Geng Niang: A Tale of Courage, Resilience, and Unwavering Virtue

Explore the remarkable story of Gengniang, a woman of unwavering virtue who faced adversity with courage and resilience, making her a symbol of heroism in Chinese folklore.

Jin Dayong, a scion of a prominent family in Henan, married the daughter of the county magistrate, You, as his wife. His wife’s nickname was Gengniang, and she was beautiful and virtuous. Their marriage was exceptionally deep and harmonious. Due to the chaos caused by marauders, the family had to leave their hometown. With his family in tow, Jin Dayong fled to the south. On the way, they encountered a young man and his wife, who were also escaping trouble. This young man, who claimed to be from Yangzhou and went by the name Wang Shiba, offered to guide Jin Dayong.

Jin Dayong was delighted and decided to travel together with Wang Shiba’s family. When they reached the riverbank, Gengniang quietly warned Jin Dayong, saying, “Don’t share a boat with this Wang Shiba. He has repeatedly ogled me, his eyes darting around and his face showing unease. He must have ulterior motives.” Jin Dayong agreed not to share a boat with Wang Shiba.

However, when they reached the riverbank, Wang Shiba was extremely helpful and even arranged for a large boat without waiting for Jin Dayong’s response. He assisted in loading their luggage onto the boat without any complaints, and Jin Dayong couldn’t bring himself to refuse. Moreover, Wang Shiba was accompanied by his young wife, so Jin Dayong thought there shouldn’t be any major issues. After both families boarded the boat, Wang Shiba’s wife shared a cabin with Gengniang, and she treated Gengniang with great warmth and friendliness.

Wang Shiba sat at the front of the boat, chatting with the boatmen as if they were long-time friends or relatives. After a while, the sun set, and the waterway stretched far and wide. Jin Dayong looked around and felt the surroundings were mysterious and treacherous, making him increasingly suspicious.

A while later, a bright moon gradually rose, revealing that the boat was surrounded by reeds. The boat came to a stop, and Wang Shiba invited Jin Dayong and his son to step outside the cabin to enjoy the scenery and relax. Taking advantage of Jin Dayong’s distraction, Wang Shiba pushed him forcefully, causing him to fall into the water. When Jin Dayong’s father saw this, he was about to cry for help but was struck into the water by a boatman with an oar and drowned. Jin Dayong’s mother went out to check what had happened upon hearing the commotion. As she did so, she was struck by a boatman with an oar and also drowned.

Only then did Wang Shiba shout for help. In truth, when Jin Dayong’s mother went out to investigate, Gengniang was right behind her, silently witnessing everything. So when she heard that the entire family had drowned, she did not panic but cried, “My in-laws have all died; where can I find a place to settle down?” Wang Shiba entered the cabin and consoled her, saying, “Don’t worry, Madam. Come with me to Jinling. My family in Jinling has houses and land, and we are very prosperous. I will ensure you have no worries about food and clothing.”

Gengniang stopped crying and said, “If that’s the case, I will be satisfied.” Wang Shiba was overjoyed to hear this and made every effort to satisfy Gengniang’s needs for clothing, food, and daily necessities. In the evening, Wang Shiba approached Gengniang for intimacy, but she declined, citing her menstrual period. Wang Shiba then went to sleep with his own wife.

During the early hours of the night, Wang Shiba and his wife started arguing loudly, although the reason was unclear. Wang’s wife shouted, “You’re willing to do such a thing; aren’t you afraid of lightning striking your head from the sky?” Enraged, Wang Shiba raised his hand and struck his wife. She cried out, “Let me die! I’d rather not be the wife of a murderer!” Wang Shiba angrily dragged his wife out of the cabin door, and shortly after, there was a splash, and everyone exclaimed that Wang Shiba’s wife had fallen into the water.

Before long, the boat arrived in Jinling. Wang Shiba brought Gengniang home and introduced her to Wang Shiba’s mother. When Wang’s mother saw Gengniang, she was surprised and asked why she wasn’t the previous daughter-in-law. Wang Shiba explained, “My former wife drowned, and this is my newly-wedded wife.”

Back at home, Wang Shiba wanted to share a bed with Gengniang again. Gengniang smiled and said, “A man in his thirties, haven’t you slept with a woman before? Common folks even celebrate their wedding night with a glass of wine. Your family is so wealthy; this should be easy. When two people are sober, what’s the point?”

Wang Shiba was very pleased and quickly arranged food and wine for Gengniang. Gengniang held a wine cup and warmly urged him to drink. Wang Shiba gradually became intoxicated and declined, saying he couldn’t drink anymore. Gengniang then picked up a large bowl of wine and insisted on him drinking it, coaxing him to finish it. Wang Shiba couldn’t refuse and reluctantly drank it. As a result, he got too drunk to stand, undressed himself, and urged Gengniang to hurry to bed.

Gengniang removed the dishes and blew out the candle, pretending to go to the bathroom. She took a knife with her and returned to the room. In the dark, she found Wang Shiba’s neck and with a powerful stroke, she cut it. Wang Shiba didn’t die immediately and shouted as he sat up. Gengniang struck the knife again, and only then did Wang Shiba breathe his last.

It seemed like Wang Shiba’s mother heard the unusual noise and came over to inquire. Gengniang killed her too. At this moment, Wang Shiba’s younger brother, Wang Shijiu, sensed that something was wrong. Gengniang knew she was doomed, so she hastily tried to take her own life with the knife. However, the blade was too dull and had a gap, and she couldn’t pierce herself. So, Gengniang opened the door and ran outside. Wang Shijiu chased after her, and Gengniang had no choice but to leap into a water pool in the courtyard.

Wang Shijiu yelled for the family, and when they retrieved Gengniang from the water pool, she was already dead. Her appearance was still as beautiful as when she was alive. When people examined Wang Shiba’s body, they found a letter on the windowsill. Upon opening it, they discovered that it was written by Gengniang, detailing the unjust murder of her entire family. People believed Gengniang was a remarkable and courageous woman, and they decided to raise money to properly bury her.

By morning, thousands of people had come to see Gengniang. When they saw her body, they couldn’t help but kneel down to pay their respects. In just one day, they raised over a hundred taels of silver, and they buried Gengniang in the southern suburbs. Some kind-hearted people even adorned her with a phoenix crown encrusted with pearls and robes that were only worn by court ladies, along with many other items for the burial.

Initially, when Jin Dayong was drowning, he luckily grabbed a piece of driftwood, which allowed him to stay alive. As daybreak approached, Jin Dayong floated to the surface of the Huai River and was rescued by a passing small boat. This small boat was arranged on the river by an elderly wealthy man named Mr. Yin specifically to rescue drowning individuals. After Jin Dayong regained consciousness, he went to Mr. Yin’s mansion to express his gratitude. Mr. Yin treated Jin Dayong exceptionally well and invited him to stay at his home to teach his son.

Jin Dayong hesitated because he didn’t know the whereabouts of his parents and Gengniang, and he wanted to search for them. After a while, someone reported to Mr. Yin, saying, “Another elderly man and woman who drowned have been recovered.” Jin Dayong suspected it might be his parents, so he rushed to check and indeed found them. Mr. Yin arranged coffins for Jin Dayong’s parents. While Jin Dayong was grieving, another person came to report, “A woman who fell into the water has been rescued, and she claims that Jin Sheng is her husband.” Jin Dayong was greatly surprised. He wiped away his tears and rushed outside. However, the rescued woman was not Gengniang; she was Wang Shiba’s wife. She cried bitterly in front of Jin Dayong, hoping he wouldn’t abandon her. Jin Dayong said, “My heart is already in chaos; how can I care for others?” The woman became even more sorrowful upon hearing this.

After Mr. Yin inquired into the details of the situation, he happily suggested that this might be a divine arrangement and strongly urged Jin Dayong to marry the woman. Jin Dayong used his parents’ recent death as an excuse and expressed his intention to seek revenge, fearing that his family might hinder him. The woman said, “By your logic, if Gengniang were still alive, could you have used seeking revenge and mourning as excuses to drive her away?” Mr. Yin thought the woman’s words made sense and offered to temporarily adopt her on Jin Dayong’s behalf. He suggested that they could marry after Jin Dayong had taken his revenge. Jin Dayong finally agreed.

During Jin Dayong’s parents’ funeral, the woman wore mourning attire for her children and wept uncontrollably, as if she were sending her in-laws off. After the funeral, Jin Dayong, armed with a sharp blade and a begging bowl, was ready to go to Yangzhou to seek his revenge. However, the woman stopped him and said, “My maternal family name is Tang, and they have lived in Jinling for generations. They are from the same hometown as that heartless Wang Shiba. Wang Shiba claimed to be from Yangzhou, but he was actually deceiving you. Moreover, the river bandits in this area are mostly his accomplices. I fear that harm might befall you before you can take your revenge.” Jin Dayong, upon hearing this, didn’t know where to begin.

Suddenly, there was widespread talk in the area about a woman who had avenged her enemies. People of all ages along the Huai River were discussing it, and the woman’s name and reputation were well-known. That woman was none other than Gengniang. Jin Dayong was initially delighted to hear this news, but then he became even more sorrowful. He once again expressed to Tangshi that he could not marry her, saying, “Gengniang was fortunate not to suffer disgrace and protect her family’s honor. How can I bear to marry another and betray her unwavering loyalty?” Tangshi believed that there was already an agreement for Jin Dayong to marry her, and she refused to leave midway. She was willing to be a concubine and would never leave Jin Dayong.

At that time, there was a deputy general named Yuan, a longtime friend of Mr. Yin, who was about to travel west. Before leaving, he came to visit Mr. Yin. General Yuan saw Jin Dayong, highly appreciated him, and invited him to work under his command to manage official documents. Not long after, when rebels rose in the region, General Yuan was ordered to suppress the rebellion and achieved great success. Due to Jin Dayong’s involvement in important military matters and his contributions, he was appointed as an officer in the guerrilla forces. He later returned to Mr. Yin’s home. It was then that Jin Dayong and Tangshi formally became husband and wife.

A few days later, Jin Dayong, accompanied by Tangshi, went to Jinling, specifically to visit Gengniang’s grave. As they passed through Zhenjiang, they planned to visit Jinshan for sightseeing. While they were boating in the river, suddenly a small boat approached them, carrying an elderly woman and a young woman. Jin Dayong noticed that the young woman bore a striking resemblance to Gengniang. The small boat swiftly passed by, and the young woman gazed at Jin Dayong through the window of the cabin, her expression resembling that of Gengniang. Jin Dayong was both astonished and puzzled but didn’t dare to ask hastily. In his desperation, he shouted, “Look, a flock of ducks is flying up to the sky!” The young woman, upon hearing this, responded loudly, “It looks like a hungry dog wants to eat the fresh meat of a kitten!” These two sentences were inside jokes that Jin Dayong and Gengniang used to share in their private chambers.

Upon hearing this, Jin Dayong was even more amazed and quickly turned the boat towards the small one. Indeed, the young woman was Gengniang. A servant helped Gengniang board their boat, and Jin Dayong and Gengniang hugged each other, crying with tears of joy. Passersby were deeply moved by their reunion. Tangshi came over and respectfully greeted Gengniang following the etiquette of a concubine meeting the principal wife. Gengniang was astonished and asked what was happening. Jin Dayong explained the entire story in detail. Gengniang, after listening, held Tangshi’s hand and said, “The conversation we had in the cabin on the same boat all those years ago still lingers in my heart. I never expected that today, enemies would become one family. Thank you for burying my in-laws on my behalf. I should thank you first. How could you treat me with such formal etiquette?” So, the two women regarded each other as sisters based on their age, with Tangshi being one year younger, making her the younger sister.

Originally, after Gengniang was buried by the citizens of Jinling, she herself didn’t know how much time had passed. One day, she suddenly heard someone loudly say, “Gengniang, your husband is not dead, and you can still reunite.” At that moment, Gengniang felt like she had just awakened from a deep dream. She reached out and touched walls all around her, realizing that she had already passed away and been buried. She only felt a sense of suffocation but no other suffering.

One day, a few ruffians in the village, noticing the numerous and exquisite burial items accompanying Gengniang, grew greedy. They dug up her grave, opened the coffin, and were about to steal the burial items when they discovered that Gengniang was still alive. They were instantly terrified and didn’t know what to do. Gengniang, fearing harm from them, pleaded, “Thanks to your arrival, I can see the light of day again. Take my golden hairpin and earrings on my head, and please sell me to a temple as a nun. You can earn some money from it. I will never reveal this matter.” The thieves kowtowed and said, “Lady, you are virtuous and honorable, admired by both gods and humans. We, as lowly individuals, resorted to such unscrupulous acts due to our destitute lives. As long as you keep this a secret, it’s a great fortune for us. How can we dare to sell you to a temple as a nun?” Gengniang insisted, “It’s my own willingness.” Another grave robber suggested, “There is a Mrs. Geng in Zhenjiang, a widow without children. If she sees you, she will surely be delighted.” Gengniang expressed her gratitude to them.

She personally removed her precious pearl jewelry from her head and handed it all to the thieves. At first, the thieves hesitated to accept, but Gengniang insisted, and they finally bowed in thanks and accepted the items. They then escorted Gengniang to Mrs. Geng’s house, explaining that Gengniang’s boat had lost its way due to a strong wind. Mrs. Geng was a wealthy local widow, elderly and without a companion. She was thrilled to welcome Gengniang and treated her like her own daughter – they had just returned from a trip to Jinshan. Gengniang explained the entire situation to Mrs. Geng in detail. Jin Dayong then boarded Mrs. Geng’s boat and paid his respects to his mother-in-law. Mrs. Geng warmly treated him like her own son-in-law. After staying at Mrs. Geng’s house for a few days, they finally left, and the relationship between the Geng and Jin families continued unbroken ever since.

The chronicler of strange tales said: “In the face of great adversity, those who endure humiliation willingly may survive, while those who remain virtuous and unyielding may face death. Those who survive often provoke intense hatred, nearly causing their eyes to bulge, while those who embrace death bring sorrow and tears to others. As for someone like Gengniang, who can converse freely in front of her enemies and personally kill them, even among the renowned courageous men throughout history, there are very few who can match her! Who says that women cannot be like the heroic and valiant Wang Yanyun?”









Leave a Comment