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A Peacock Flies Southeast 1

Anonymous (c. 200 CE)

Prologue. During the Jian-an Period in the final years of the Han dynasty, Lan-zhi Liu, the wife of Zhong-qing Jiao who was a low official of Lu-jiang County 2, was banished by her mother-in-law. Lan-zhi swore that she would not marry again. Her brother forced her to marry the governor's son. Consequently, Lan-zhi drowned herself in a pond. After Zhong-qing heard of her death, he hanged himself on a tree in his yard. Their contemporaries were saddened by this tragedy and wrote this poem.


A peacock flies southeast.
Every few miles she tarries 3.
Lan-zhi 4 Liu wrote to her husband, Zhong-qing Jiao,
"I could weave silk at the age of thirteen.
Sew clothes at fourteen,
Play the lute at fifteen,
And recite poetry at sixteen.
Since I married you at seventeen,
My life has been miserable.
Because you work in a low position at the county seat,
You can return home only on holidays.
I have to rush to the loom as soon as I hear the first rooster crow.
I often weave until the middle of the night,
But I am not allowed to take breaks.
Even though I complete five bolts of cloth in three days,
My mother-in-law says I fail to work fast enough to meet her requirement.
It is not that I weave slowly,
But that being her daughter-in-law is difficult.
I cannot bear to be her slave.
If I stay here, nothing will change.
So I tell her it is better for me to return to my mother's house."

After Zhong-qing learned of the argument between his mother and his wife,
He returned and said to his mother,
"A fortuneteller told me that my allotment of happiness is poor.
I am lucky to have such a good wife.
Since she was seventeen, we have shared the same bed.
I wish even death would not keep us apart.
We have been married for less than three years.
It can be said our happy marriage has been brief.
Lan-zhi has done nothing wrong.
What has made you dislike her?"
His mother replied,
"Why are you so stupid and stubborn?
Your wife is headstrong and contrary.
I have been angry with her for a long time.
You should not disobey your mother's wishes regarding her.
There is a worthy girl in this neighborhood.
Her name is Lo-fu Qing.
She is extremely beautiful.
I will request of her parents that she be your new wife.
You must divorce Lan-zhi Liu quickly.
Once she leaves, do not allow her to return."
Zhong-qing knelt down in front of his mother and said,
"If you force me to divorce Lan-zhi,
I will never marry again."
After his mother heard this,
She pounded the table and shouted,
"How dare you!
I cannot believe you go so far as to speak in her defense.
I resolve to disavow her as my daughter-in-law
And will never consent to let her stay."

Zhong-qing bowed to his mother
And quietly withdrew to Lan-zhi's boudoir.
He told her while sobbing,
"I will not divorce you,
But my mother would force me to do so.
It is better for you to visit your parents’ house for the time being.
I must go to my office immediately.
When I return home, I will bring you back.
You should patiently wait for my plan to work.
Please do what I have asked."
Lan-zhi told him,
"You need not trouble yourself to bring me back.
I recall that on our wedding day in December
I said farewell to my parents
And came to your house to marry you.
Since then, my only intention has been to please your mother.
I dare not have my own opinion.
Working diligently day and night,
I am busy and tired all day long.
I am trapped in this vicious cycle like an ant in a hot oiled pan.
In view of the fact that I have done nothing wrong,
I wish I could have the honor to serve your mother with gratitude.
Even so, I am still banished by her.
How can you bring me back?
Before I leave, I have something for you:
A shiny and colorful jacket that I have made and embroidered,
A red silk double-layered net with sachets hanging on its four corners,
And more than sixty chests bound with green ropes.
All the items in these chests are different.
They include everything you like.
Your mother would think these items are trash
And should not be given to your new wife.
You may keep them as mementos.
I may not be able to see you any more.
These items may console you when I am gone.
I hope they may remind you of my love."

A rooster crowed; the sun was about to rise.
Lan-zhi began to put on her splendid attire:
She slipped on her silk shoes,
Wore pearl earrings,
And a shiny hairpin made of tortoise-shell.
After trying on four or five different garments,
She chose to wear an embroidered and lined skirt.
A silk ribbon fluttered around her waist.
Her fingers were white like a bunch of green onions with their top parts removed.
Her lips were so red that it was as though her month had held a ruby.
She walked gently with small steps.
Her graceful movement was absolutely unrivaled.
Then Lan-zhi went to her mother-in-law to say farewell.
The latter did not ask the former to stay.
Lan-zhi said,
"I was born to a rural family.
I lacked a noble upbringing in childhood.
I felt inadequate when I married your noble son.
On our wedding day my family received a large bride-price from you.
Since I came to your house,
The workload you expected from me has driven me to distraction.
Now I return to my mother's house.
I am afraid that you may have to work harder around the house."
Then Lan-zhi said farewell to her sister-in-law.
Their tears fell like a string of pearls.
Lan-zhi said to her sister-in-law,
"When I married your brother,
You were still a child.
Now I am banished by your mother.
You have grown to be a young woman.
After I leave,
You must take good care of your mother and yourself.
We used to play together at Qi-xi 5 ad Xia-jiu 6 Festivals.
I hope these festivals may remind you of our past happiness."
Then Lan-zhi entered a carriage and left.
A hundred lines of tears etched her cheeks.

Zhong-qing rode a horse; Lan-zhi’s carriage trailed behind.
The carriage rumbled over the bumpy roads.
After they reached the cross road
Where they had to go their separate ways,
Zhong-qing dismounted and entered Lan-zhi’s carriage.
He lowered his head and whispered to her,
"I swear I will not divorce you.
You must stay at your mother's house for the time being.
I will return to my office immediately.
As soon as I return home
I will bring you back."
Lan-zhi said to Zhong-qing,
"I appreciate your loving care.
Now that you will not forget me,
I look forward to seeing you soon.
You should act like a huge rock.
I should act like a rush beside the rock.
Rushes are pliable like silk.
A rock stays firm and will not change its position.
I have an elder brother.
He has the fury of the God of Thunder.
I am afraid that he might not listen to my will.
When I think about this,
I am consumed by worry."
Then they waved good-bye to each other,
Reluctant to part.

After returning to her mother's house,
Lan-zhi was caught in a dilemma
And was too ashamed to see her mother.
Her mother was so astonished
That she slapped her own thigh and asked,
"What happened to you?
I taught you weaving when you were thirteen,
Sewing when you were fourteen,
Playing the lute when you were fifteen,
Manners as well as etiquette when you were sixteen,
And married you to the Jiao family when you were seventeen.
I warned you that you should not make mistakes.
If you have not committed any mistakes,
How can you be banished by your mother-in-law?"
Lan-zhi vindicated herself saying she had done nothing wrong.
Her mother was heartbroken.
After Lan-zhi had remained at her mother's house for a little more than ten days,
The county magistrate sent a matchmaker to see her mother.
The matchmaker said,
"The county magistrate wants Lan-zhi to marry his third son.
The boy is talented, eloquent, and handsome.
In addition, he is only eighteen years old."
The mother said to her daughter,
"You should say yes to the matchmaker."
Lan-zhi said tearfully,
“When I left for home,
Zhong-qing promised to bring me back.
He swore that nothing would keep us apart.
I do not think it is appropriate for me to violate my promise
By marrying the magistrate's son.
Haste may easily cause mistakes.
We should decline the proposal for now
And take our time in considering marriage."
Then Lan-zhi's mother told the matchmaker,
“Poor and lowly as I am,
I feel honored by your visit.
My daughter is banished by her mother-in-law after a brief marriage.
She is unworthy to be the wife of a low-ranking official.
How can she deserve to marry the magistrate's noble son?
There are plenty of nice young women available.
It is improper for me to approve your proposal."

A few days after the matchmaker told the county magistrate about the decision,
The magistrate sent an official to the governor to ask for instructions.
The governor told the official,
"I have heard Lan-zhi Liu is a descendent of a high official.
My fifth son has been raised by doting parents and is still single.
I want you to be a matchmaker for them.
If the Liu family approves our proposal,
Contact my secretary immediately."
After the official returned,
He visited the Liu family and said straightforwardly,
"The fifth son of our governor is a handsome young man.
The governor wants Lan-zhi Liu to be his fifth son's wife.
This is the reason the governor sent me here."
Lan-zhi's mother said,
"My daughter made an oath with her ex-husband.
I dare not give you my consent."
After Lan-zhi's brother heard this,
He was vexed and upset.
So he said to his sister,
“Why don’t you consider your future?
The difference between marrying the governor's son and marrying a low county official
Is like that between heaven and earth.
If you marry the governor’s son, it will glorify yourself.
If you decline their proposal, where can you go afterwards?"
Lan-zhi looked down and contemplated for a while.
Suddenly, she faced her brother and said 7,
I thought it over and found what you have said is true.
I said farewell to our mother and got married.
Now I am banished to your house 8.
You may arrange my marriage as you please.
I dare not indulge in my emotions
And voice my headstrong opinion.
Though I made a promise to my ex-husband,
It is my fate that he and I should not meet again.
Go ahead and approve their proposal.
I will marry the governor's son."

After the official received the approval,
He said, "Good! It shall be done this way."
Then he went to the state capital and told the governor,
"I have completed your task."
The governor was pleased and opened an almanac.
He said, "They should be married within this month.
The thirtieth, the luckiest day of the year, should be their wedding day.
Today is the twenty-seventh.
You must prepare for the wedding quickly."
All the governor's servants were busy preparing for the upcoming wedding.
They ran on the streets in an endless stream.
The procession to fetch the bride included a fleet of picturesque boats
Whose prows were shaped like the heads of swans or fish-hawks.
Flagpoles were erected on the four corners of each boat.
The flags, each with dragon pictures, fluttered in the wind.
The procession would also include a fleet of carriages with jade wheels.
Fine horses ornamented with colorful cloth would march in synchronous gait.
The saddles would be embossed with gold designs.
The governor gave the Liu family three million dollars as the bride-price.
A green silk string was threaded through each pack of coins 9.
The dowry also included three hundred bolts of cloth in various colors
And delicacies from the states of Guangdong and Jiao-zhi 10.
There were more than four hundred servants in the governor's mansion.
They would join the procession on the wedding day.
Lan-zhi's mother told her daughter,
"I just received the governor's letter.
They will come to fetch you tomorrow.
You should not be caught unprepared.”
Lan-zhi did not say a word.
She wept, covering her face with a handkerchief.
Her tears fell like rain.
She moved her glass chair in front of a window.
With scissors and a ruler in her left hand
And silk in her right hand,
She made a lined skirt in the morning
And finished a top at sunset.
It was getting dark.
Lan-zhi went out crying, consumed with sorrow.

After Zhong-qing heard that Lan-zhi would marry the governor's son,
He asked for leave to see her.
Less than three miles away from her home,
Zhong-qing's horse wailed as though it was aware of its master's sorrow.
Lan-zhi recognized the sound of Zhong-qing's horse.
She lightened her steps and saw Zhong-qing approaching from a distance.
When they met, Lan-zhi petted the horse and heaved a sorrowful sigh.
She said, "Since we parted, things have changed dramatically.
The outcomes are so unpredictable
That it is difficult to explain the details in a hurry.
My mother and my brother forced me to marry the governor’s son.
They have already approved the marriage.
What hope can you have?"
Zhong-qing said to Lan-zhi,
"I congratulate your rise in status.
The rock is thick and stable.
It may last a thousand years.
In contrast, the rush is pliable only for a short while 11.
Indeed, it seems for less than a month.
As you improve your life and station,
I will go to the underworld alone."
Lan-zhi said,
"Why do you say such inconsiderate words?
Your mother forced you to divorce me.
My brother forced me to marry the governor's son.
We shall meet in the underworld.
Do not violate our oath today."
Then they held hands and returned to their homes.
They resolved to die as they parted.
The sorrow they bore was beyond description.
Although there were a thousand reasons to live,
They were willing to part with this world.

Zhong-qing returned home and went to see his mother.
He said, "Today a storm destroyed all the trees.
The orchids in the yard were covered with deep frost 12.
My life comes to a dead end like the sun is setting.
I have to abandon you and leave you alone in this world.
Committing suicide is my own decision.
You should not blame gods or ghosts.
I wish you health and happiness.
May you live as long as Tai-shan Mountain."
After his mother heard these words,
Her tears fell intermittently.
She said, "You are a descendant of a high official
Who served in the emperor's cabinet.
You must not commit suicide because Lan-zhi has left.
We have not mistreated her.
She is unworthy to be your wife.
Her family's social rank is so low.
There is a clever girl in the eastern neighborhood.
She is the most beautiful girl in the town.
Tomorrow I will go ask her to marry you."
Zhong-qing said farewell to his mother and withdrew to his room.
He heaved a long sigh and resolved to die.
When he looked back to see his old mother through his door,
He lost his resolve to carry out his plan immediately.
He was still terribly upset and tormented by his agony.

On Lan-zhi's wedding day carriages crowded around her house.
It was a scene of bustle and excitement.
The governor's son brought Lan-zhi to the wedding hall to bow to each other.
It became dark after sunset
And quiet after nine o'clock in the evening.
Lan-zhi said, "I will end my life tonight.
My soul will leave this world even though my body remains."
Then she traveled to a clear pond
Where she took off her shoes, hiked up her skirt, and walked into the depth.
Having heard of her death,
Zhong-qing resolved to follow her to the underworld.
After walking back and forth beneath a tree in his yard,
He hanged himself on the southeastern branch.

The Jiao and Liu families decided to bury Zhong-qing and Lan-zhi together by Hua-shan Mountain 13.
They planted pine, cypress, and phoenix trees 14 around their tomb.
The branches covered each other.
The leaves brushed against each other.
Among the trees there were a pair of Mandarin ducks 15 which always fly together.
They sang face to face through the night until four o’clock in the morning.
Passersby would stop their footsteps to listen.
When widows heard their song, they would rise and pace to and fro.
I hope parents of later generations will learn a lesson from this story
And will not repeat the same mistakes.


1 I. This poem first appeared in the poetry book, Yu-tai-xin-yong (New Songs in the Palace), compiled by Ling Xu (507-583). The book says that an anonymous poet wrote this poem in honor of Zhong-qing Jiao’s wife.
II. The Tang dynasty was a golden age of Chinese poetry. The number of great poets in that era exceeded 1,150. During the Tang dynasty Chinese poetry was divided into three classes: Quatrain, regulated poetry, and classical poetry. Classical poetry was divided into three subclasses: the poetic form with five characters to a line, the poetic form with seven characters to a line, and Yue-fu (folk style poetry).
    During the Han dynasty Emperor Wu-di established "Yue-fu (music-office)" in charge of collecting people's poetry, and then adding in background music. The purpose of this office was to understand people's problems and train students to perform at the imperial theater. Later, the ballads and folk style poems the office collected were also called "Yue-fu". The above poem belongs to the class of Yue-fu (folk style poetry).
    After Wu-di of the Han dynasty built temples to worship Heaven and Earth, he ordered Xiang-ru Si-ma to write hymns and Yan-nian Li to add in background music. Later, Yan-nian Li was appointed as the emperor's chamberlain in charge of palace music.
Folk style poetry was inseparable from folk songs. The classification of Yue-fu first appeared in Talents in Folk Style Poetry written by Seng-qian Wang. The Classification of Yue-fu in The Summary of Folk Style Poetry written by Qiao Zheng (1104-1162) was more precise. Based on the above classifications, Yue-fu was divided into four classes during the Han dynasty:
1. Ceremonial songs when people offered sacrifices to gods or ancestors. The class of Song poems (odes) in The Book of Poetry is a typical example.
2. Marching songs accompanied by drums, cymbals, flageolets, and wind pipes. Most of these songs came from China’s northern nationalities in the beginning of the Han dynasty. Consequently, this class of songs was called Bei-di-yue (Northern Di songs). The earliest song was composed by Qi-bo during Emperor Huang-di’s reign. It was used to establish majesty and power, promote virtue, intimidate the enemy, and recruit brave soldiers. An emperor used these songs accompanied by drums and wind pipes to entertain court officials when he held a banquet in the palace. Songs accompanied by cymbals and flageolets were played when an emperor awarded officials who had performed meritorious services.
3. (Songs of harmonious tune) Classical songs in which string music is in harmony with pipe music. They were the old songs of the Han dynasty. This type of song was collected from folk songs all over China. Most of them came from Chu District and were called Chu tunes. Side tunes were derived from Chu tunes. Xu Xun of the Jin dynasty called the rest of the songs of harmonious tune "Qing-shang-yue (clear-[Shang tune]-songs)" and divided into three subclasses: clear tune using Shang tune as its key tune, flat tune using Gong tune as its key tune, and zither tune using Jiao tune as its key tune. Qing-shang-yue became popular during the Wei and Jin dynasties. From the Yong-jia Period of the Jing dynasty to the end of the Northern and Southern dynasties China suffered from the invasion of northern minorities. Traditional songs were scattered and lost in the area along the west part of the Yangtze River. During the late Wei dynasty Emperor Xiao-wen-di conquered the areas along the Huai River and the Han River; Emperor Xuan-wu-di captured Shou-chun City. They collected the songs in Southern China and called them Qing-shang-yue. They played this type of music at palace banquets. The songs of harmonious tune also included fifteen Great Songs: "Lo-fu" and "He-chang-bu (I always [do])" were love songs; "White Swan", "Composing Music" and "An Emperor Promotes Virtue" featured a fast tempo; "Grey Hair", the last Great Song, summarized the theme of the set of Great Songs. These features of Great Songs are similar to those of folk songs popular during the Southern dynasties which were divided into two classes: The Songs of Wu District featured love songs; Western Songs described the sorrow from separation.
4. Miscellaneous.
    Chapter sixty-one of Fork Style Poetry written by Mao-qian Guo says, "Every dynasty has its miscellaneous songs. They express one's thoughts, longings, pleasures, sorrows, or sufferings. They may originate from Taoism or Buddhism. They may come from foreign countries."
    The song "Xi-zhou-qu (western-island-music)", popular during the Qi and Liang dynasties (Northern and Southern dynasties), belonged to this class. Xi-zhou-qu mainly described the homesickness of boat passengers or the sorrow of the wives of traveling merchants.
III. After reading the poem, "A Peacock Flies Southeast", one may desire to view the video, and listen to the audio, Both the video and the audio are based on the story of the above poem and entitled "A Peacock Flies Southeast".

2 "Annotations on Folk Style Poetry" written by Yi-duo Wen says, "The seat of Lu-jiang County was located eighty miles west of present day Lu-jiang-xian City. During the final years of the Han dynasty the county seat was moved to present day Qian-shan-xian City in Anhui Province."

3 In Chinese mythology, a phoenix is considered a male bird and a peacock a female bird due to its beauty; a peacock is the spouse of a phoenix. When a peacock leaves her spouse, she frequently looks back because she is reluctant to part with her mate.

4 "Lan" means "orchid"; "zhi" means "ling-zhi". In Chinese mythology, ling-zhi refers the blossoms of a heavenly fungus. It was said that they could be used as medicinal herbs to cure all illnesses.

5 "Qi-xi" refers to "the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar". This is Chinese Valentine's Day. In Chinese mythology, on this evening magpies use their bodies to build a bridge in the sky for Star Herd-boy and Star Weaving-maid to meet. Women use colorful thread to thread their needles and offer fruits to gods in their yard. By so doing, they pray for divine instructions for the improvement of their needlework.

6 "Xia-jiu" means "the nineteenth day of a month in the Chinese lunar calendar". In ancient China, women gathered together and went on an excursion on the nineteenth day of every month.

7 Yu-gu Zhang said, "There were reasons that Lan-zhi did not argue with her brother. The governor held the absolute power. It is difficult for his subordinates to decline his request. Her brother had the fury of the God of Thunder. It is difficult to use virtue to argue with him. At this juncture she understood that it is impossible to turn the tide. Consequently, she decided to die. However, she pretended to yield to her brother's wishes because she wanted to eliminate their suspicion so that she might sneak out of the house to meet Zong-qing."

8 In ancient China, a woman’s social status was low: A woman had to obey her husband; if her husband died, she had to obey her son. Even though Lan-zhi Liu returned to her mother’s house, Lan-zhi’s elder brother was actually in charge of the house.

9 There is a central hole on each coin. In order to make it convenient to carry these coins, a string is threaded through each pack of coins.

10 The State of Jiao-zhi is now called Vietnam.

11 Yu-gu Zhang said, “Here Zhong-qing blamed Lan-zhi for she was too weak to resist her brother’s manipulation; she could not make her own decision.”

12 Zhong-qing used these two lines to hint that disaster was imminent.

13 Based on what Guan-ying Yu said, we can infer that Hua-shan Mountain may refer to present day Hua-gai-shan Mountain, twenty miles south of Shu-cheng-xian City in Anhui Province. Music Records, quoted from Chapter forty-six in Folk Style Poetry, says, “The song, ‘In a neighborhood of Hua-shan Mountain’, originated from the following story: During the reign of Emperor Shao-di of the Liu-song dynasty, a young man from Nan-xu City traveled from a neighborhood near Hua-shan Mountain to Yun-yang City. While staying at a hotel, he saw a beautiful girl of eighteen or nineteen years of age. He loved her, but he was too shy to speak to her. Consequently, he became lovesick. His mother asked what was making him ill. He explained it to her. His mother went to Hua-shan Mountain to visit the girl. The girl was moved, so she removed her throw, handed it to the mother, and said, ‘Hide it under his bed sheet. He will recover soon.’ In a few days, the young man recovered as expected. One day the man suddenly removed his bed sheet, saw the throw, and clutched it to his chest. Then he swallowed it and died. When he was dying, he told his mother, ‘On the way to my burial, the wagon carrying my coffin should pass by Hua-shan Mountain.’ His mother followed his request. When the wagon reached the girl’s house, the cow pulling the wagon would not move even though it was struck by a whip. The girl said, ‘Wait for a moment.’ She took a bath, dressed herself up, and then came out. She sang, ‘In the neighborhood of Hua-shan Mountain/ You died because of me./ What use is it for me to live alone?/ If you love me and have pity on me,/ You should open your coffin.’ Then the coffin opened. After the girl entered it, it closed itself. Her family tried to open it in vain. Therefore, the man and the girl were buried together. Their tomb was called ‘the Tomb of a Goddess’.” Thus, Hua-shan Mountain was a place that represents dying for love. However, it was only during or after the Liu-song dynasty that this story became popular. This shows that the poem “A Peacock Flies Southeast” was revised either during or after the Liu-song dynasty.

14 The long life span of these trees represents the enduring love between Zhong-qing Jiao and Lan-zhi Liu.

15 Mandarin ducks always walk and fly in pairs, a male and a female. They symbolize an affectionate couple.

A Peacock Flies Southeast (video)