Lady Ying of Qin
Lady Ying was a daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (reigned 659 – 620 BCE). She is one of the few women mentioned in the Zuo zhuan, or Zuo Commentary, written around the 4th century BCE, a chronological collection of narratives about the feudal states of China during the later Zhou dynasty (the Spring and Autumn Period 春秋 770 – 476 BCE). The Zuo zhuan paints her as a confident, assertive woman, even if she does not escape the restrictive role given to her by society and the deprecatory comments of the male actors in it. When I began reading the Zuo zhuan, this representation of women as complex characters in their own right was a pleasant surprise, given the strength of the patriarchal dominance of the history and literature of the age. Lady Ying’s story tells us a little bit about one woman from a period that tells us very little about women. In this excerpt, Lady Ying speaks her mind to two lords of the powerful state of Jin, the second of whom is soon to become the famous Duke Wen, hegemon of the feudal lords of the states.
In 645 BCE, Duke Mu, ruler of the state of Qin, attacked and defeated the army of the state of Jin. Duke Mu captured Duke Hui, the ruler of Jin, but allowed Duke Hui to return to Jin in exchange for his son and heir, the Taizi (“designated heir”) Yu.
In the summer (of 643 BCE), the Taizi Yu of Jin became a hostage in Qin. Duke Mu of Qin gave him as wife his daughter Lady Ying.
夏 ． 晉 大 子 圉 為 質 於 秦 ． 秦 歸 河 東 而 妻 之 ．
Yu planned to escape and said to Lady Ying, “Will you return home with this gentleman?”
將 逃 歸 ． 謂 嬴 氏 曰 ． 與 子 歸 乎 .
She replied, “You, sir, are the Taizi of Jin and you are shamed in Qin. If you, sir, wish to return home, is that not appropriate? But my unworthy lord (her father, Duke Mu of Qin) appointed this handmaid to wait on you holding towel and comb, so as to be your firm support. If I follow you in returning home, I will abandon my lord’s command. I dare not follow you, but I also dare not speak to anyone of this.” So he escaped and went home.
對 曰 ． 子 ． 晉 大 子 ． 而 辱 於 秦 ． 子 之 欲 歸 ． 不 亦 宜 乎 ． 寡 君 之 使 婢 子 侍 執 巾 櫛 ． 以 固 子 也 ． 從 子 而 歸 ． 棄 君 命 也 ． 不 敢 從 ． 亦 不 敢 言 ． 遂 逃 歸 ．
In 637 BCE, Duke Hui of Jin died and Yu took the throne. Chong-er, Duke Hui’s half-brother, had been exiled from Jin. He had been travelling from state to state seeking support from their rulers, and was now making his way to Jin to claim the throne.
In Qin, Duke Mu presented him with five women, among whom was Lady Ying. One day, she served him with a basin of water for washing. When he was done, he waved her away. She was angry and said, “Qin and Jin are equals. Why do you disparage me?” The Gongzi (“son of a duke”) was afraid and lowered his robes like a captive.
秦 伯 納 女 五 人 ． 懷 嬴 與 焉 ． 奉 匜 沃 盥 ． 既 而 揮 之 ． 怒 曰 ． 秦 晉 匹 也 ． 何 以 卑 我 ． 公 子 懼 ． 降 服 而 囚 ．
In spring of 636 BCE, Chong-er entered Jin. He sent his people to kill Yu and, with the help of Duke Mu of Qin, took the throne of Jin. He is known posthumously as Duke Wen.
Duke Wen of Jin went to meet his wife Lady Ying and they returned home. Duke Mu of Qin gave to Jin three thousand functionaries who would serve in the institutions of the government.
晉 侯 逆 夫 人 嬴 氏 以 歸 ． 秦 伯 送 衛 於 晉 三 千 人 ． 實 紀 綱 之 僕 ．
Read the rest of the story of Lady Ying.
© Lena Tan 2016. If you quote from this translation, please credit me and reference my website.