Wang Lun Outtake 4The Prince's Daughter
Translation © C D Godwin 2018
The daughter of a leading family from Shunde refused to marry the man to whom she had been betrothed since birth and, mistreated, ran away to seek out the Broken Melon. The league had turned southwest from the swamp of Dalou, tried to head north past Shunde, the county town, to reach the hard slopes of the Taihang range. This lady, from the Bai clan, was young, stubborn and spoilt, proud of her ancestry. There was no great willingness to take in ladies who went about on Golden Lotus feet; it required many days before such cripples, unused to leaving the house, were able to walk short distances with the help of sticks. Meanwhile they needed constant care, and even later had to be accompanied most of the time.
Miss Bai was inducted into the rules of the Broken Melon. Astonished and attracted by the lively atmosphere around her, she resolved to submit to one and all. But when one evening a brother approached her, she found herself in no condition to receive him. It did not please her, and she found it too great a price for the freedom and prospects of her present existence. She thought: it may be the rule I have agreed to, but I’d rather hold the men off on a case by case basis. When a respected member of the league remonstrated with her, she had to confess that in her heart she found this precious rule repugnant.
Out of concern for certain brothers who were unsettled by her, they tried to persuade her to leave the league; and in fact she walked for four days, in the company of a woman, towards Shunde, her home town. But then she was overcome by fear of her father, and sinking down amid mulberries in broad daylight bewailed her fate, called out to passers-by, and as she would neither come nor go was led by the woman with a great deal of difficulty back to where the league was camping. There she declared despairing that she would submit to all if only she might not die.
Ma No ordered that no one should approach her; but the inevitable happened.
After she had lived peaceably as one of them for a few weeks, she became withdrawn. On some days she was more amiable, and once someone discovered that every noontime she went to a particular boulder near the camp to hide a letter, and in the evening went there again to find a reply. Investigations found that she was in correspondence with a notorious teahouse in her home town, and intended to sell herself as a lady of pleasure as protection against her father. As soon as this became known among the brothers, they shunned her and demanded her expulsion.
Miss Bai, a well brought up girl, played the lute, and went along village streets by day, singing like a madwoman the sorrows of a young princess who, spurning her betrothed, went to seek the Western Paradise in the Kunlun, and on the way was made drunk and forced to marry a turtle. She always sang the ballad differently, now in improvised verses bringing her present misfortune to the fore, now seduced by a fox, who led her to the walls that secured the Western Paradise only to bite off the little head with its scraggly pigtails. Every evening she went back and prayed with the sisters.
Before she had managed, blessed by the outward peace she could now enjoy, to put the finishing touches to the latest version of her song – in which she abandoned her betrothed, passed through rocky landscapes and over rivers towards the Kunlun, and a snappish longnosed demon who joined her along the way forced her by means of a little magic sword to scrub the soles of his feet – she was found hanging on the wall of a porcelain factory, in her mouth the moonshaped thumb ring with which she plucked the lutestrings.
The Prefect of the district made enquiries about the deceased; her father was informed. The prince, ashamed of his daughter, kept silent. Subordinate offices held back the Prefect’s report because they knew that their superiors in the county capital were loathe to become involved in the highly precarious sectarian situation. And so the report was left lying. Ma No did not give up the offenders. The brothers had imposed a fearfully strict discipline.