Discover the extraordinary tale of Shang Sanguan, a courageous figure whose noble sacrifice left a lasting impact, even compared to the worship of Guan Yu.
Once upon a time, in Zhuge City, there was a man named Shang Shiyu, who was a scholar. One day, he got drunk and made a few jokes that angered a wealthy man in the city. This wealthy man instructed his servants to beat Shang Shiyu severely, and when they brought him back home, he had already passed away. Shang Shiyu had two sons, the elder one named Shang Chen and the younger one named Shang Li. He also had a daughter named Shang Sanguan, who was just sixteen years old. She had already been promised in marriage, but due to her father’s sudden death, the wedding was postponed. Shang Sanguan’s two brothers went out to seek justice in court, but after a year, the case remained unresolved.
Shang Sanguan’s husband-to-be sent someone to talk to her mother and suggested that they adapt to the current situation and proceed with the wedding. Shang Sanguan’s mother was prepared to agree to the proposal. However, Shang Sanguan approached her mother and said, “Is it reasonable for a daughter to hold a wedding when her father’s body is barely cold? Does he not have parents as well?” Hearing these words from Shang Sanguan, her future in-laws felt deeply ashamed and abandoned their original plan.
Not long after, Shang Sanguan’s two brothers lost their court case and returned home full of resentment. The entire family was grieving and angry. Shang Sanguan’s brothers suggested leaving their father’s body unburied as evidence for future appeals to the authorities. Shang Sanguan said, “If a person is killed and no one cares, it’s evident how corrupt this world has become. Will Heaven send us a judge like Judge Bao for our brothers? Our father’s remains have been exposed for too long; how can we bear it?” Her brothers found her reasoning convincing, and they proceeded to bury their father.
Not long after the funeral, one night, Shang Sanguan left home without anyone knowing where she went. Her mother was filled with worry and shame and didn’t dare to inform the relatives and friends, fearing her husband’s family would find out. Instead, she secretly sent her two sons to investigate Shang Sanguan’s whereabouts.
It had been about half a year, and Shang Sanguan was still missing. One day, on the birthday of the wealthy man who had caused the death of Shang Sanguan’s father, he invited many opera performers to entertain the guests. The performer Sun Chun, along with his two disciples, also attended. One of his disciples was named Wang Cheng, and though he had an ordinary appearance, his singing was impressive, earning applause from the audience. The other disciple was named Li Yu, and he had a strikingly handsome appearance, resembling a beautiful woman. When the guests asked him to perform, he initially refused, claiming he was not familiar with the script. However, when he was forced to sing, his performance included popular children’s songs, which made the guests applaud and laugh.
Master Sun Chun felt embarrassed and explained to his host, saying, “My disciple hasn’t been learning opera for long and has only mastered some drinking etiquette. Please don’t blame him.” The wealthy man then instructed Li Yu to serve the guests with drinks. Li Yu moved gracefully among the guests, adept at understanding the host’s cues, which pleased the wealthy man immensely.
After the banquet, the guests dispersed, and the wealthy man asked Li Yu to stay with him. Li Yu attentively arranged the bedding, helped him change clothes, and served him with great care. The wealthy man, who was quite drunk, made inappropriate remarks and teased Li Yu, but Li Yu only smiled and remained unruffled. The wealthy man became increasingly infatuated with Li Yu and decided to dismiss all his servants, leaving only Li Yu by his side. When the servants left their master, they went to other rooms to drink and chat.
After a while, a sound of “thud” came from the master’s room. A servant rushed to investigate and found the room pitch dark with no sound at all. As the servant was about to turn back, there was suddenly a loud noise, as if a rope supporting a heavy object had suddenly snapped. The servant urgently inquired, but there was no response. The servant quickly called for others, and together they broke down the door and rushed in. They found the master’s body in a gruesome state, with Li Yu having hanged herself. The rope had broken, and she had fallen to the ground. A piece of the rope was still hanging around her neck. Everyone was shocked and immediately reported the situation to the master’s family.
The entire household, including the master and servants, gathered at the scene, but no one could understand what had happened. When they carried Li Yu’s body to the courtyard, they noticed that her shoes and socks were empty, as if she had no feet. They took off her shoes and socks and discovered that she was wearing three-inch golden lotus shoes, the footwear worn by women. To their astonishment, Li Yu was actually a woman! Everyone was even more bewildered.
They hastily summoned Li Yu’s master, Sun Chun, for a thorough interrogation. Sun Chun was completely terrified by everything that had unfolded before his eyes and didn’t know how to answer the barrage of questions. He could only say, “Li Yu joined my troupe as a disciple about a month ago and was willing to accompany me to celebrate the master’s birthday. I really had no idea where she came from.” Because she was wearing mourning clothes, people suspected that she might be an assassin sent by Shang Shiyu’s family. The wealthy man’s family assigned two servants to guard her body. These two servants found Li Yu’s face looked lively, and her body was warm and soft. They secretly plotted to violate her corpse.
One of them initiated the act by holding the body and attempting to undress her. Suddenly, his head seemed to be struck by something, and he started spitting out blood profusely, eventually choking to death. The other person, terrified by what he witnessed, quickly informed the others. This turn of events led people to regard Li Yu as a deity-like figure. The next day, the wealthy man’s family reported the case to the local authorities.
Local officials summoned Shang Chen and Shang Li for questioning. Both brothers stated, “We don’t know anything about this. Our sister, Shang Sanguan, has been missing from home for half a year.” The local authorities had Shang Chen and Shang Li identify Li Yu’s body, confirming that she was indeed Shang Sanguan. The officials were deeply amazed and sympathetic towards Shang Sanguan’s act of sacrifice. As a result, they issued a lenient judgment, ordering the Shang brothers to bury Shang Sanguan’s body properly. They also instructed the wealthy man’s family to reconcile with the Shang family and not seek revenge.
The chronicler of strange tales said: In the family, there might have been heroes like the ancient Yu Rang, but as for the character of the Shang brothers, it’s easy to imagine. When we consider the character of Shang Sanguan, even the flowing waters of the Yi River would feel ashamed to keep flowing, let alone the ordinary people who drift through life without achievement! May all the women in the world embroider an image of Sanguan with silk threads for worship. This act of merit will not be inferior to the worship of Guan Yu in the slightest.