before the high mirror,

But I don’t see you, same; where are you?

At first watch I light a lamp, climb the stairs, and sit,

Sit in stillness, idle, and my tears fall.

At second watch, I think everyone is sleeping,

I take the pipe in hand to lighten my heart.

At third watch I open the window and look out,

But don’t see the golden star keeping the moon company.

It’s always one star companion to one moon,

Not any old star can go with the moon.

We are upstairs girls, one thousand gold,

We don’t match with just anybody.

One, Mother and Father’s rules are good,

Two, a gentleman keeps his word.

Father and Mother really agree.

Sons and daughters pair off.

The two of us will sit upstairs,

Thread our needles, choose our colors.

Laotong reply

In the lake, the sea, the lake south, the dragon leaves its cave,

Wearing a pearl forever bright clear to the bottom.

A letter in verse sent to you,

I know it’s not as good as yours.

Perhaps you won’t mind.

You’re ten times better than I;

You’re a proper girl from a worthy home,

And you’re smart.

Talk in whispers.

The thrush shaped mountain,

Combed and dressed bright as water,

You walk like the goddess Guanyin.

From calabash a precious fan.

Worthy dear, beloved friend,

If you are my true match,

Write back with truth.

Cultivated girls in the flowerbowl,

Lotus blossoms in the flowerbowl.

Snowbeans and papaya:

Vines long, roots deep.

Palm trees in the garden wall

Have deep roots, stand a thousand years.

Proper girls together.

Good dear, let’s join.

Father and Mother agree,

Same, our hearts are glad.

This year went by empty,

We’ll put our hearts into next year.

Speak true words,

The two of us, heart friends,

Father and Mother agree,

And Sister in law has a caring heart.

Like heavenly sprites,

A pair of dragons leaves the cave.

Make the match like sisters.

Don’t be too picky.

Send a letter to my house,

And stay with me a few days.

My whole heart’s here.

I ask you: are you backing out or not?

The phoenix frolics in water.

Same, are you true?

Let’s match like sisters.

These are not empty words.

We are proper girls,

We’ll be together always,

Like a pair of mandarin ducks,

With feeling as deep as flowing seas.

The heavenly spirits have joined us,

We’ll be together all our lives.

Everyone will look on us with envy.

We won’t be a step apart.

Father and Mother really agree.

I’ll bring you to my house,

The two of us will sit upstairs,

Thread our needles and ask each other

About flowers and colors.

Our parents really like this.

The two of us have hearts as one.

Shoes, silk, flowers, five colors.

Stay with me a few days,

Let’s be close and together.

Come to my house,

Come to my house and stay a few days,

I’ll see you home.

We’ll sit upstairs,

Thread our needles and talk,

Shoes, silk, flowers, five colors.

We’ll sit together, joined by the spirits,

We’ll speak in whispers,

Everyone will look on us with envy.

1 Meng Guang, wife of Liang Hong, famous for being an ugly, modest, devoted wife. Lie nü zhuan, juan 8. O’Hara translation p. 242. Hanyu da cidian, 4. 205-6.

2 Xie Daoyun, famous female poet of the Jin Dynasty. HYDCD, 11.374,

3 Distinguish the tones/notes of the qin. Cai Yan, aka Cai Wenji. Curious choice of musical talent here, given that she is best known for being the widow later married to the chieftan of the Xiongnu, then married once again upon her return, then suggesting the possibility of yet another husband in order to save her current husband’s life. See Women Writers of Traditional China, 22-23. HYDCD, 9. 538.

4 Yi’s paternal grandfather’s first wife was still there; the second wife had remarried by this point; the new wife here is the third wife, who bore a few children, none of whom survived.


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