Shang Sanguan: The Remarkable Story of Revenge and Sacrifice

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.

《商三官》

故诸葛城,有商士禹者,士人也。以醉谑忤邑豪,豪嗾家奴乱捶之,舁归而死。禹二子,长曰臣,次曰礼。一女曰三官,年十六,出阁有期,以父故不果。两兄出讼,经岁不得结。婿家遣人参母,请从权毕姻事,母将许之。女进曰:“焉有父尸未寒而行吉礼?彼独无父母乎?”婿家闻之,惭而止。无何,两兄讼不得直,负屈归,举家悲愤。兄弟谋留父尸,张再讼之本。三官曰:“人被杀而不理,时事可知矣。天将为汝兄弟专生一阎罗包老耶?骨骸暴露,于心何忍矣!”二兄服其言,乃葬父。葬已,三官夜遁,不知所往。母惭怍,唯恐婿家知,不敢告族党,但嘱二子冥冥侦察之。

几半年,杳不可寻。会豪诞辰,招优为戏。优人孙淳携二弟子往执役。其一王成,姿容平等,而音词清彻,群赞赏焉。其一李玉,貌韶秀如好女,呼令歌,辞以不稔,强之,所度曲半杂儿女俚谣,合座为之鼓掌。孙大惭,白主人:“此子从学未久,只解行觞耳。幸勿罪责。”即命行酒。玉往来给奉,善觑主人意向,豪悦之。酒阑人散,留与同寝。玉代豪拂榻解履,殷勤周至。醉语狎之,但有展笑。豪惑益甚,尽遣诸仆去,独留玉。玉伺诸仆去,阖扉下楗焉。诸仆就别室饮。

移时,闻厅事中格格有声。一仆往觇之,见室内冥黑,寂不闻声。行将旋踵,忽有响声甚厉,如悬重物而断其索。亟问之,并无应者。呼众排阖入,则主人身首两断,玉自经死,绳绝堕地上,梁间颈际,残绠俨然。众大骇,传告内闼,群集莫解。众移玉尸于庭,觉其袜履,虚若无足,解之,则素舄如钩,盖女子也,益骇。呼孙淳诘之。淳骇极,不知所对,但云:“玉月前投作弟子,愿从寿主人,实不知从来。”以其服凶,疑是商家刺客,暂以二人逻守之。女貌如生,抚之,肢体温软。二人窃谋淫之。一人抱尸转侧,方将缓其结束,忽脑如物击,口血暴注,顷刻已死。其一大惊,告众,众敬若神明焉,且以告郡。郡官问臣及礼,并言:“不知。但妹亡去,已半载矣。”俾往验视,果三官。官奇之,判二兄领葬,敕豪家勿仇。

异史氏曰:家有女豫让而不知,则兄之为丈夫者可知矣。然三官之为人,即萧萧易水,亦将羞而不流,况碌碌与世浮沉者耶!愿天下闺中人,买丝绣之,其功德当不减于奉壮缪也。

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