Meng Jiangnü Brings Down the Great Wall: Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend

By Gay, David | Western Folklore, Summer/Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Meng Jiangnü Brings Down the Great Wall: Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend


Gay, David, Western Folklore


Meng Jiangnü Brings Down the Great Wall: Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend. Translation and Introduction by Wilt L. Idema with an essay by Haiyan Lee. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008. Pp. 312. Glossary, bibliography. $60.00 cloth, $25.00 paper.)

Wilt Idema writes that "'The Tale of the Maiden Meng fing or Meng Jiangnü' was one of the most popular and widespread legends of traditional China during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties." "It features," he continues, "a teenage widow who, out of loyalty to a husband she has barely lived with, brings down the Great Wall by her weeping . . ." (3). This collection is both a study and survey of the story and its traditional literary and folkloric variants.

The story of Meng Jiangnû is well-known in both Chinese folk and literary cultures, and has appeared in many forms from the Middle Ages through to the present. The texts of the Meng Jiangnü tradition are sometimes presented in prose, at other times as plays, and at other times as folk poetry or ballads: the versions translated by Idema vary from chronicle entries in medieval texts to a ballad from a modern women's tradition in southern Hunan. Though the subtitle says there are ten versions of the legend in the collection, Idema translates several early versions of the legend in his introduction, making the real number of versions presented in the collection around fifteen. …

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