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Meng Jian Nu - sketch by Honglei
Meng Jiangnu Temple in the Phoenix mountain (about 6 kilometers from Shanhaiguan city of Hebei province)
Illustration from Meng Cheng's Journey to the Great Wall (1878)

 

 

In 221 BC, after conquering and subjugating all the other states in the land – effectively unifying China, Ying Zheng adopted the title of First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang Di). The various tribes in the north also united themselves into a large political union which proved to be a formidable antagonist to the Qin Empire. In 214BC, to secure the northern frontiers, Qin Shi Huang Di ordered his greatest general, Meng Tian, to mobilize all the able-bodied subjects in the country to build a long wall from the sea in the east to the desert in the west. Thousands upon thousands of men were conscripted and forced to march north to work on the construction. Those workers in the mountain wilderness were subjected to great hardships; dressed only in rags they had to endure the bitterly cold northern winter, frequent hunger, exhaustion and cruel supervisors. Untold numbers died from a combination of all these factors.
 
 
  
Meng Jiang Nu was a woman of exceptional beauty. She married a man by the name of Wan Xi Liang, who was drafted by the Qin authorities and pressed into work gangs. With no news about her husband other than rumours, Meng Jiang Nu made a quilted suit and boots for her husband and decided to take the warm clothing to him. Suffering from hunger, blistered feet and the biting cold weather she arrived at her destination. She knew that the monstrous construction which twisted like a snake and disappeared in the distant mountains was the Great Wall. Every worker she met and asked knew nothing about the whereabouts of her husband. Day after day she persisted with her enquiries but drew a blank every time. Finally she came to a group of workers who told her that Wan Xi Liang had died of exhaustion after days of continuous hard labour without a break. They also told her that he had been buried under the Great Wall. She asked to be led to the section of the wall under which her husband was entombed. Arriving at the spot she began to cry. She cried unceasingly for many days and many nights. Her grief was so great that God took pity on her and raised a big snow storm. The section of the wall under which Wan Xi Liang was buried collapsed, delivering forth her husband's body. "The Great Wall was torn down by the tears of Meng Jiang Nu". The news spread far and wide throughout the country and even reached the Qin Court. Emperor Ying Zheng was shocked and in disbelief. He wanted to go and witness the spectacle for himself. He travelled north to see the woman whose tears were so powerful that they could tear down his wall.
When Emperor Ying Zheng confronted Meng Jiang Nu, he was surprised to see the bewildering beauty before him. Finally, he simply said to her, "You are so beautiful. You are like a fairy. I want to marry you". Meng Jiang Nu pondered and reluctantly agreed to marry him on the condition that the emperor grants her three wishes. Firstly, she wanted her late husband's body to be placed in a wood coffin. Secondly, she wanted the Emperor to give her husband a state funeral. Finally he and all his ministers and generals had to mourn for her husband. Emperor Ying Zheng gladly agreed to all three conditions.The funeral was arranged exactly as Meng Jiang Nu desired. Behind the coffin walked the Emperor and all his ministers and generals. The spot she chose as her husband's final resting place was an overhanging cliff under which was the river with roaring water. The funeral party arrived at the cliff side. Emperor Ying Zheng and all his ministers and generals stood solemnly at the grave side of Wan Xi Liang. With her husband finally laid to rest, Meng Jiang Nu stopped weeping. She slowly rose from her knees and with a last glance at her husband's grave, threw herself into the bottom of the cliff. Years later, people built a shrine in her cherished memory at the very spot where she committed the ultimate sacrifice. The shrine is believed to be still standing to this today.