The Ebony Children’s Lament: A Melody of Change

After Huan Xuan usurped the throne and entered the Vermilion Bird Gate (朱雀門) (Note: The Vermilion Bird Gate is an entrance to the imperial palace), he suddenly encountered two small children. Their entire bodies were as black as ink, harmoniously singing a song called “Caged Song.” On the roadside, numerous other children joined in the chorus. The lyrics lamented, “Bound in a thorny cage, ropes tightly wrapped around the belly. The chariot has no axle, leaning against a solitary tree.” Their voices were profoundly mournful. The meaning of their song was elusive.

As night fell, the two children entered the county of Jiankang (建康縣), arriving at a place called HeXia (合下). There, they transformed into a pair of lacquer drumsticks. Officials commented, “These drumsticks have accumulated for a long time. They are often lost but somehow recovered. Unexpectedly, they have taken on human form.” The following spring, Huan Xuan suffered defeat. The phrase “the chariot has no axle, leaning against a solitary tree” contains the character “Huan” (桓). Jingzhou sent Xuan’s head, encased in a cage made from thorny mats and bound with rope, sinking it into the river, precisely as described in the song.

Original story in 《齊諧記》


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