Romance of the Three Kingdoms Chapter 19.5

Not so much an additional chapter but more of a retelling of the famous events surrounding Liu Bei’s cannibalism. Stories containing elements of the supernatural, horror and the occult were popular among women during the Wei and Jin dynasties and continue to be a theme of women’s literature in China to the present day. Adding supernatural reasoning to a famous narrative, and also in this case a clear portrayal of female empowerment and vengeance against a misogynistic husband, was a way for women to share their experiences with one another. Strangely for this genre, it includes a positive portrayal of peasant women and a rather reproachful moral to the story. One particular manuscript currently on display at the National Museum of China was discovered tied around an arrow, for unknown reasons.


Romance of the Three Kingdoms chapter 19.5: Liu An prays to the Crimson Jade Spirit

After his defeat at Xiaopei Liu Bei, separated from his brothers and his men, had only his horse to bear him to safety across the countryside. He went from village to village asking food from the local people, who were happy to supply him when they realised that it was the great hero Liu Bei.

A local hunter called Liu An was travelling home after an unsuccessful hunting trip when he overheard some farmers talking. “My lord Liu Bei was so gracious, he promised me a handsome sum in thanks for my meager offerings.” said one. “Truly he is so generous! For the ox I slaughtered to feed him, he promised me ten more in return for my good deed.” said the other. Both men were jubilant and tipsy with rice wine, and didn’t notice the stealthy Liu An listening in.

“My surname is also Liu.” He thought to himself. “It is common enough, but I am known also with everyone in the province for my generosity. It stands to reason that such a great man must be my relative.” With great haste he headed deeper into the mountains in search of meat to make a fine banquet for his magnanimous namesake. However, every hare he sighted escaped, every deer he cross paths with was able to outrun him. Not even the pheasants fell for his traps. It was like the forest itself conspired to keep him hungry. He was driven by desire for riches and recognition. “When I am Liu Bei’s recognised nephew, I will have land of my own, servants and beautiful concubines. No longer will I have to look after my doddery old mother and my ugly peasant wife!”

Finally, when he was so deep into the hinterland he didn’t even recognise the scenery anymore, he saw a small shrine.

Nestled into the trunk of a tree, the small crimson jade stone was carved into the shape of a beautiful woman. Her arms were outstretched in a gesture of giving, and at her feet lay piles of gold. Liu An sank to his knees and prayed aloud to the forest goddess. “O spirit, please grant me the means to impress my lord Liu Bei. If you grant my wish I will be forever grateful, I will give you anything I own in return!” then he turned and headed home as the last rays of the sun painted the sky red. He did not see, but the statue’s hands were now claws, and it’s feet trampled skulls instead of coin.

When he got home, his wife Bao Zi and his elderly grandmother met him at the gates. “Where have you been?” They asked, full of concern. “None of your business, meddling women!” He snapped. He had forgotten all about the goddess in the forest and was consumed with worry about how to impress his Lord. That night, Liu An slept fitfully and was filled with violent dreams.

When morning came he set out as usual and immediately saw, to his horror, that Liu Bei had arrived near his house. His heart felt like a stone in his chest and sweat beaded his brow. With reluctance, he called out to Liu Bei. “My Lord, will you not accept food at our table?” The big-eared one followed him into his humble home and made himself comfortable. His wife served them both drinks before retiring into the kitchen. His grandmother slept fitfully in the corner of the room. He felt deep shame at the state of his hovel, the impropriety of his older relatives, and his inability to properly care for his noble guest. “You must be used to such beautiful women at the castle!” He said by means of small talk. “Perhaps, but true beauty lies in a woman’s grace, not merely in her face alone.” Liu Bei replied, and sipped his tea.

Struck with a sudden idea, the wicked Liu An made his excuses and went to the kitchen to see his wife. “Even the noble Liu Bei thinks you are plain.” He berated her. Used to his taunts, she bowed her head and kept stirring the pot. “You shame me, and yet you carry on heedless? How dare you!” And like a man possessed, he chopped at her arms with a carving knife. Her life fading, Bao Zi’s last vision was of her husband’s eyes, which had turned to crimson jade.

When Liu An returned to his guest, he served big cutlets of succulent, fatty meat. “Delicious! I have never had the like before. What meat is this?” Asked Liu Bei, his appetite satiated and his cheeks red and tipsy. “This is a mean old wolf that has been harassing me for years.” Answered Liu An, a smile on his lips. However, he was careless in his drunkenness, and Liu Bei caught sight of the dissected Bao Zi hanging in the kitchen.

“You should come and fight for me, we can always use good and loyal men like you.” Liu Bei exhorted him, with tears in his eyes. Feigning humility, the crafty Liu An replied “My Lord, I would, but I cannot leave my ageing grandmother behind alone.” Overcome with emotion at his filial piety and his willingness to show more love to him than his own wife, Liu Bei said his farewells and hurried to rejoin his brothers.

After saying his farewells, Liu An dropped his happy visage. “Only my ageing mother stands in the way of my dreams. Why am I plagued by useless women!” He thought to himself, and began planning to murder her as well. Her name was Mo Fu and when she was younger she has been a mighty hunter herself. Liu An, however, was born after her retirement and so never knew her as anything other than frail.

When Liu Bei’s messenger arrived to reward his kindness and generosity with a hundred ounces of silver, he was horrified to see Liu An attempting to strangle his grandmother with the string of his bow. In fear, he dropped the silver to the floor and entreated the young hunter to stop.

“Meddling imbecile, I’ll kill you too!” was the reply, but his wrath was interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the stone floor. His dead wife walked out of the kitchen of her own free will, her feet not touching the floor. No-one in the room could move. Her butchered arms were made of pure crimson jade, and she used her scarlet hands to pick up the fallen silver.

“Harlot! Woman of evil! Harlot still if woman or devil, get you from this place at once! My dearest, be obedient, and return to hell.” Liu An cried, but his blood was cold in his veins and his limbs refused to obey him.

“You have me wrong, I am not your wife. I am but a mean old wolf, do you not remember?” And with that she forced the silver down his throat. Liu An died, choking on tears and greed.

That evening, the grandmother Mo Fu passed away from the trauma of the previous day. When her spirit rose from her body it was met with the warm embrace of crimson jade arms. Together, Mo Fu and her granddaughter went to heaven through the grace of the forest goddess and their afterlife was free from suffering.

Ever since, the Liu family descendants have been haunted by the arms of Bao Zi, which possess the Liu daughters in the hopes that they will one day die as part of a complete human body. The only cure for this possession is to treat your wives with greater respect, only then will the goddess’ wrath will subside.

Author: Laurie

Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and all-round swamp goblin.

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