During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, Commander Wang Fu-chen rebelled. His troops rioted and robbed wherever they went. They even seized all the women on their way, sacked them, and sold them out for four pieces of silver. This resulted in some unusual cases of Chinese marriage.
Mi Yao-lao, a young man in his twenties, took five pieces of silver in the hope of buying a young and pretty wife. He used one piece of silver to bribe the official, who took him into the barracks and told him to choose. He felt the sacks with his hands, and picked one with a slim waistline and tiny feet.
When Mi returned to his room, he was surprised to see an old woman in her seventies in the sack. Mi was disappointed and felt sorry for himself. Soon after, an old man came with a donkey carrying a pretty young girl. They also wanted to stay the night. The two men greeted each other.
The older one introduced himself as Liu, who was 67 years old. He boasted about the pretty young wife he got from the barracks, and invited Mi to have a drink with him at the local bar.
When the men were gone, the old woman walked into the old man’s room where the young girl was crying sadly. “Where did you come from?” “Pingyang,” the young girl replied. I’m Ge, and I’m 17 years old.” She told of her parents and brothers being killed, and her being sold to the old man, which she saw as a punishment. The old woman comforted her:
“I’m old and you’re young. I will be a burden to a young husband and you will only send an old husband to death soon. Why don’t we swap for the good of all four?! You will sleep in my room and I in your room tonight. Remember, you two have to leave early tomorrow morning, and I will stay with the old man as his wife.”
The two exchanged their clothing. The old woman brought the young girl to Mi’s room, covered her with a blanket, and reminded her not to speak a word that night. It was very late when the men returned. Heavily drunk, both went straight to sleep.
Mi was awakened in the middle of the night by urgent knocks on his door. He was surprised when he saw the old woman at the door. “Where did you go?” The old woman entered the room and closed the door behind her before she answered. She told him their plan.
Mi was happy, but then felt sorry for the old man. The old woman reasoned: “If you do as we plan, you not only save a young girl and have her as you wife, but also an old man who could have died soon from marrying a young wife.” Accepting the advice, Mi nodded and tried to express his gratitude. The old woman stopped him and sent them off.
When the old man woke up and saw the old woman lying beside him, he was so mad that he punched her and made a big fuss. He wanted to go after the runaway couple. The owner of the rooms, however, advised him:
“The couple left hours ago. How can you catch up with them? But if you take this old woman home, you two will live a very good life because you are a perfect match for each other.” The old woman promised: “If you let them go, you are actually helping yourself, and I promise to take good care of you.”
The old man finally settled his old wife on the donkey, and together they left for home.
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