Uncover the Wu Dynasty's blend of enigmatic prophecies and artistic mastery, shaping its unique historical and cultural legacy.
When Sun Jian’s mother was pregnant with Sun Jian, she dreamt that her intestines flowed out and wrapped around her waist. A little girl carrying a fragrant grass appeared and circled outside the Changmen gate in the land of Wu. She also gave Sun Jian’s mother a clump of fragrant grass. The little girl said to Sun Jian’s mother, “This is a very auspicious omen, and in the future, you will give birth to a son with great talent and ambition. Now, I give you a piece of earth, and he will become a king in the land of Wu, ruling over a third of the world. However, after one hundred years, you should pass the treasures in your hands to someone else.” After saying this, the little girl disappeared, and Sun Jian’s mother woke up. After dawn, she went for divination. The diviner said, “Seeing a little girl carrying you around the Changmen gate in a dream, that little girl was the Tai Bai star, influenced to deliver a message to you.” The rise of an emperor is always accompanied by mysterious phenomena, and white vapor is golden. It wasn’t until the downfall of Wu and the establishment of the Jin Dynasty that this dream was fully confirmed.
Xiao Qilu said: According to “Records of the Three Kingdoms · Book of Wu,” it is said that when Sun Jian’s mother was pregnant with Sun Jian, she dreamed that her intestines flowed out and wrapped around the Changmen gate. This account differs from Wang Jia’s record. The west is associated with the metal element, which aligns with the Jin Dynasty, known for its virtue of metal, coming to power. The omens of Wu’s rise and fall were later fulfilled. Perhaps this dream was a portrayal of the downfall of Wu in favor of the Jin Dynasty. Since ancient times, there have been sayings of six dreams and eight omens, and these contents are clearly written in the “I Ching.” As for Zheng Wengong’s concubine Yanji dreaming of an angel giving her an orchid, and the birth of Duke Mu, or Emperor Jing of Han’s Empress Wang dreaming of the sun entering her womb and giving birth to Emperor Wu of Han, these omens belong to the same category but are not the same thing. When Sun Wu rose to power, during the reign of Sun Quan, the omens related to fragrant grass in Sun Jian’s mother’s dream were fulfilled. In the first year of Taikang in the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin, Sun Hao, the ruler of Wu, sent six gold seals and said, “At that time, there were no craftsmen skilled in carving jade in Wu, so we made the seals out of gold.” Back in the day, the Sun clan dominated Jiangdong, conquered the Baiyue tribes, swallowed up Hanyang, intimidated the Central Plains, and established a prosperous and powerful country, creating the flourishing era of the Three Kingdoms. However, there were still some vassals who did not submit and launched wars year after year. Sun Quan was often frustrated by the resistance from the Qiong and Shu regions and felt indignant about the provocations from Yan and Wei. With unrest in all directions, he had to send troops to suppress conflicts, hence the use of the military. The rulers of Sun Wu had no choice but to adhere to the tradition of frugality and simplicity, cutting off various expenses for extravagant pleasures. This was not to spare the labor of their own people but rather a demonstration of their commitment to the virtue of thriftiness. It wasn’t true that there were no craftsmen skilled in carving jade in the country. Sun Wu had always looked down on luxurious pavilions and high platforms, just as Han Wang disregarded a cart full of jade fragments and the King of Yan threw away unprocessed jade in the corridor. They were all people who abandoned worldly fame and fortune, and their moral principles shine throughout the ages. They dedicated themselves to promoting the spirit of frugality and thriftiness. Isn’t that noble? It wasn’t until the downfall of Wu that Sun Hao handed over the six gold seals to the Jin Dynasty, and Sun Jian’s mother’s dream was fully realized.
Sun Quan’s wife, Lady Zhao, was the sister of Prime Minister Zhao Da. She excelled in painting, and her paintings were extraordinarily exquisite and unparalleled in the world. She could weave brocades with cloud and dragon patterns using colored silk threads between her fingers. These brocades ranged from a foot wide for the larger ones to just one square inch for the smaller ones. People in the palace referred to Lady Zhao as “the Incomparable Weaver.” Initially, Sun Quan often lamented that the Wei and Shu kingdoms had not yet been pacified. During his leisure time between campaigns, he always wanted to find someone skilled in painting to depict the topography and military formations of the country. Zhao Da recommended his sister, Lady Zhao, for this task. Sun Quan asked Lady Zhao to depict the topography of the entire country. She replied, “The colors of paintings fade easily and cannot be preserved for long. However, I am skilled in embroidery, and I can weave the maps of various regions on square pieces of silk. I can also create embroidered depictions of the Five Sacred Mountains, rivers, seas, cities, and military formations.” After completing this silk map, Lady Zhao presented it to Sun Quan, and people of that time referred to her as “the Unrivaled Needlewoman.” Even the wooden monkey carved by a craftsman from Wei at the tip of thorns, the cloud ladder made by Gongshu Pan for the Chu army’s attack on the Song kingdom, and the kites made by Mozi were not as beautiful as this silk-woven map.
Sun Quan lived in the Zhaoyang Palace, and during the hot summer weather, he would raise purple silk curtains woven with live silkworms. Zhao Lady remarked, “These purple silk curtains are not worth treasuring.” Sun Quan asked Lady Zhao to explain the meaning of her statement. Lady Zhao replied, “I am racking my brain to create curtains that, even when lowered, allow the cool breeze to enter freely. There should be no obstruction or hindrance when looking out from inside the curtains. Even those standing within the curtains should feel the gentle breeze as it naturally cools the air, just like soaring with the wind.” Sun Quan praised her idea repeatedly. Lady Zhao then separated her hair and magically glued it together using a special adhesive from the land of Yueyi, which could mend broken bowstrings without fail. She wove this separated hair into a delicate silk fabric, a process that took several months to complete. With this fabric, she crafted curtains that, whether viewed from inside or outside, appeared to flutter like wisps of smoke, naturally creating a cool atmosphere within. Sun Quan often used these curtains while on military campaigns, folding them up to fit inside a pillow. People of that time referred to Lady Zhao as “the Silk Artisan.” Hence, it was said that Wu had “the Three Unrivaled Treasures,” unmatched in the world. However, some individuals seeking favor and flattery accused Lady Zhao of showing off in front of the ruler, leading to her demotion. Despite the suspicions surrounding Lady Zhao, her exquisite silk creations still remained in the palace. After the downfall of Wu, it is unknown where these fabrics ended up.
Sun Quan’s Lady Pan, her father committed a crime and was punished, and as a result, she was sent into the palace to oversee the production of silk and ceremonial clothing. She possessed a beautiful and elegant appearance, and few could compare to her; she was the unparalleled beauty of Jiangdong. Over a hundred people were imprisoned alongside Lady Pan, and they all regarded her as a celestial being, showing her respect but keeping their distance. Officials informed Sun Quan of Lady Pan’s beauty, and he had an artist paint a portrait of her. However, due to her sorrow and inability to eat, her health deteriorated, and her appearance changed. The artist presented the true likeness of Lady Pan to Sun Quan, who was delighted when he saw it. He excitedly struck a table with an amber ruyi, causing it to break instantly. Sun Quan exclaimed, “This woman is truly a celestial being! Even with a sad countenance, she is still so captivating, let alone when she is in a joyful mood!” He then ordered a beautifully carved carriage to be sent to the weaving workshop and welcomed Lady Pan into the palace. True to her natural beauty, Lady Pan gained Sun Quan’s favor. Sun Quan and Lady Pan often visited the Zhaoxuantai together, and their affections grew. After one banquet, Lady Pan became heavily intoxicated and vomited into a jade pot. A maidservant went to empty the pot and found a Huoqi finger ring inside. Sun Quan hung it on a pomegranate tree branch and built a pavilion next to it, naming it the “Huanliu Pavilion.” At that time, an advisor cautioned, “Now, the Wu and Shu kingdoms are in a competition for victory. The homophonic name ‘Huanliu’ may bring inauspicious signs.” Sun Quan then reversed the two characters and named it the “Liuhuan Pavilion.” On another occasion, while Sun Quan and Lady Pan were at a fishing pavilion, they caught a large fish. Sun Quan was delighted, and Lady Pan remarked, “I’ve heard the story of Long Yangjun shedding tears when catching a fish. Today, your happiness in catching this large fish is remarkable. People often say that where there is happiness, there will also be sorrow; this is something I take to heart!” In Lady Pan’s later years, she gradually became a victim of slander and Sun Quan distanced himself from her. People at the time used to say, “Lady Pan foresees matters as if she were a deity.” Sun Quan ceased his social outings with Lady Pan, and eventually, she was indeed expelled from the palace. The foundation of the fishing pavilion where Sun Quan and Lady Pan once enjoyed their leisure still exists to this day.
Xiao Qilu said: Zhao and Pan, these two ladies, possessed exquisite skills and ethereal beauty. They might be akin to female immortals like the Goddess of the Han River, the Mi Consort of the Luo River, and the Divine Woman of Mount Wu. They could elude those who sought to win them with charm and see the right moment for advancement or retreat. Just as the moon has its fullness and waning, so does the world have its rise and fall. After a prolonged period of prosperity, decline is inevitable, and this truth is self-evident. Speaking of prosperity and decline, it’s akin to the blooming and withering of flowers and the flourishing and withering of trees; these are all inevitable trends. The accusations fabricated by those who use sweet words and deceptive looks have misled many rulers in previous generations, who believed them. Thus, King You of Zhou favored Bao Si and abandoned Queen Shen, and Emperor Cheng of Han favored Zhao Feiyan and dismissed Concubine Ban. Despite different times, the stories heard are remarkably similar, which is truly something to ponder!
In the first year of the Huanglong era (229 AD), Sun Quan had just established his capital in Wuchang. During this time, in the southern part of the Yuexi commandery, someone presented a bird known as the “Backwards-facing Bright Bird.” This bird resembled a crane and, when at rest, never faced towards the light. Its nest was always oriented towards the north. This bird had abundant flesh but sparse feathers, and its singing voice was quite versatile. Whenever it heard the sounds of musical instruments like bells, chimes, sheng, and yu, it would flap its wings and constantly shake its head. People of that time believed the Backwards-facing Bright Bird to be an auspicious creature. In that same year, Sun Quan relocated his capital to Jianye, and many exotic treasures were presented from various distant regions. The local dialect of the common people in Wu underwent a linguistic shift, and they began referring to the Backwards-facing Bright Bird as the “Backwards-omen Bird.” The inhabitants of the capital Jianye considered this new term highly ominous, believing that within a century, Wu would suffer calamity, betrayal, and the loss of the nation. The people would be displaced, fleeing in all directions, and villages would cease to see the warmth of hearth and home. As it turned out, these prophecies did indeed come to pass. Eventually, the bird flew away, and its whereabouts remained unknown.
Zhang Cheng’s mother, Lady Sun, was pregnant with Zhang Cheng when she once took a boat trip by the riverside. Suddenly, a three-foot-long white snake leaped into the boat. Zhang Cheng’s mother prayed, saying, “If you are an auspicious creature, please do not harm me!” She coiled the snake and brought it home, placing it in a room. When she checked the next day, the snake was gone. She sighed but also felt a sense of fondness. Neighbors gossiped, “Yesterday, we saw a white crane from Zhang’s family soaring into the clouds.” They shared this news with Zhang Cheng’s mother, who then sought divination. The diviner said, “This is an auspicious event. Both snakes and cranes symbolize longevity. The snake flying from the room into the clouds represents a rise from a lower position to a higher one. In the past, King Helu of Wu buried his daughter with beautiful women, treasures, and unique swords, nearly depleting all the wealth of Jiangnan. In less than ten years, colorful clouds covered the valleys and streams, beautiful women played among the graves, swans soared in the woods, and white tigers roared near the high mountains. All of these were spirits of the past, now appearing in the mortal realm. It should enable your descendants to hold high positions and gain fame in the region south of the Yangtze River. If you have a son, you should name him Baihu (White Crane).” When Zhang Cheng grew up, he eventually became the Prime Minister, an assistant general of Wu, and lived to be over ninety years old. All of this was the result of the auspicious signs brought by that snake and crane.
Xiao Qilu said: When a nation is on the verge of destruction, various omens and signs will appear in advance. The “Zuo Zhuan” states, “The deities of the sun, moon, mountains, and rivers can see everything and observe the virtues of rulers.” When the hands are tied and submission and surrender are sought, these omens are all confirmed. Among creatures, snakes and swans are considered the most mystical. The Zhang family regarded their appearance as an auspicious sign. “Wu Yue Chunqiu” and various miscellaneous accounts recorded that King Helu of Wu was fond of lavish burials and buried beautiful women alive, accompanied by a vast array of treasures and rare objects. However, several centuries later, mystical swans were soaring in deep mountain valleys, and miraculous tigers were roaring on high mountain mounds. The renowned sword, Zhanlu, even flew from Helu’s side to the bedside of the King of Chu. Helu’s practice of burying beautiful women alive and accumulating a large number of treasures as burial goods resulted in exceptionally opulent tombs. This practice was both perplexing and against etiquette, and it would have been better if the remains had quickly decayed. In the past, during the Spring and Autumn period, the extravagant burial of Huan Tui by the Song people and the favored concubine Sheng Ji by King Mu of Zhou were ridiculed in historical records for their excessive extravagance and confusion. On the other hand, the modest burials of Jianzi of Yanling during the Qi state in the Spring and Autumn period and the frugal burials of Yang Wangsun during the Western Han period received high praise, as they were considered in accordance with proper etiquette. Throughout ancient and medieval times, and by examining various significant historical events from previous eras, the practices of frugality and extravagance were vastly different. In modern times, the prevailing culture of mutual boasting and indulgence in wine and women during one’s lifetime, followed by lavish burials with vast wealth, resulted in treasures piling up in tombs while the bodies decayed into dust. Such co-burials violated etiquette and are indeed lamentable.
When Lü Meng came to the Wu Kingdom, Wu’s ruler, Sun Quan, encouraged him to focus on his studies. Lü Meng extensively read various books, with the “I Ching” (Yijing or Book of Changes) as his primary focus. Once, during a feast hosted by Sun Quan, Lü Meng got heavily intoxicated and suddenly fell asleep. In his dream, he recited the entire content of the “I Ching.” He abruptly woke up, and everyone asked him what had happened. Lü Meng replied, “I just dreamed of Fuxi, Duke of Zhou, and King Wen. They discussed with me matters concerning the rise and fall of the nation and the regularities of the sun and moon, and every word was exceptionally perfect and profound. However, I haven’t fully grasped the profound meanings within, so I can only recite the original text without full comprehension.” Those present remarked, “Lü Meng understood the ‘I Ching’ through his dream.”
Xiao Qilu said: As long as a person’s heart is sincere and focused, they can harmonize with profound and subtle principles, shine as brightly as the sun and moon, and align with the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Consequently, their virtue can resonate with the wisdom of the ancient sages from the upper, middle, and lower realms, and their thoughts can converge with those mystical and profound principles. For instance, when Zheng Xuan dreamt of Confucius the sage, and Zhou Qingshi dreamt of his teacher Dongli, their actions were the same, but their insights were different. Their illustrious deeds are recorded in history and can be used to explore the hidden truths and comprehend the profound principles within. Even the various schools of thought within Confucianism cannot compare to the depth of Lü Meng’s scholarship.
Sun He was deeply fond of Lady Deng and often had her sit on his lap. On one occasion, while dancing with a crystal scepter under moonlight, Sun He accidentally cut Lady Deng’s cheek, causing it to bleed and soil her clothes. Lady Deng, who was charming and beautiful, displayed a pained expression. Sun He personally licked clean Lady Deng’s wound and ordered the imperial physician to prepare a medicinal powder. The physician stated, “To remove this scar from her face, we would need the marrow from a white otter, mixed with jade and amber fragments to create the medicinal powder.” Sun He then offered a substantial reward of one hundred taels of gold to anyone who could provide the marrow of a white otter. A fisherman from Fuchun said, “These creatures are aware of people trying to catch them, so they hide in stone caves. We can only capture them when they come out to catch fish. Otters also die in fights, so their burrows should contain otter bones. Even if there is no marrow in the bones, they can be ground into powder and mixed with jade to create the medicinal powder. This powder can be sprinkled on the scar, causing it to disappear.” Sun He instructed the imperial physician to prepare this medicinal powder, and due to an excess of amber, the scar eventually faded, leaving behind red spots resembling cinnabar. Upon closer inspection, these red spots enhanced Lady Deng’s beauty even more. Subsequently, concubines in the palace who sought to gain favor began using red rouge to create similar spots on their cheeks before attending to the emperor. This alluring demeanor, imitated by the concubines, became a lascivious social custom of the time.
Sun Liang ordered the creation of a glass screen, exceptionally thin, clear, and transparent. He often opened this glass screen on tranquil moonlit nights. Sun Liang had a profound affection for four exceptionally beautiful women, renowned for their beauty throughout history: the first was named Chaoshu, the second was named Liju, the third was named Luozhen, and the fourth was named Jiehua. Sun Liang had them sit within the screen, looking out from it as if there were no barriers, though the fragrant aroma could not escape to the outside. Sun Liang had fragrances prepared for these four beloved women, sourced from distant exotic lands. When these fragrances were applied, wherever the four women walked, dined, or rested, the fragrance would cling to their clothes. Even after several years, the aroma would only intensify, remaining potent even after a hundred washes. People thus referred to this fragrance as “Hundred Washes Fragrance.” Sometimes, people also named the fragrances after the four beautiful women, giving rise to Chaoshu Fragrance, Liju Fragrance, Luozhen Fragrance, and Jiehua Fragrance. Whenever Sun Liang traveled, these four beauties accompanied him. They shared a carriage during the day and slept together at night. They served Sun Liang according to the sequence of the four fragrances’ names, ensuring the order was never disrupted. The palace where the four beauties resided was named “Fragrant Dream Chamber.”