The Great Wall of China is not only well-known for its sheer length, but also for its legends. This is a tragic tale of two lovers whose love was so great, it brought down the mighty wall.
The story is about a girl named Meng Jingnu (孟姜女) and her beloved Fan Xiliang. Their love story is one of China’s four great folktales called “Meng Jiangnu Weeps” or “Meng Jiangnu bringing down the Great Wall with her tears” (孟姜女哭长城).
The Chinese legend starts with a childless couple with the family name Meng, who lived right next to another childless couple, with the family name Jiang. As the years went by the Meng couple decided to plant a gourd vine.
As the vine grew, it sprouted a gourd on the neighbor’s side of the fence. Both the Jiang and Meng families, having been friends for a long time, decided to share the gourd.
But when they cut the gourd in half, to their amazement, a pretty baby girl was lying inside. Just like the gourd, both families decided to raise her together, that is how she received the name Meng Jiang Nu, which means Meng and Jiang’s daughter (nu stands for female/woman/daughter in Chinese).
Jiangnu grew to be very beautiful and also very kind. She took care of both families, and everybody grew very fond of her. One day while walking in the gardens, she discovered a man hiding in the bushes; she instantly called for her parents.
When the man revealed himself, she found him to be a good looking man named Fan Xiliang. Fan was hiding from officials who were forcing young men to start building the Great Wall. The couple fell in love with each other and were married.
However their happiness was short lived. Just three days after the marriage Xiliang was discovered by officials and taken away to build the wall. For the entire year Meng sat alone with no word of news about the wall or the well-being of her husband.
One night Meng had a disturbing dream that her beloved Xiliang was freezing on the wall. It had shaken her so much she started knitting warm clothes for him instead of going back to bed. It was then she decided no matter the cost, she would find him.
After days and nights of climbing over mountains, wadding through rivers, slipping and falling many times, she finally reached the foot of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan Pass. However, once she arrived she soon found out she was too late.
Meng’s husband had died from exhaustion, and was buried somewhere beneath the Great Wall among thousands of other workers. Upon hearing the news Meng Jiang cried with grief for her beloved husband. She wept for three days and three nights.
On the third day there was a sudden tremendously loud noise; part of the wall where Meng was grieving had just collapsed (Chinese believe in telepathy between heaven and man, therefore they believed that man’s cries could move God, and that’s why she was able to “bring down the Great Wall with her tears”).
Emperor Qin Shihuang (Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) who happened to be touring the wall at that exact time wanted to punish Meng for destroying the wall. However, when the soldiers brought him Meng Jiangnu, he was overwhelmed by her beauty, and decided instead of punishing her, he’d marry her instead.
Meng Jiangnu had no choice; she had to agree, but only under three conditions: first, her husband was to be given a proper burial; second, the emperor as well as his court must go into mourning for Xiliang; and thirdly, she wanted to see the ocean.
The emperor was displeased with giving a proper funeral to a commoner, however he agreed. After the funeral she was determined to escape the emperor and reunite with her one true husband, Xiliang. So when she arrived at the ocean, she committed suicide by throwing herself into the ocean near the Bohai Sea.
Through the people’s hatred toward Emperor Qinshihuang, the story of “Meng Jiangnu” was created. It reflects the grievances that the ancient people had toward tyranny as well as the praise of unyielding women.
The Temple of Meng Jiangnu was established in the Song Dynasty around 1,000 years ago. It has continued to be maintained and worshiped at the eastern beginning of the Great Wall, in the Qinhuangdao City of Hebei Province.