Explore the touching tale of Qiao Niang, a story of love, loss, and a remarkable reunion that transcends the boundaries of life and death.
In Guangdong, there was a gentry surnamed Fu. When he was in his sixties, he had a son named Lian, who was very intelligent but was born with an underdeveloped male organ. At the age of seventeen, his male organ was only the size of a silkworm. People from near and far knew about it, and no one was willing to marry their daughter to him. Fu Lian himself feared that his family lineage would come to an end and was filled with worry day and night, but there was nothing he could do.
Fu Lian was studying with his teacher. One day, his teacher had to go out for some reason, and coincidentally, there were monkey performers outside the door. Fu Lian went to watch, which delayed his studies. Fu Lian estimated that his teacher would be returning soon and felt afraid, so he left home. In a place several miles away from home, he saw a young lady in white attire, accompanied by a little maid walking ahead. When the young lady turned around, Fu Lian saw that she was incredibly enchanting. She moved slowly, and Fu Lian quickly approached her. The young lady turned to the maid and said, “Try asking the young gentleman if he wants to go to Hainan Island.” The maid indeed called Fu Lian to inquire. Fu Lian asked what the matter was, and the young lady said, “If you’re going to Hainan Island, I have a letter to trouble you to deliver to my hometown. My elderly mother is at home, and she can also be your host.” Fu Lian didn’t have a definite destination when he left home, so he thought going to Hainan would be fine and agreed. The young lady took out a letter and gave it to the maid, who then handed it to Fu Lian. Fu Lian asked for the name and address, and the young lady said, “My surname is Hua, and I live in Qin Female Village, three or four miles north of the city.”
Fu Lian boarded a boat and set off. When he arrived at the northern part of Qiongzhou City, the sun had already set. He inquired about Qin Female Village, but no one knew about it. He walked four or five miles to the north, and by this time, the stars and moon were high in the sky. The desolate wilderness stretched out, and he couldn’t find any inn in the vast open space. It was truly embarrassing. Fu Lian saw a grave by the roadside and thought of resting beside it, but he was afraid of wild animals, so he climbed up a tree and perched on a branch like a monkey. Listening to the pine trees rustling and the night insects chirping, his heart was filled with anxiety and regret burned within him. Suddenly, he heard voices below him and looked down. There was a courtyard below, with a beautiful lady sitting on a rock, and two maids holding lanterns standing on either side to serve her. The lady said to the maid on her left, “Tonight, under the bright moon and sparse stars, brew a cup of the tea that Hua Gu gifted and enjoy this beautiful night.” Fu Lian realized that all of this was supernatural, and he couldn’t help but shudder with fear, unable to breathe loudly. Suddenly, one of the maids raised her head and said, “There’s someone in the tree!” The lady was startled and said, “Who dares to be so bold, secretly peering at us!” Fu Lian was extremely frightened and couldn’t escape, so he had no choice but to climb down from the tree and prostrate himself on the ground, begging for forgiveness. The lady approached and, upon seeing him, went from anger to delight, pulling Fu Lian to sit beside her. Fu Lian glanced at her and saw that she was about seventeen or eighteen years old, incredibly charming. Her accent was also not local. The lady asked, “Where is the young gentleman headed?” Fu Lian replied, “I’m delivering a letter for someone.” The lady said, “There are many bandits in the wilderness, and sleeping outdoors is worrisome. If you don’t mind a simple grass hut, I hope you can come to my home and rest.” With that, she invited Fu Lian inside.
Inside the house, there was only one bed, and the young lady instructed the maid to prepare two sets of bedding. Fu Lian felt ashamed and offered to sleep on the floor. The lady smiled and said, “When I encounter a guest, how can I be like Chen Yuanlong during the Three Kingdoms era, sleeping alone on a high bed?” Fu Lian had no choice but to share the bed with the young lady, but due to fear and unease, he dared not stretch his body. After a while, the young lady secretly reached her hand into Fu Lian’s blanket and gently touched his legs. Fu Lian pretended to be asleep, as if he had no awareness. Some time later, she lifted the blanket and slipped in, shaking Fu Lian, who still didn’t move. The lady then reached down to his private area, but when her hand touched it, she stopped abruptly, quietly left the bed, and soon started crying. Fu Lian felt both anxious and ashamed, with no place to hide his shame, cursing his physical defect. The lady called the maid to light a lamp, and when the maid saw tears on her face, she asked in astonishment what had caused her distress. The lady shook her head and said, “I lament my own misfortune.” The maid stood by the bed, observing her expression, and the lady said, “Wake him up and let him go.” Upon hearing this, Fu Lian felt even more embarrassed and guilty, and he feared being stranded in the desolate wilderness in the middle of the night with nowhere to go.
While they were deep in thought, a woman pushed the door open. The maid exclaimed, “Hua Gu has arrived.” Fu Lian secretly looked and saw that she was in her fifties, still exuding charm. Hua Gu, noticing that the lady wasn’t asleep, inquired about the situation, but the lady remained silent. She also noticed a person lying on the bed and asked, “Who is the person sharing the bed?” The maid replied, “A young man came to stay the night.” Hua Gu chuckled and said, “I didn’t expect my daughter to become intimate with someone.” Seeing that her daughter, Qiao Niang, had tears in her eyes, she asked in surprise, “During the bridal chamber, there should be no reason for sadness and tears. Did the young man treat you too roughly?” Qiao Niang remained silent, her sorrow deepening. Hua Gu wanted to lift the covers to see Fu Lian and, in doing so, a letter fell onto the bed. Hua Gu picked it up and, upon reading it, exclaimed in astonishment, “This is my daughter’s handwriting!” She opened the letter and continued to express her astonishment. Qiao Niang asked her what was wrong, and Hua Gu said, “It’s a letter from my third daughter, saying that Wu Lang has already died, and she is now all alone, without any support or family. This is terrible!” Qiao Niang said, “He initially came to deliver a letter for someone else, luckily he hasn’t left yet.”
Hua Gu instructed Fu Lian to get up and asked where the letter had come from. Fu Lian explained everything. Hua Gu said, “You’ve gone through a lot of trouble to deliver this letter. How can I repay you?” She examined him closely and asked with a smile, “How did you offend Qiao Niang?” Fu Lian replied, “I don’t know.” Hua Gu then questioned Qiao Niang, and Qiao Niang sighed, saying, “I am grieving on my own. In life, I married a man who was like a eunuch, and after his death, I encountered someone similar, which is why I am sorrowful.” Hua Gu looked at Fu Lian and said, “You clever rascal, are you truly a man in a woman’s body? You are my guest; you shouldn’t always disturb other people.” She then led Fu Lian to the east wing of the house, reached into his trousers, and felt around, saying with a smile, “No wonder Qiao Niang cried. But fortunately, there’s still something there, and we can work on it.” She lit a lamp, searched through all the boxes, and found a black pill, which she handed to Fu Lian, instructing him to swallow it and not move around, and then she left. Fu Lian lay there alone, pondering, wondering what ailment the pill was meant to cure. Near dawn, when he woke up, he felt a warmth below his navel, rushing straight to his private area. It seemed like something was hanging between his legs. When he touched it, he found that he had become a full-grown man below. He was overjoyed, as if he had just received a great blessing.
As the window paper was just turning pale, Hua Gu entered and gave Fu Lian some pancakes to eat. She advised him to be patient and sit tight, then closed the door behind her and left. Hua Gu came out and told Qiao Niang, “That young man has merits for delivering the letter. I’ll keep him here until Third Sister arrives, and they can establish a sisterly relationship. I’ll keep him inside for now to avoid any unpleasantness.” After saying this, she left.
Fu Lian wandered around the room, feeling quite bored. From time to time, he approached the crack in the door, peering out like a bird from a cage. When he saw Qiao Niang, he thought about inviting her over and being courteous, but he felt embarrassed and abandoned the idea. In the evening, Hua Gu returned with Third Sister. She opened the door and exclaimed, “Our dear husband must have been bored to death! Come over and thank Third Sister.” The man they had met on the way reluctantly entered the room and greeted Fu Lian. Hua Gu told them to address each other as siblings. Qiao Niang playfully said, “Siblinghood works too.” They all gathered in the main hall and had some drinks. In the midst of drinking, Qiao Niang jokingly asked, “Do eunuchs also get tempted by beautiful women?” Fu Lian replied, “A lame man still thinks about shoes, and a blind person still wants to look.” They all shared a knowing smile.
Qiao Niang, seeing that Third Sister was tired from the journey, insisted on arranging her rest. Hua Gu glanced at Third Sister, indicating that she should go with Fu Lian. Third Sister blushed and hesitated. Hua Gu said, “In reality, this man is actually a woman. What’s there to be afraid of?” With that, she urged the two of them to go together. She privately told Fu Lian, “In secret, you are my son-in-law, but on the surface, pretend to be my son. That should suffice.” Fu Lian was delighted and embraced Third Sister as they got into bed, their passion igniting quickly, as one can well imagine.
Afterward, Fu Lian asked by the pillow, “Who is Qiao Niang?” Third Sister replied, “She’s a ghost. Beautiful and talented, but her fate was unfortunate. She married the youngest son of the Mao family, but he had a defect, and at eighteen, he still couldn’t perform in bed. This made Qiao Niang unhappy, and she died with resentment.” Fu Lian was shocked and suspicious that Third Sister was also a ghost. Third Sister said, “Let me tell you the truth, I’m not a ghost; I’m a fox. Qiao Niang lived alone without companions, and my son and I were homeless, so we borrowed her house to stay.” Fu Lian was astonished, but Third Sister reassured him, saying, “You don’t need to be afraid. Although we are ghosts and foxes, we don’t intend to harm you.” From then on, they ate, drank, talked, and laughed together every day. Although Fu Lian knew Qiao Niang wasn’t human, he admired her beauty and grace, regretting that he didn’t have the opportunity to please her. Fu Lian was gentle and cultured, skilled in telling jokes, and he earned Qiao Niang’s affection.
One day, Hua Gu and her son went out, leaving Fu Lian locked inside the house. Fu Lian felt bored and paced around the room, calling out to Qiao Niang through the door. Qiao Niang had the maid open the door after trying several keys. Fu Lian approached Qiao Niang and asked to spend some time alone with her. Qiao Niang sent the maid away and embraced Fu Lian, and they lay down on the bed together. Qiao Niang playfully teased him, touching the area below his navel, saying, “It’s a pity you’re such a good person but lacking something.” As she spoke, she encountered something thick and large, and she exclaimed, “Why was it so small before, and suddenly it’s become thick and large now?” Fu Lian laughed and said, “In the past, I was shy in front of guests, so it retracted. But now, because you mocked me and made me uncomfortable, it swelled up like a frog being angry.” So the two of them became affectionate with each other. After a while, Qiao Niang said in anger, “Now I understand why they locked you in the room. In the past, they had nowhere to stay, wandering everywhere, and I lent them my house. Third Sister learned embroidery from me, and I never hesitated to teach her. But they’re so jealous!” Fu Lian comforted and explained to her, revealing the truth, but Qiao Niang still held a grudge against them. Fu Lian said, “Don’t make a fuss. Hua Gu told me not to reveal it.” Before he could finish speaking, Hua Gu pushed open the door and caught them in the act. They hastily got up. Hua Gu stared and asked, “Who opened the door?” Qiao Niang admitted with a smile that it was her. Hua Gu became even angrier and continued to scold them. Qiao Niang sarcastically remarked, “Grandma, you’re quite a source of amusement! This man is no different from a woman. What can he do?” Third Sister, seeing the conflict between her mother and Qiao Niang, felt uneasy and intervened on both sides, eventually making them reconcile. Although Qiao Niang’s words were intense, she willingly compromised with Third Sister. However, due to Hua Gu’s constant vigilance, Qiao Niang and Fu Lian’s feelings could not be realized, and they could only exchange affectionate glances.
One day, Hua Gu said to Fu Lian, “My Third Sister and her sisters have all served you. It’s not a long-term solution for you to stay here. You should go back and inform your parents and arrange your engagement.” Then she prepared his belongings and urged Fu Lian to hit the road. Third Sister and Qiao Niang faced Fu Lian with sadness on their faces, especially Qiao Niang, who was deeply moved. Tears flowed from her eyes uncontrollably. Hua Gu tried to console and restrain them, then she led Fu Lian away. When they reached the door, the courtyard and the house suddenly disappeared, leaving only a desolate tomb. Hua Gu accompanied Fu Lian to the boat and said, “After you leave, I will take these two women back to your hometown and rent a house there. If you don’t forget the good times we’ve had, you can come to the abandoned garden at the Li family to welcome your wedding.” So Fu Lian returned home.
At that time, Fu Lian’s father had been anxiously searching for his son and was overjoyed when he returned. Fu Lian briefly recounted his experiences and mentioned the marriage proposal from the Hua family. His father said, “How can you believe in such nonsense? You were able to return alive solely because of your physical defect; otherwise, you would have died long ago!” Fu Lian replied, “Even though they are not human, they have emotions just like us, and they are intelligent and beautiful. Marrying them won’t subject us to ridicule from relatives and friends.” His father remained silent, merely smiling at him.
After leaving his father’s room, Fu Lian, emboldened by his newfound ability, could not restrain himself and began an illicit relationship with a maid. This affair escalated to the point where they engaged in their activities openly during daylight hours, with the intention of shocking his parents when they found out.
One day, while Fu Lian was engaged in his affair with the maid, he was spotted by a young maid who hurriedly reported it to his mother. Initially, his mother did not believe it and approached to investigate, only to be truly shocked. She then summoned the maid to learn all the details of the situation. Delighted with this discovery, she began spreading the news, proudly asserting that her son was not impotent and was seeking a marriage proposal from a wealthy family.
In private, Fu Lian told his mother, “I won’t marry anyone except the Hua family girl.” His mother objected, saying, “There are plenty of beautiful women in the world; why choose a woman with a supernatural background?” Fu Lian responded, “If it weren’t for Hua Gu, I would never have known the proper relations between men and women. Going against this agreement would bring bad luck.” Fu Lian’s father agreed with his son’s viewpoint and dispatched a male servant and an elderly maidservant to investigate the situation.
They walked about four or five miles outside the East City Gate and found Li’s Garden. Among the bamboo and trees of the broken walls, they saw smoke rising. The elderly maidservant got off the carriage and walked to the front gate. She saw the mother and son busy cleaning tables and washing dishes, as if they were waiting for guests. The elderly maidservant paid her respects and conveyed the message from their master. Upon seeing San Niang, she exclaimed in surprise, “Is this our young mistress? I find her so lovable; no wonder our young master has been yearning for her!” She then inquired about her sister. Hua Gu sighed, saying, “She was my adopted daughter. She suddenly passed away three days ago.” Afterward, she treated the elderly maidservant and the male servant to food and wine.
The elderly maidservant returned home and praised San Niang’s beauty and demeanor highly. Fu Lian’s parents were delighted upon hearing this. Later, they learned about the news of Qiao Niang’s passing, which saddened Fu Lian deeply. On the night of their wedding, when he saw Hua Gu again, he personally inquired about Qiao Niang. Hua Gu replied, “She has been reincarnated in the northern lands.” Fu Lian sighed in sorrow for a long time. Fu Lian married San Niang, but he could never forget Qiao Niang. Whenever someone came from Qiongzhou, he would invariably summon them to inquire about her.
Some people claimed to have heard the cries of the Qin female ghost at night. Fu Lian found this very strange and went to tell San Niang. San Niang contemplated for a long time and tearfully said, “I have wronged my sister!” When Fu Lian pressed for more details, she continued, “When we came here, we never actually told her. Could it be that the one crying in resentment there is my sister? I initially planned to tell you, but I was afraid it would reveal Mother’s fault.” Upon hearing this, Fu Lian’s sorrow turned to joy. He immediately ordered a carriage and, traveling day and night, rushed to the Qin female’s tomb. He knocked on the trees in front of the grave and loudly called out, “Qiao Niang, Qiao Niang! I’m here.” Before long, he saw a young woman holding a baby emerge from the grave. She looked up with a sorrowful expression, crying bitterly. She gazed at Fu Lian with resentment, and Fu Lian also shed tears. He inquired about the infant in Qiao Niang’s arms and asked whose child it was. Qiao Niang replied, “This is the illegitimate child you left behind. He’s three months old now.” Fu Lian sighed and said, “I mistakenly followed Hua Gu’s words, causing both of you to suffer in grief. I cannot escape this guilt.” They then left the grave together, returned home by crossing the sea. Fu Lian held his son and told his mother about everything. His mother looked at the child, who was robust and didn’t seem to be of ghostly origin, and was overjoyed.
Qiao Niang got along harmoniously with San Niang and was very filial to the elderly. Later, Fu Lian’s father fell ill and called for a doctor. Qiao Niang said, “The illness is incurable; the soul has already left the body.” She urged them to prepare the things needed for the funeral. When everything was ready, the old man passed away. Qiao Niang’s son grew up and greatly resembled his father. He was exceptionally intelligent and became a scholar at the age of fourteen. Weng Zixia, who lived in Gaoyou, heard this story while traveling in Guangdong. She didn’t remember the place name and didn’t know how it all ended.