Episode 118: Broken mirrors

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In ancient China, you can find in a lot of literature, when people had to separate physically for certain reasons, especially a couple, they would have some objects which they would keep with them as a sign of their love and a trace of the other if they lost connection.

In Chinese language, we use the the word “broken mirror 破镜” to describe a separated couple physically or emotionally. The phrase “破镜 重圆”, which is literally translated as the broken mirror becomes round again, meaning the reunion of a couple physically or emotionally.

Today we will tell two stories about “broken mirrors.”


In the book TaiPingYuLan 太平御览from the Song dynasty 宋朝, around the year 977 to 983, in the Chapter called ShenYiJing 神异经, it says, once there was a couple before they had to separate from each other, they broke a bronze mirror. Just to explain here, at that time in China, mirrors were made of metal like polished copper or metal mixtures. Anyways, the couple broke a bronze mirror and each kept half of it as a sign of love which they need to hold on to forever and need to bring the next time they see each other.

However, during the time their separation, the wife had an affair with other man. Her half of the mirror transformed into a magpie, a kind of bird and flew to the husband. When the husband saw the bird, he knew everything that his wife changed her mind.

Separation sometimes can make couples break up but sometimes distance makes the hearts grow fonder. The next story maybe will give you more confidence about long distance relationships.

This story is from the book BenShiShi 本事诗from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 around the 6th ~ 9th century, it says there was a man called Xu DeYan 徐德言, who was an official working for the prince of the Kingdom Chen in the Southern dynasty 南朝. He was lucky enough that he married the Emperor’s sister’s daughter and they loved each other very much. At that time, the government was pretty corrupted and Xu DeYan predicated that disaster would come soon that there might be revolutions and wars. He was worried everyday and told his wife he was upset that when wars started they would likely get separated.


He had an idea that they broke a bronze mirror into halves and each of them kept a piece. He told his wife, “please always keep the mirror with you. If we got separated, on the 15th day of the first month every year, I would go to the market to check. You can let other people pretend to sell your half of mirror in the market. If I saw your half, I would know about you. ”

As Xu DeYan predicated, not after too long, wars started and the kingdom of Chen collapsed. Xu DeYan had to flee while his wife moved to the capital with the new government. The reason was due to their political background. Xu DeYan tried every way to find out that her wife was in the capital.

Finally on the 15th of the first month of the next year, Xu DeYan went to the market in the capital and saw an old man selling a half bronze mirror. He took out his half and they were the perfect match. Xu DeYan was so joyful and wrote a letter for his wife and let the old man bring back to his wife. The poet goes like this:

镜与人俱去, 镜归人不归。无复嫦娥影, 空留明月辉. Which means the mirror and the person were both gone and now the mirror is here while the person is gone. I can’t see the shadow of ChangE 嫦娥 but only the moonlight. ChangE is the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology that we talked about in ep. 84. The poem conveyed his love and miss for his wife.

When his wife saw the poem along with half of the mirror, she cried everyday without eating. In the end, they got back together and the broken mirror becomes round again.




太平御览 TaiPingYuLan

本事诗 BenShiShi

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