Lin Siniang: A Tale of Love and Poetry in Ancient China

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.

《林四娘》

青州道陈公宝钥,闽人。夜独坐,有女子搴帏入。视之,不识,而艳绝,长袖宫装,笑云:“清夜兀坐,得勿寂耶?”公惊问何人,曰:“妾家不远,近在西邻。”公意其鬼,而心好之,捉袂挽坐,谈词风雅,大悦。拥之,不甚抗拒,顾曰:“他无人耶?”公急阖户,曰:“无。”促其缓裳,意殊羞怯,公代为之殷勤。女曰:“妾年二十,犹处子也,狂将不堪。”狎亵既竟,流丹浃席。既而枕边私语,自言“林四娘”。公详诘之,曰:“一世坚贞,业为君轻薄殆尽矣。有心爱妾,但图永好可耳,絮絮何为?”无何,鸡鸣,遂起而去。由此夜夜必至,每与阖户雅饮。谈及音律,辄能剖悉宫商,公遂意其工于度曲。曰:“儿时之所习也。”公请一领雅奏。女曰:“久矣不托于音,节奏强半遗忘,恐为知者笑耳。”再强之,乃俯首击节,唱伊凉之调,其声哀婉。歌已,泣下。公亦为酸恻,抱而慰之曰:“卿勿为亡国之音,使人悒悒。”女曰:“声以宣意,哀者不能使乐,亦犹乐者不能使哀。”两人燕昵,过于琴瑟。

既久,家人窃听之,闻其歌者,无不流涕。夫人窥见其容,疑人世无此妖丽,非鬼必狐,惧为厌蛊,劝公绝之。公不能听,但固诘之。女愀然曰:“妾衡府宫人也。遭难而死,十七年矣。以君高义,托为燕婉,然实不敢祸君。倘见疑畏,即从此辞。”公曰:“我不为嫌,但燕好若此,不可不知其实耳。”乃问宫中事。女缅述,津津可听,谈及式微之际,则哽咽不能成语。女不甚睡,每夜辄起诵准提、金刚诸经咒。公问:“九原能自忏耶?”曰:“一也。妾思终身沦落,欲度来生耳。”又每与公评骘诗词,瑕辄疵之,至好句,则曼声娇吟。意绪风流,使人忘倦。公问:“工诗乎?”曰:“生时亦偶为之。”公索其赠,笑曰:“儿女之语,乌足为高人道。”

居三年,一夕,忽惨然告别。公惊问之,答云:“冥王以妾生前无罪,死犹不忘经咒,俾生王家。别在今宵,永无见期。”言已怆然,公亦泪下。乃置酒相与痛饮。女慷慨而歌,为哀曼之音,一字百转,每至悲处,辄便哽咽。数停数起,而后终曲,饮不能畅。乃起,逡巡欲别。公固挽之,又坐少时。鸡声忽唱,乃曰:“必不可以久留矣。然君每怪妾不肯献丑,今将长别,当率成一章。”索笔构成,曰:“心悲意乱,不能推敲,乖音错节,慎勿出以示人。”掩袖而去。公送诸门外,湮然没。公怅悼良久。视其诗,字态端好,珍而藏之。诗曰:

静锁深宫十七年,谁将故国问青天?

闲看殿宇封乔木,泣望君王化杜鹃。

海国波涛斜夕照,汉家箫鼓静烽烟。

红颜力弱难为厉,惠质心悲只问禅。

日诵菩提千百句,闲看贝叶两三篇。

高唱梨园歌代哭,请君独听亦潸然。

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