Explore the poignant story of Lin Siniang, a woman of beauty and talent, as she bids farewell through poetry in ancient China.
Qingzhou Daoist Chen Baoyao was from Fujian. One night, while sitting alone, a woman lifted the curtain and entered. Chen Baoyao looked at her and didn’t recognize her, but he saw that this woman was exceptionally beautiful, dressed in long-sleeved palace attire, and smiling. He said, “Sitting alone late at night, isn’t it lonely?” Chen Baoyao asked her in surprise who she was, and the woman said, “My house is not far from here, just to the west.” Chen Baoyao suspected that the woman might be a ghost, but he liked her in his heart, so he pulled at her sleeve and invited her to sit down. The woman spoke elegantly, and Chen Baoyao was very pleased. Chen Baoyao embraced her, and the woman didn’t resist too much. She looked around and said, “No one else here, right?” Chen Baoyao quickly closed the door and said, “No one.” He urged her to loosen her clothes, and she was very shy, so Chen Baoyao helped her undress. The woman said, “I’m twenty years old and still a virgin. I can’t handle being too reckless.” After their intimacy, there were some traces of blood on the bed. Later, the woman spoke softly by the pillow and called herself Lin Siniang. Chen Baoyao wanted to inquire more, and Lin Siniang said, “I have been faithful all my life. Now I have almost disappeared because of your frivolousness. If you love me, just let us be together forever. Why bother with all this chattering?” Soon, the rooster crowed, and Lin Siniang got up and left. From then on, she would come every night. Whenever Chen Baoyao saw Lin Siniang coming, he would close the door, and they would drink and chat. When they talked about music, Lin Siniang could distinguish and analyze various tones, so Chen Baoyao guessed that she was good at composing and singing. Lin Siniang said, “I learned that when I was a child.” Chen Baoyao asked her to play a tune for him. Lin Siniang said, “It’s been a long time since I did this, and I’ve mostly forgotten the rhythms. I’m afraid I’ll be laughed at by knowledgeable people.” Chen Baoyao insisted, so she reluctantly lowered her head and played and sang the songs of Yizhou and Liangzhou. Her voice was mournful and moving. After singing, tears flowed uncontrollably. Chen Baoyao also felt sad and hugged Lin Siniang, comforting her, saying, “Please don’t sing these sorrowful songs anymore. They make people melancholic.” Lin Siniang said, “Voice is a means of expressing emotions. Sad songs cannot bring joy, just as joyful songs cannot bring sadness.” The two of them were harmonious and intimate, surpassing the relationship of husband and wife.
As time passed, Lin Siniang’s singing moved her family to tears when they secretly listened. Lady Chen, on the other hand, caught a glimpse of Lin Siniang’s appearance and suspected that there could be no woman in the world so enchantingly beautiful. She believed that if Lin Siniang was not a ghost, she must be a fox spirit. Fearing that such things might bewitch her husband, she urged him to sever ties with Lin Siniang.
However, Chen Baoyao did not heed his wife’s advice and continued his relationship with Lin Siniang. He simply kept questioning her relentlessly. Lin Siniang, with a sad expression, said, “I was a palace maid in the Hengwang Mansion. I met with misfortune and died seventeen years ago. Because you are a compassionate and righteous person, I have attached myself to you, forming a harmonious pair. But I truly dare not harm you. If you suspect me or fear me, let’s part ways from now on.”
Chen Baoyao replied, “I don’t distrust you, but our affection is deep, and I must know the truth.” He then inquired about matters within the palace. Lin Siniang recalled and recounted, narrating with great interest. When she talked about the decline of her former life, she choked up with sorrow, unable to speak. Lin Siniang hardly slept at night, reciting sutras such as the “Zhunti” and “Vajra.”
Chen Baoyao asked, “Can one repent in the underworld?” Lin Siniang replied, “It’s the same as in the human world. I have lived a destitute and fallen life in this lifetime and plan to save myself, seeking happiness in the next life.”
Lin Siniang often discussed poetry with Chen Baoyao, pointing out flaws in imperfect verses and reciting beautiful lines with a melodious and moving tone. The deep and elegant meaning, as well as the charm of her words, made people forget their fatigue. Chen Baoyao asked, “Can you write poetry?” Lin Siniang replied with a smile, “I occasionally write a little during my lifetime, but it’s hardly worth mentioning to someone as accomplished as you.”
After living together for three years, one evening, Lin Siniang suddenly came to bid farewell with sadness. Chen Baoyao was astonished and asked what was happening. She said, “Because I had no sins in my lifetime and continued to recite sutras even after death, the King of Hell has granted me a rebirth into a royal family. Tonight, we must part ways, and we will never meet again.” After saying this, she cried sorrowfully, and Chen Baoyao also shed tears. They then prepared food and wine, and they drank together to drown their sorrows.
Lin Siniang generously started singing a song. Her singing was full of sorrow and longing, each word turned a hundred times. Whenever she reached a melancholic part, she would choke up and stop. They repeated this several times before finishing the song, and they couldn’t continue drinking. Lin Siniang then stood up, hesitating to say goodbye. Chen Baoyao insisted on keeping her a while longer, so she sat down again.
Suddenly, a rooster crowed, and Lin Siniang said, “I can’t stay any longer. You always complained that I wouldn’t show my inferior side. Since we’re parting forever, I should write a poem as a memento.” She took a brush, thought for a moment, and wrote it down in one go. She told Chen Baoyao, “My heart is heavy, and my thoughts are scattered. I couldn’t carefully refine it, so there may be errors in rhyme and rhythm. Please don’t show it to anyone else.” After saying this, she covered her face with her sleeve and left. Chen Baoyao escorted her to the door, and Lin Siniang quietly disappeared.
Chen Baoyao felt desolate and sorrowful for a long time. He carefully examined the poem, and its characters were well-formed and beautiful. He cherished it and stored it away. The poem goes like this:
Quietly confined in the deep palace for seventeen years,
Who will ask the heavens about my homeland?
Leisurely observing the palaces enveloping towering trees,
I weep while hoping for the king to transform into a cuckoo.
The sea in the foreign land ripples under the slanting evening sun,
While in the Han dynasty, the flute and drums are still, and the beacon fires are quiet.
A beautiful face may lack strength to endure hardships,
But a kind-hearted nature, in sorrow, seeks only serenity.
Reciting the Bodhi Sutra a thousand times a day,
Casually reading a few chapters of the Lotus Sutra.
Singing high the Pear Garden opera in lieu of lamentation,
I implore you to listen alone, and tears will flow naturally.