Delve into the Jin Dynasty's intriguing tales, featuring mystical plants, rare treasures, and fascinating characters that defined an era.
During his time as the Grand General in Wei during the Three Kingdoms period, Emperor Wu of Jin, Sima Yan, witnessed the sudden growth of three unique plants beneath the steps of a hall in his residence. These plants had yellow stems and green leaves, resembling green foliage emerging from clustered golden threads. Their branches were delicate, akin to the appearance of golden needle grass. People at that time were unfamiliar with this auspicious plant, so Sima Yan concealed the three plants, preventing outsiders from viewing them. In his stables, there was a man named Yao Fu, of Qiang ethnicity, with the courtesy name Shifen. He possessed knowledge of the art of yin and yang. Upon seeing these three plants, Yao Fu said to Emperor Wu, “These three plants are an auspicious sign corresponding to the virtue of gold.” At the age of ninety-eight, Yao Fu, whose ancestors included Yao Xiang, was known for his love of reading and an insatiable thirst for alcohol. When he got drunk, he enjoyed discussing the rise and fall of emperors throughout history. Yao Fu was also fond of humor, had a silver tongue, and frequently exclaimed, “The waters of nine tributaries of the Yellow River are insufficient to soak fermentation grains, the trees from eight marshes are insufficient to serve as firewood, and the deer from seven swamps are inadequate to be used as side dishes. All humans are spiritual beings infused with the essence of heaven and earth. Those who do not understand the art of wine are mere walking corpses. Why choose to be a conscious puppet?” Yao Fu particularly enjoyed drinking turbid wine with sediments, often claiming that he became exceedingly thirsty when he saw a rich, aromatic wine. Those who cared for horses alongside him enjoyed teasing him and nicknamed him “Thirsty Qiang.” When Sima Yan ascended to the throne as Emperor, he one day spotted Yao Fu standing below the steps. Impressed by Yao Fu’s carefree and unbound personality, Emperor Wu appointed him as the County Prefect of Chaoge.
Yao Fu declined and said, “I am a foreigner here, far from my homeland, separated by thousands of miles and numerous mountains. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have traveled throughout the Central Plains. I kindly request your permission to resign from the position of County Prefect of Chaoge and continue serving in the stables. Please grant me the pleasure of enjoying fine wine regularly as I spend my later years.” Emperor Wu of Jin replied, “Chaoge was once the capital during the time of King Zhou of Shang, and there lies excellent wine underground. You won’t have to complain of thirst again.” Yao Fu, standing below the steps, responded loudly, “I, Yao Fu, a horse keeper from the Qiang people, have already been influenced by the Emperor’s benevolent rule and teachings. All the minority tribes under heaven are now your subjects. If I were to indulge in the wine of Chaoge, wouldn’t I become a subject of King Zhou of Shang once more?” Emperor Wu of Jin burst into laughter upon hearing this and appointed Yao Fu as the Prefect of Jiuquan. Beneath Jiuquan lay clear springs with water as aromatic as wine. Yao Fu expressed his gratitude while intoxicated and accepted the appointment. Upon taking office in Jiuquan, Yao Fu ruled with benevolence, and the local people erected a shrine in his honor. Later, Emperor Wu of Jin granted the general’s residence, where he once lived, to Zhang Hua. At that time, the three plants were still present, and as a result, Zhang Hua wrote in his “Golden Expedition Ode,” “Nine golden branches of the Golden Expedition Grass once grew in the court of the Han Dynasty. In the general’s residence, the three plants were even more magnificent. Their greatest value lies in their manifestation of auspicious virtue, attaching themselves to households of renown and causing disturbances.” In the first year of Emperor Hui of Jin’s Yongxi era, these three plants transformed into three trees with branches resembling poplar trees, each five feet tall. This transformation foretold the rise of the “Three Yangs.” At that time, there were three brothers, Yang Jun, Yang Yao, and Yang Ji, collectively known as the “Three Yangs.” The words of the intoxicated Qiang horse keeper had all come true.
Xiao Qilu said, “Although one may not be able to firmly adhere to the path of moderation, as long as they have an enterprising spirit and maintain personal integrity, it is acceptable. Figures like Chunyu Kun and Youmeng used playful and satirical language to admonish emperors. As for Yao Fu, his talents, disposition, and appearance were unlike those of the people in the Central Plains. Nevertheless, he could subtly offer criticism through brief words while maintaining decorum in his dealings. He had the ability to use witty and flexible language to explore literature, elucidate ancient teachings, and employ metaphors for admonition. People who spoke in this manner would not incur punishment, and he was simply one of the talented individuals akin to Dongfang Shuo! When the digestive system deteriorates, it is due to excessive drinking habits known as ‘rotting the intestines.’ Hence, the saying ‘abundant food injures the appetite.’ Laozi regarded this statement as a profound admonition. Because the food is not as sweet as cinnamon or as pure as pine or grass, people breathe mountain mist and clouds, drink evening dew, view millennia as a single morning, and regard generations as a fleeting moment. How can they indulge in drinking and revelry and forget the principles that lead to longevity? In the world, there are many things with similar names but different essences. If one cannot explore the subtleties of things and understand the reasons behind them, how can they predict the future? How can they rely on crooked and unorthodox words to seek alternative paths? Heaven’s decrees have signs, and the destiny of an era has its limits. How can one blindly believe in rumors and wrongly accuse these fragile plants? If one is deluded by hearsay and believes in fantastical arts, it is truly lamentable!”
In the fourth year of the Xian Ning era (278 AD) of Emperor Wu of Jin, a fragrant vegetable garden was established to the east of the Jin Yong City. This garden was home to a variety of exotic vegetables. Among them was a vegetable known as “Yun Wei,” which had three different varieties. The purple variety had the lushest stems and leaves and had a slightly spicy taste. Its roots had vibrant colors. During the spring and summer, its branches and leaves grew densely, while in the autumn, it budded and awaited flowering. In the winter, the garden was filled with the fragrance of its flowers, and its fruits resembled pearls, coming in five different colors. As the seasons changed, the purple Yun Wei grew increasingly lush. People gave this particular variety a name, calling it “Yun Zhi.” The purple Yun Wei was considered the finest vegetable and had a spicy taste, while the yellow Yun Wei was of medium quality and had a sweet taste. The green Yun Wei was considered the lowest quality and had a salty taste. These three varieties of vegetables were frequently used in the palace for the emperors’ meals. The leaves of Yun Wei could be used as food padding, for ancestral offerings during ceremonies, and also to satisfy hunger and thirst. Palace maids and concubines would even pick the stems and leaves of Yun Wei to carry with them, and the fragrance would linger for several days.
Xiao Qilu remarked, “In the ‘Book of Songs, Shao Nan: Grasshoppers,’ it mentions ‘harvesting Wei cai,’ referring to the Yun Wei vegetable. In the annotations of Lu Ji’s ‘Exegesis on Plants, Trees, Birds, Beasts, Insects, and Fishes in the Mao Poems,’ it is said that the fruit of Yun Wei resembles beans. In the past, the two sons of Lord Gu Zhu, Boyi and Shuqi, avoided the noisy world, refrained from eating grains of the Zhou dynasty, and sustained themselves by foraging Yun Wei on Shouyang Mountain. Some people doubted whether this type of Wei cai was similar to grass, while others claimed that there were various extraordinary plant species, leading to confusion. Yun Wei, which can relieve hunger, must have a purple color. Although there are different opinions, their words and intentions align. Studying the shape and types of Yun Wei, as well as understanding its fragrance and color in detail, even if transplanted outside the fragrant vegetable garden, its aroma and beauty are unparalleled. Therefore, fragrant orchids have their unique inherent qualities that cannot be altered. Even when grown in different places, their fragrance becomes even more intense. For example, ginger and cinnamon, do they change their spiciness due to different cultivation locations? In this era, Yun Wei was considered a vegetable with a celestial essence, truly a marvel.”
Zhang Hua created a type of “Nine-Soaked Wine,” which was made by soaking three varieties of Wei vegetables with yeast, sprouted wheat, and barley. The sprouted wheat came from the Western Qiang, and the yeast from the Northern Hu. In the Hu region, there is a type of star-pointing wheat. When Mars appears in April, the wheat ripens and can be harvested. Star-pointing wheat sprouts after soaking in water for three days and can be used to make wine at dawn when the rooster crows. Locals call this type of wheat “Rooster-Crowing Wheat.” Wine made from this wheat has a rich flavor and can loosen teeth if held in the mouth for a long time. If one gets heavily drunk but refrains from shouting, laughing, or moving around, their liver and intestines will rot, and locals call this wine “Gut-Rotting Wine.” Some also claim that this fine wine is suitable for late-night revelry. Although both interpretations refer to the same wine, the outcomes are entirely different. There is a folk song that goes, “It’s better to have fine wine that rots the liver and intestines than to seek lasting light like the sun and moon.” This means that indulging in this fine wine for temporary pleasure is preferable to preserving one’s character for a long life. By the end of Emperor Huai of Jin’s reign, fields and orchards in the countryside were overgrown with mugwort and thorns, and foxes and hares roamed there. In the first year of Yongjia, the Grand Historian Gao Tangchong reported to Emperor Huai that Mars was invading the Purple Forbidden Enclosure, and unless precautions were taken, Luoyang would fall. Emperor Huai issued an edict ordering the planting of purple Wei vegetables in the palace and around the capital, in temples, protective forests, as well as in the gardens of the common people, to suppress evil influences. By the later stages of the uprisings led by Liu Yuan, Shi Le, Yao Yizhong, Fu Hong, and others, the mugwort and thorns in the vegetable and fruit gardens had not been cleared and had mysteriously disappeared on their own.
In the first year of Tai Kang (280 AD) during the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin, a white cloud appeared over the Ba River and took three days to disperse. Officials reported to the emperor, “The rising of the white cloud signifies peace and tranquility throughout the land.” Emperor Wu of Jin inquired about the reasons behind this phenomenon, and the officials explained, “During the time of Emperor Shun of the Yao and Shun era, yellow clouds rose in the open fields outside the city. In the Xia dynasty, white clouds covered the sun in the capital city. In the Yin and Shang dynasties, black clouds shrouded the mountains, forests, and waters. These are all auspicious signs in accordance with the times, indicating that distant countries and foreign lands should bring tribute of special products.” True to their words, not long after, a man from Yushan presented ten thousand rolls of fire-washed fabric. The man from Yushan explained, “On Yushan, there are stones with patterns that can ignite spontaneously. The smoke produced from these stones changes colors with the seasons. People call this kind of fire ‘Pure Fire.’ Any clothing, no matter how dirty or stained, when placed on these stones, will become as clean as if just washed.” During the time of Emperor Shun, this country had presented yellow fire-washed fabric. In the late Han dynasty, they had offered red fire-washed fabric, which Liang Ji had used to make clothing, calling it ‘Dan Yi’ or ‘Red Robes.’ Historians say, “‘Dan Yi’ is the wide-sleeved single garment worn by Confucian scholars today.” The character forms are different, but the pronunciation is the same, and it is unclear which is correct.
Xiao Qilu said: The rise and prosperity of emperors in various dynasties are often accompanied by auspicious signs. Heaven does not conceal auspiciousness, and the earth does not hoard treasures. Therefore, signs of destiny are revealed through divine and extraordinary phenomena, and the conduct of emperors is observed through the changing patterns of celestial bodies. It is said that the role of Feng Xiangshi, as mentioned in the Book of Zhou Officials, is to observe celestial phenomena and record signs of auspiciousness. During the Jin Dynasty, they were known for their golden virtues, which is why there were auspicious signs like the rising of white clouds over the Ba River. The Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) and Yi Wu Zhi (Records of Strange Objects) mention, “There is a creature in the Ran Zhou region that grows within a great fire. Its fur is woven into cloth, and even if the cloth is covered in dirt and grease, when thrown into the fire, it becomes remarkably clean.” This account differs from Wang Jia’s description, so both are recorded here together.
Because the country of Yincheng presented a creature with five limbs that resembled a lion, they also offered a thousand strings of jade coins. These jade coins were round with a hole in the center and weighed ten taels each, with the words “Tian Shou Yong Ji” engraved on them. Emperor Wu of Jin asked the envoy from Yincheng about the origin of the five-limbed creature. The envoy replied, “In the east, there are people who can detach their four limbs. They often send their heads to the South Sea, their left arms to Dongshan, their right arms to Xize, leaving only two legs below the navel to stand. By nightfall, their heads return to their shoulders. Sometimes, when their two arms are caught by strong winds, they drift overseas, landing on Xuan Island, where they transform into five-limbed creatures, with each hand becoming a foot. These people, after losing their two arms, will have others cut flesh from their bodies to make new arms, just like their original ones.” Yincheng is located to the north of the Western Regions. When the envoys carrying the five-limbed creature arrived in the Western Regions, they used iron-wheeled carts. It took them ten years to reach the Jin Dynasty. When the envoys returned to Yincheng, the iron wheels of their carts had been ground extremely sharp. No one knew exactly how far Yincheng was.
In the first year of the Taishi era (265) during the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin, which was the same year when Cao Huan, the Emperor Yuan of Wei, was deposed and became the Prince of Chenliu, an envoy from the country of Fensi came to pay respects. He was dressed in a garment made of jade pieces of five different colors, resembling modern-day armor. The envoy from Fensi did not partake in the delicacies of the Central Plains. Instead, he brought a golden flask containing a thick liquid that resembled oil. Just a drop of it could extend one’s life by a thousand years. In the country of Fensi, there were extensive forests of large maple trees. Each tree reached a height of sixty to seventy li (Chinese miles). Those proficient in mathematics calculated the height of the maple trees using li measurements. Thunder and lightning often appeared in the middle of the maple trees. The branches of the maple trees intertwined above, blocking out the sunlight, creating darkness underneath where neither the sun nor moonlight could penetrate. The ground beneath the maple trees was level and clean, as if it had been meticulously swept, and even rain and fog could not seep through. To the east of the maple forest, there was a large stone chamber capable of accommodating ten thousand people. Carved on the walls of this chamber were images of the Three Emperors: the Heavenly Emperor with thirteen heads, the Earthly Emperor with eleven heads, and the Human Emperor with nine heads, all of them possessing dragon bodies. There were also places within the chamber for placing lamps and candles. Beds made of fitted stones were arranged in the chamber, and one of them had a three-inch deep knee impression. In front of the bed, there was a bamboo tablet measuring one foot and two inches in length. The text on the bamboo tablet was inscribed in large seal script and contained stories from the time of the creation of heaven and earth, but no one could decipher its meaning. Some said that this book existed when Fuxi created the Eight Trigrams, while others claimed that this was the place where Cangjie invented writing.
Next to the stone chamber, there was a red stone well. This well was not artificially dug, and its bottom led directly to a gushing spring. The wellwater was always churning and gushing. When the immortals wanted to drink water, they used long ropes to draw water from the well. The people of Fensi were very strong and did not consume grains or miscellaneous foods. At noon, they could stand in the sun without casting a shadow and drank what was called “cassia dew and mist.” They made clothing from feathers, and their hair was abundant, as fine as silk threads, sturdy and resilient like rubber bands. When they straightened their hair, it would reach nearly a zhang (a Chinese unit of length), but upon releasing it, their hair would automatically curl up like tree worms. They would connect their hair together to form ropes, which they used to draw water from the Dan well. It took a long time to obtain one sheng or one he of water from the well. In the Dan well, there was a type of white frog with two wings that would often fly above the well. The immortals used these white frogs as food. During the Zhou Dynasty, Prince Jin, a native of the Fensi country, stood by the well and looked down. A green sparrow flew up from the well, carrying a jade spoon in its beak, and presented it to Prince Jin. Prince Jin used the spoon to drink the wellwater, and then he saw dark clouds gather and snowflakes falling. He waved his sleeve to disperse the dark clouds, and the dark clouds and falling snow immediately disappeared. The white frogs transformed into two white doves and flew into the sky, gradually disappearing from Prince Jin’s sight. All of these are accounts related to the country of Fensi. It’s difficult to estimate the age of the people of Fensi. Emperor Wu of Jin had the people of Fensi draw the mountains, terrain, and rare objects of their country to show Zhang Hua. Zhang Hua remarked, “This is indeed a miraculous country, and it’s challenging to verify the authenticity of these things.” Emperor Wu of Jin presented the people of Fensi with horse-drawn carriages and precious clothing as gifts before they departed.
Zhang Hua, with the courtesy name Maoxian, was a man of intelligence and wisdom who had a fondness for reading books on the supernatural, as well as oracles and astrology. He collected scattered and lost sayings from throughout the world, from the origins of written language, examined and verified stories of the supernatural, to folk legends in local communities. He compiled all this into a work called the “Records of Natural Phenomena” consisting of four hundred scrolls, which he presented for Emperor Wu of Jin to peruse. After reading the “Records of Natural Phenomena,” Emperor Wu of Jin issued a decree to question Zhang Hua, saying, “You possess the talent to compile the knowledge of all generations. Your breadth of knowledge is vast, unparalleled, surpassing even Xi Huang and second only to Confucius. However, the ‘Records of Natural Phenomena,’ with its four hundred scrolls detailing stories and collected sayings, contains many empty and fantastical elements. It should be further edited and reduced. Do not use irrelevant material to create content! In the past, Confucius edited ‘The Book of Songs’ and ‘The Book of Documents,’ omitting discussions of the supernatural, strange phenomena, feats of strength, and the occult. Yet now, in your ‘Records of Natural Phenomena,’ you express amazement at the unheard-of and astonishment at the unseen. I fear that future generations will be confused by its extensive and miscellaneous content, laden with falsehoods. Remove the false and unfounded material, and divide the entire work into ten scrolls.” Emperor Wu of Jin immediately granted Zhang Hua a green iron inkstone. Green iron was produced in the country of Yutian, and they presented it to Emperor Wu of Jin, who had it cast into an inkstone. Emperor Wu also gifted Zhang Hua with a pen made from a qilin horn as the pen holder, which had been presented by the country of Liaoxi. Additionally, he bestowed upon Zhang Hua ten thousand sheets of zhe-li paper, a type of paper made from seaweed that had been presented by the country of Nanyue. Later generations mistakenly read “zhi-li” as “ce-li.” This paper was made from seaweed, and its fibers ran vertically and horizontally, making it distinctively patterned. This is why it was called zhe-li paper. Emperor Wu of Jin frequently kept the ten scrolls of the “Records of Natural Phenomena” in a box and perused them during his leisure time.
In the second year of Emperor Hui of Jin’s Yongxi era (291), the reign title was changed to Yongping in its first year. During this time, Changshan commandery presented a bird known as the “Soul-Wounding Bird.” It had the appearance of a chicken but with feathers resembling a phoenix’s plumage. Emperor Hui disliked the name of this bird and initially rejected it, but he had a fondness for its feathers. At that time, a knowledgeable person explained, “During the reign of the Yellow Emperor, when he defeated Chi You, his vanguard, two fierce tigers, accidentally injured a woman. Despite her severe wounds, the woman survived for seven days without dying. Out of pity for her, the Yellow Emperor buried her in a double coffin with a stone casket. Since then, a bird has always flown over the graves of women, its cries sounding like it is uttering the words ‘soul-wounding.’ It is the transformed spirit of that woman.” In later times, whenever someone had an unfortunate end, these birds would gather at their home. Towards the end of Emperor Ai and Emperor Ping’s reigns in the Han dynasty, Wang Mang ruthlessly executed virtuous and talented ministers. During this period, these birds frequently cried over the capital city. Due to the aversion to the name of these birds, the people of Changshan commandery used slingshots to shoot them down and drive them away. In the early years of the Western Jin dynasty, as weapons were returned to the arsenals and the realm was unified, these birds could occasionally be seen in the wild. People disliked the name of these birds and changed “Soul-Wounding” to “Xiang Hong.” By the end of the Yongping era, the country was in turmoil, and the people had suffered greatly, with cries of mourning heard throughout the streets and alleys. It was during this time that Changshan commandery presented the Soul-Wounding Bird, and so Emperor Hui of Jin released and drove away the bird.
In the tenth year of Emperor Wu of Jin’s Taishi era (274), the country of Fuzhi presented a plant known as “Wangshu Grass.” This grass had a red color, and its leaves resembled lotus leaves. Upon closer inspection, it looked like a budding lotus flower, and from afar, it resembled unfurled lotus leaves, with its round leaves resembling cart covers. Some said that when the moon rose, the Wangshu Grass would unfurl its leaves, and when the moon disappeared, it would curl up. Emperor Wu of Jin ordered the planting of Wangshu Grass in the palace and even had a pond, measuring one hundred paces in width, excavated for this purpose. This pond was named the “Wangshu Lotus Pond.” However, by the end of Emperor Min of Jin’s reign, Wangshu Grass was transplanted to the northern regions by the non-Chinese people who brought its seeds back there. Today, Wangshu Grass has become extinct, and the Wangshu Lotus Pond has been filled in.
The country of Zuliang presented a plant known as “Manjin Tai,” which had a golden color, resembling fireflies gathered together and was as big as chicken eggs. When Manjin Tai was thrown into water, it would proliferate like vines on the water’s surface. The golden glow of Manjin Tai, when illuminated by sunlight, looked like a ball of fire burning on the water. Therefore, Emperor Hui of Jin ordered the excavation of a pond in the palace, measuring one hundred paces in width. Emperor Hui would often visit the pond to observe this Manjin Tai, providing enjoyment for the palace residents. Emperor Hui would reward favored consorts with Manjin Tai. Placing Manjin Tai in a lacquered tray would illuminate the entire room with its light, earning it the name “Night-Bright Moss.” When worn on clothing, it would make the clothing appear as if it had a radiant fire on it. Fearing that if people outside the palace obtained this Manjin Tai, they might mislead the common people, Emperor Hui issued an edict to clear away the Manjin Tai and fill in the pond. By the end of Western Jin, during the internal turmoil of the imperial family, some of this Manjin Tai still existed, but it was later taken to non-Chinese territories.
Shi Chong had a beloved servant girl named Xiangfeng, whom he acquired in the late Wei Dynasty in the northern regions. Xiangfeng was just ten years old at the time, and Shi Chong had the women in his household raise her. By the age of fifteen, Xiangfeng’s unparalleled beauty, especially her graceful demeanor, earned her a reputation. Xiangfeng had a talent for identifying the sounds of precious stones and could discern the color of gold with precision. Shi Chong’s wealth was comparable to that of imperial households, and he indulged in extravagance. The exotic treasures in his home were stacked like bricks and tiles, and it was all acquired through plundering people from distant lands. No one could identify the origins of these rare treasures. Therefore, Shi Chong enlisted Xiangfeng to identify these treasures by their sound and color, and she astonishingly knew the origins of all these treasures. She explained that Western and Northern gemstones had a deep, heavy sound and a gentle and soft nature, and wearing these beautiful gemstones could nourish one’s spirit and temperament. In contrast, gemstones from the East and South had a clear and pure sound with a cool nature, and wearing these gemstones could enhance one’s awareness and thinking. In Shi Chong’s household, there were thousands of beautiful servant girls, but Xiangfeng was the most cherished due to her eloquence. Shi Chong once told her, “After my death, I will swear by the sun to have you buried with me.” Xiangfeng replied, “To love in life and be separated in death is worse than not loving at all. I can accompany you in death, and how could my body decay?” From then on, Shi Chong favored Xiangfeng even more. He often selected ten beautiful women with similar appearances, dressed them in identical attire and accessories, making it impossible to distinguish between them without close inspection, as they stood by Shi Chong’s side to serve him.
Shi Chong instructed Xiangfeng to select jade stones to be given to craftsmen. These stones were to be carved into a dragon pendant with the dragon’s head facing downward. They were then to be encased in gold wire to create phoenix crown hairpins. The dragon pendant was made from carved jade, and the phoenix crown hairpins were crafted from molten gold to resemble phoenix crowns. Shi Chong had the beautiful women in his household connect their sleeves to one another and dance around the pillars in the hall. This constant dancing, day and night, was referred to as the “Eternal Dance.” When Shi Chong wanted to summon someone, he never called the names of the beauties. Instead, he relied on the sounds emitted by the jade pendants they wore and the colors of the gold hairpins they had. Those with the softest jade sounds led the procession, followed by those with the most beautiful gold hairpins. They all moved in this order. Shi Chong also had dozens of beautiful women walk and talk while carrying various fragrances in their mouths. The fragrances wafted on the wind as they walked and chatted. Additionally, he had agarwood ground into fine particles like dust and spread on beds decorated with ivory. The women he favored would then step on the beds, leaving no footprints. Those who didn’t leave footprints were rewarded with one hundred pearls, while those who did were restricted in their food and drink, leading to slender bodies. Consequently, these women often joked among themselves in the chambers, saying, “If you don’t have a slim and graceful figure, how can you receive one hundred pearls?” By the time Xiangfeng reached the age of thirty, the younger beauties in the household became jealous and competitive. Some even said, “Women from the northern regions cannot compare to her.” As a result, everyone began to ostracize and slander her. Shi Chong, influenced by these false accusations, moved Xiangfeng to a side room to serve as the head of the household, managing the younger girls. Filled with resentment, Xiangfeng composed a five-character poem in which she expressed her feelings. In the poem, she lamented the fleeting nature of youth and beauty, likening it to the falling of autumn leaves. She described how her fragrance, like rising smoke, dissipated and how she had been cast aside. The poem ended with a reflection on the passage of time and the loss of her beloved, and she questioned the outcome she had anticipated. The beautiful women in Shi Chong’s household sang songs based on this poem, and this practice continued until the end of the Jin Dynasty.
In front of the Taiwu Hall, Shi Hu constructed a towering building, forty zhang in height. He adorned the building with pearl curtains that hung down, with jade pendants of five different colors swaying beneath them. Whenever a gentle breeze blew, the jade pendants produced melodious sounds, harmonizing with each other, creating a sweet and pleasant symphony. During the peak of summer, atop the high building, various musical performances continued day and night while overlooking the surroundings. He also created a horseback riding track at the base of the building, measuring four hundred steps in circumference. The sides of this track were adorned with patterned stones, cinnabar, and colorful designs. He gathered treasures such as gold, precious jade, and shell money to reward performers of songs, dances, and acrobatics. All around the high building, colorful curtains were hung, and the columns within the building were concealed by sculptures of dragons, phoenixes, and various animals. Various precious objects were also sculpted to decorate the columns in front of the hall, creating a magnificent sight at night. Shi Hu also assembled many Di and Qiang people on the building. At the time, there was a severe drought, so Shi Hu had them mix various treasures and different fragrances together and grind them into fine powder. Hundreds of people then scattered this powder from the building, naming it “Fragrant Dust.” There was a bronze dragon on the platform of the building, capable of holding hundreds of hu of wine in its belly. Shi Hu had the barbarians on the building spray the wine downwards, creating a fine mist when caught by the breeze. This spectacle earned the building the name “Adhesive Rain Terrace.” The purpose of spraying the wine was to dispel the dust.
Laughter echoed in the air above the high building. Shi Hu also constructed a bathhouse that could be used year-round. The bath’s embankments were made of natural brass and beautiful stones, and some even used amber to craft water bottles and ladles. In the summer, a canal was diverted to fill the bath, and it was filled with sachets made from fine, lightweight silk containing various fragrances, which permeated the water. During the harsh winter, when the bathwater froze, Shi Hu had thousands of bronze dragon-shaped devices made, each weighing several tens of pounds. These bronze dragon devices were heated until they glowed red and then thrown into the bath, maintaining a constant temperature. People referred to this bath as the “Heated Dragon Bath.” Around the bath, they erected pavilions adorned with phoenix patterns made from brocade to shield it. Palace women and favored concubines would disrobe here and engage in feasting, music, and revelry, often continuing throughout the night. This bath became known as the “Clear Revelry Bathhouse.” After bathing, the bathwater was discharged outside the palace. The area where the bathwater flowed was called the “Warm Fragrance Canal.” People would eagerly gather by the canal to fetch water, and even if they obtained only a small amount to take home, their families would be delighted. After the fall of the Later Zhao’s Shi family, the bronze dragon devices were left in Ye city, and the bathhouse has since been filled and leveled into flat ground.
Xiao Qilu said, “When many women live together and serve the same man, jealousy is bound to arise, especially among those with deceitful hearts. They use their enchanting beauty to captivate the man, making him susceptible to their slanderous words. As for those wicked flatterers skilled in beguiling, nothing can prevent them from ingratiating themselves with the ruler. They seek favor during moments of the ruler’s delight and are admitted to his chambers through private intimacy. Thus, even if initially favored and not dismissed, the signs of early favor followed by rejection start to emerge. When love fades, the oaths made under the sun vanish without a trace. Poignant melodies that sing of abandoned women and words filled with sorrow and sarcasm then come into being.” “Shi Chong, with his insatiable greed, amassed wealth that was unprecedented in his time. His possessions and riches were beyond compare, and he composed songs imitating ‘Joys in the Bedchamber’ and his dances were renowned as ‘Endless Dancing.’ In ancient times, the Ji clan performed the Eight Yi dances in their courtyard, and Guan Zhong had the Three Returns, which later generations regarded as Yue rituals. Is it fair to condemn only the actions of the ancients? Shi Hu swept through the Western Capital, favored alluring beauties, and had a cruel disposition. He even exceeded his bounds by using the emperor’s carriages and imperial procession for his outings. He constructed the Three Heroes Hall and Nine Flowers Hall within the palace. Mysterious and exotic treasures, tributes from distant lands, glittered in Chang’an City. Red and purple gems adorned the palace halls. Throughout history, such tyrants plundered nations, lived extravagantly, disregarded decorum, and seized power through deceit. Their enormous wealth was unmatched by anyone.”