Chinese Ancient Love Story: The Phoenix Seeks a Mate

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In the early years of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) Sima Xiangru leaves his home in what is now western China's Sichuan Province, and travels north to the capital, Chang'an, to seek an official post. The only post he can obtain is that of an imperial palace guard, which is far from satisfying a young man of his literary bent. And so, learning upon the occasion of a visit to the imperial court by the king of the vassal state of Liang, in the east, that this monarch highly esteems literary talent, Sima Xiangru journeys to Liang, where he makes a deep impression on the king. However, not long after that the king of Liang dies, and Sima Xiangru returns to his hometown of Chengdu. There, he learns that his father and his wife have both passed away in his absence. What is worse is that the family steward, Sun Xi, has taken advantage of the family's misfortunes to steal the household property. Shortly after Sima Xiangru arrives home, his mother too dies. Destitute, Sima Xiangru arrives home, his mother too dies. Destitute, Sima Xiangru's only recourse is to seek refuge with the prefect of neighboring Linqiong County, Wang Ji. One of the richest men in the same county, Zhuo Wangsun, has a daughter named Zhuo Wenjun. The girl is both beautiful and talented, and has been recently widowed. Zhuo Wenjun falls in love with Sima Xiangru when she hears him play the lute exquisitely at an evening party, and not long afterwards makes her way to his lodging at night. When Zhuo Wangsun learns of this, he is exceedingly angry. The lovers can no longer stay in Linqiong County, and so travel together to Chengdu. However, being unable to earn a living in Chengdu, they are forced back to Linqiong County, where they seek assistance from Wenjun's father. But Zhuo Wangsun cannot forgive them for the loss of face they have caused him, and he refuses to help them. He hopes that poverty will compel his daughter to leave Sima Xiangru and make a suitable remarriage. Wenjun refuses to bow to her father's demand; instead, she opens a wine shop, much to Zhuo Wangsun's chagrin. The latter has no choice but to offer his daughter a large amount of money, but only on condition that she and Sima Xiangru leave Linqiong County. So the couple once more move to Chengdu. There, they restore the Sima family's fortunes. But Sima Xiangru is not content with the life of a provincial gentleman, and after a few years goes to Chang'an again to seek his fortune. He gains the favor of Emperor Wu, and is joined later by Wenjun.

In Linqiong, a rich merchant named Cheng Zheng has been cheated out of all his wealth by Sun xi. He is reduced to begging, and, together with his daughter Shunniang, who sings for coppers in the street, makes his way to Chang'an. One day, while Shunniang is singing, Cheng Zheng falls ill. It happens that Sima Xiangru sees this, and takes father and daughter under his wing. Not long afterwards, Cheng Zheng dies, asking Sima Xiangru to take Shunninag as his wife after he is gone. Sima Xiangru, smitten by Shunniang's beauty, gives the dying man his word that he will do so. Wenjun is heartbroken, thinking that Sima Xiangru no longer loves her. She composes a lament, which so moves Sima Xiangru that he abandons his intention of taking Shunniang as his second wife, and instead gives her in marriage to the faithful Sima family retainer. Later, Sima Xiangru is dispatched by the emperor to a post in his hometown. There, he brings to wicked Sun Xi to justice. Seeing Sima Xiangru return in glory from the capital, Zhuo Wangsun consents to his daughter's marriage to him. The family is reunited in happiness.


Table of Contents

Chapter One  Xiangru Leaves Chengdu for the Capital
Chapter Two  A Lute Stirs the Heart of Miss Zhuo
Chapter Three  A Moonlight Elopement
Chapter Four  Zhuo Wangsun Is Shamed by a Tavern Keeper
Chapter Five  Sun Xi Plots Cheng Zheng's Downfall
Chapter Six  Destitute Shunniang Encounters Xiangru
Chapter Seven  The "White-Haired Lament" Wins Back a Husband
Chapter Eight  Xiangru and Wenjun Return Home in Glory

Chinese Ancient Love Story: The Phoenix Seeks a Mate