Episode 23: Crying Down The Great Wall

Click here to listen

When we talk about Chinese historical attraction, most people would think of the Great Wall of China. People always ask how long did it take to build such a master piece. If you take the earliest walls as fortification into account, it can be dated back to the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时期 between the 8th and 5th century BC, which was 2000 years ago. Most parts of the Great Wall were built during the year 220~ 206 BC in Qin Dynasty 秦朝, Han Dynasty 汉朝 between 202 BC ~ 220 and Ming Dynasty 明朝between 1368~ 1644. The Great Wall you see today is mostly build from Ming Dynasty. So the project lasted for 2000 years. We only see how amazing the Great Wall is, however, it took some much money and also so many people’s lives.

The legend we are talking about today is the Lady MengJiangNv 孟姜女 who cried down the Great Wall. This is a well-known love story which has so many variations evolved over the last 2000 years. The earliest version actually has nothing to do with the Great Wall or crying. In the book ZuoZhuan 左传, a chronicle of Spring and Autumn period from 722 to 468 BC about political, diplomatic and military affairs, there is a story about the wife of General Qiliang 杞梁 from the KingdomQi 齐国. We don’t know her name cause in ancient Chinese book, women’s names were mostly not recorded. In the year 549 BC, Qiliang died in a battle and his Lord QiZhuanggong齐庄公let his servant to condoled his wife on the road. His wife said she could not accept the condolences because it was not formal and his husband sacrificed in war and he deserved a more respectful ceremony. Lord QiZhuanggong was amazed by her courage and also her love for her husband and attended the formal funeral with his condolences. It seems like an normal thing to do today however in ancient China it is risky for her to do such a behavior.

In the book LiJi 礼记, it first mentioned Qiliang’s wife cried for the death of her husband. Later the story became more dramatic and even the identity of the main characters changed too since the story became popular among people and even was written into plays since Yuan Dynasty元朝. In the Qin and Ming Dynasty, as we mentioned early, it was one of the dynasties that most of the Great Wall was built. Tons of tons of men were forced to build the Great Wall and lost their lives and the story became totally different in Dynasty. I will tell a well-known version today.

The lady’s name is MengJiangNv. Nv means lady, Meng means she is the eldest child not born to the main wife and Jiang was the last name of the Lord of Qi. It says in the Qin Dynasty, a few days after MengJiangNv married her husband WanQiliang万杞梁, he was forced into service as labor build the Great Wall. She didn’t hear anything from him for so long and she decided to visit her husband and brought some winter clothes for the coming winter. Unfortunately, when she arrived the Great Wall she got the news that her husband already died and his body was buried with thousands of thousands of other people under the Great Wall. Hearing this, MengJiangNv cried so hard that it shook the wall and part of the Great Wall collapsed and revealed the dead bodies. Since she couldn’t identify which bones was belong to her husband, she pricked her finger with her hairpin. The blood fell from her finger and landed on a dead body. She became so devastated and buried her husband’s body before she committed to suicide. This end of the story always reminds me the end of the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame where when Quasimodo sees Esmeralda’s body, he dies with her and their bodies turn to dust.


For some reason, I never think the story of MengJiangNv is a love story maybe because there aren’t not a lot of part of the story to describe how much they love each other and how they fell in love. For me she is more like a heroine who was on an adventure to send her comfort to her husband. She broke the wall and successfully found him and buried him. There is a temple for MengJiangNv on the Great Wall. It is interesting cause the Great Wall seems like a very masculine master piece to defeat the invaders from the north, however, in China, the most well-known story about the Great Wall is all about a fearless woman.


the Great Wall of China

孟姜女 Lady MengJiangNv

左传 ZuoZhuan

礼记 LiJi

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s