The legend of Zhuge Liang’s Feather Fan and the Mysterious Young Lady

Zhuge Liang became the apprentice of a Taoist Master since the age of 9, and began learning astronomy, geography, the philosophy of yin and yang, trigrams, and the art of war. (Machine Elf 1735/Wikipedia)
Zhuge Liang became the apprentice of a Taoist Master since the age of 9, and began learning astronomy, geography, the philosophy of yin and yang, trigrams, and the art of war. (Machine Elf 1735/Wikipedia)

Zhuge Liang, one of the famous people from ancient China: Part 2

Zhuge Liang was a famous statesman and military strategist during the Three Kingdoms period, and is a classic example of famous people from ancient China. Since ancient times, there have been many legends about him.

Besides familiar stories like Three Humble visits to a Thatched Cottage and To Borrow Arrows with Thatched Boats, there is also the legend about Zhuge Liang as a teenager studying with a Taoist Master.

As a boy, meeting his Daoist master

According to the legend, when Zhuge Liang was a boy, he was agile and witty, but was mute. When he was 9 years old, he was cured by an old, white-haired Taoist master. Thereafter, Zhuge Liang became the Taoist’s apprentice, and began learning astronomy, geography, the philosophy of yin and yang, trigrams, and the art of war. Zhuge Liang was intelligent, studious, endowed with a photographic memory, and deeply beloved by his master.

Zhuge becomes infatuated with a young woman

famous people from ancient china

Zhuge Liang became the apprentice of a Taoist Master since the age of 9, and began learning astronomy, geography, the philosophy of yin and yang, trigrams, and the art of war. (Machine Elf 1735/Wikipedia)

When he turned 17, Zhuge Liang’s fortunes suddenly changed. One day, while he was passing by a deserted nunnery, the wind began to strongly blow, bringing with it violent rain. He had no choice but to enter the nunnery to take shelter until the storm passed. While he was there, a young lady greeted him and invited him into her house for tea. She told him that her parents had passed away, and thus she lived alone at the nunnery.

The young woman was only 16 years old. She was attractive and looked like a fairy, with fine eyebrows and large eyes. On seeing her, Zhuge Liang’s heart palpitated with excitement.

After it stopped raining, he got up to leave. The young woman smiled at him, saying: “If you are ever thirsty and tired, please come back and take a tea break with me.” On his way home, Zhuge Liang felt it was a little strange, and wondered why he had never noticed someone living in the abandoned nunnery before.

After their first encounter, Zhuge Liang often went to the nunnery to talk, joke, and play chess with the young woman, all the while becoming distracted and tired of his studies with his Taoist Master.

He became absent-minded, and failed to memorize anything his Master taught. While reading, he could not hold his attention to the task at hand. When his Master asked him questions, he always gave irrelevant answers. Seeing this problem, the Taoist Master sighed and said to him: “It’s easier to destroy a tree than to cultivate one. My efforts during these years seem to have been futile!”

The Taoist Master pointed to a tree in the courtyard, which was entwined by kudzu vines, and asked Zhuge Liang: “Do you know why that tree is on the verge of dying and unable to grow well?”

“It is being strangled by the kudzu vines!” Zhuge Liang replied.

“Yes! For the tree growing on a mountain, where it is full of stones and there is little soil, it is indeed hard. But if it pushes its roots downward, it can grow its branches upward, becoming bigger and stronger. However, when the tree is strangled by the kudzu vines, it cannot grow up any longer. That’s when we say: “Trees fear being entangled by soft vines.”

Zhuge Liang realized that he couldn’t hide his secret from his Master anymore, and sheepishly asked: “Master! You know my situation?”

The Taoist said: “He who lives near the water knows the disposition of fish, and he who lives near the hill knows the sound of birds. Watching you closely and observing your actions, how could I not know your mind?”

famous people from ancient china

The Taoist Master advised Zhuge Liang: “Trees fear being entangled by soft vines.” (Kyle May/Flickr)

Zhuge’s Daoist master reveals true identity of the young woman

After being silent for a while, the Taoist Master solemnly told Zhuge Liang: “I will tell you the truth. That young woman you adore is not a human being. Originally, she was a crane in the Heavenly Palace, but she stole the Heavenly Queen Mother’s peach and ate it. She was expelled to Earth as a punishment, and she transformed herself into a beautiful woman. But she carries with her an ignorant, lazy, and lustful nature. You just pay attention to her beautiful face, but you don’t know she’s nothing but a fowl. If you keep being so muddle-headed, you will be nothing in your life! Someday, if you don’t listen to her, she will punish you.”

Zhuge Liang was alarmed, quickly asking his master what he should do.

The Taoist Master said: “The crane regularly flies up to the Milky Way at midnight for bathing in its true form. During this time, go into her room and burn her clothes. Those clothes are what she stole from the Heavenly Palace. If the clothes are incinerated, the crane won’t be able to transform into a human being again.”

Then his Master handed him a dragon-headed cane. “When the crane sees the nunnery on fire, it will definitely fly back from the Milky Way immediately. When she sees you burning her clothes, she definitely won’t let you go. If that crane tries to hurt you, you can hit it with this cane. You must remember this!”

That night at midnight, Zhuge Liang quietly went to the nunnery. As expected, on the bed were the young woman’s clothes, which he immediately lit on fire.

How Zhuge’s feather fan came about

While bathing in the Milky Way, and seeing flames coming out of the nunnery, the crane descended to Earth at lightning speed. On seeing Zhuge Liang burning her clothes, the crazed bird rushed at him, trying to peck out his eyes. He immediately raised his stick and hit the crane to the ground. He grabbed its tail, but the crane struggled free and flew away. Left in Zhuge Liang’s hand were a few tail feathers.

Thereafter, in order to remember this lesson, Zhuge Liang made a fan from the crane’s feathers, and he held it in his hand to remind himself that he should be cautious about everything, especially of things with an attractive outward appearance.

This is the origin of why Zhuge Liang always held a goose-feather fan in his hand.

famous people from ancient china

A crane from the Heavenly Palace was expelled to Earth as punishment for theft. She turned into a pretty young lady to seduce Zhuge Liang with her ignorant, lazy and lustful nature. (versageek/Flickr)

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