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1.1 The Two Consorts of Youyu

The two consorts of Youyu1 were the daughters of Emperor Yao.2 The eldest was Ehuang, the younger was Nüying.

Shun's father was bigoted and his mother was cold and calculating. His father was called Gusou.3 His younger brother was called Xiang and was given to idle roaming. Shun was able to harmonize them and win them over. He served Gusou with filial reverence. His mother hated Shun and loved Xiang. But Shun still maintained his composure and harbored no ill will. The Chief of the Four Mountains4 recommended Shun to Yao. Yao thereupon gave Shun his two daughters in marriage so that he could observe Shun's conduct toward them. The two women served Shun in the fields and did not use their status as daughters of the Son of Heaven as a pretext for arrogant, overbearing or disrespectful behavior. They continued to behave with humility, reverence and frugality, being completely mindful of the wifely way.

Gusou and Xiang plotted to murder Shun and ordered him to plaster the granary. Shun returned home and told the two women, "Father and mother have ordered me to plaster the granary. Shall I go?" The two women said, "By all means, go!" When Shun began to repair the granary, the ladder was removed, and Gusou set the granary on fire. Shun flew forth and escaped.

Xiang once again plotted with his father and mother and Shun was ordered to dig a well. Shun reported this to the two women, who said, "Yes, by all means go!" Shun went forth and dug the well. Gusou and Xiang blocked the exits and entrances and then sealed it shut. Shun tunneled his way out.

Up to this point they had been unable to kill Shun. So Gusou tried once again and invited Shun to drink wine hoping to make him drunk and then kill him. Shun reported this to the two women. The two women thereupon gave Shun an elixir. He bathed in a pool and went forth. Shun drank wine all day long but never became drunk.

Shun's younger sister, Xi, pitied him and was in accord with her two sisters-in-law. Although Shun's parents wanted to kill him, Shun never harbored resentment towards them. They raged against him incessantly. Shun went forth into the fields, wailing and weeping. Daily he cried out to merciful Heaven; he cried out to his father and mother. Though they tried to harm him, his feelings of affection for them endured.5 He bore no resentment against his younger brother but was sincerely and sedulously generous with him.

When he was appointed as the General Regulator, he received guests from the four quarters. He went into the forests and entered the foothills. Yao tested Shun in a hundred ways, and in each matter Shun consulted with the two women. When he succeeded Yao, he was raised to the rank of Son of Heaven. Ehuang became queen and Nüying his secondary royal consort. He granted Xiang a fief in Youbei and in serving Gusou continued to be in accord with him.6 Everyone praised the two women as intelligent, perceptive, chaste and benevolent. While making a tour of inspection, Shun died at Cangwu. 7 His honorary title was Chonghua (Double Splendor).8 The two royal wives died in the region between the Jiang and the Xiang River. Therefore they were commonly called the "Ladies of the Xiang."

The Gentleman says, "The two royal wives were pure in virtue and magnanimous in conduct."

This is what is meant in the Book of Odes passage that says, "What is most distinguished is being virtuous;--/It will secure the imitation of all the princes."9

The Eulogy says:

In the beginning were the two royal consorts,
The daughters of Lord Yao.
Both wed Youyu,
They obeyed and followed him as his inferiors.
Respectfully serving the humble.
To the end they were able to labor and bear hardships.
In the end, even Gusou was placated,
And they finally enjoyed good fortune and blessings.


1. Youyu is another name for Shun. For Shun's relation to the place called Yu, see Legge's note in his translation of the Shangshu, in The Chinese Classics, vol. 3, pp. 29-30. It is associated with a city northeast of Pinglu county in present-day Shanxi.

2. According to various early Chinese schemas, Yao is the first of the legendary rulers of predynastic times.

3. Gusou means "blind old man."

4. Pei Yin's (fl. A.D. 438) Jijie records Zheng Xuan's (A.D. 127-200) definition of siyue, translated above as “the Chief of the Four Sacred Mountains,” as officials in charge of the areas in the four cardinal directions where the four sacred mountains (i.e. Taishan, in the east, Huashan in the west, Hengshan in the south, and Henggshan in the north) are located. See Shiji (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959) juan 1, p.21, n. 6. Also see Shangshu, "Yao dian," paragraph 11; translated in Legge, The Chinese Classics vol. 3, p. 24. In a note Legge, following Zhu Xi, plausibly argues that the siyue one person, since in the next section, Yao offers his throne to the siyue. Legge supplies further evidence for this interpretation from the “Shundian”: see Legge’s note in, The Chinese Classics, vol. 3, p. 50.

5. The term simu 思 慕 is associated with filial piety. See Xunzi, SBCK, vol. 17, 13.24A; translated in Knoblock, John, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, vol. 3, p. 72; and Liji, “Wenzang,” translated in Legge, Li chi, vol. 2, p. 377.

6. Youbi is in present-day Hunan, north of Dao county.

7. Cangwu is a mountain in present-day Ningyuan county in Hunan province.

8. Chonghua is also interpreted as meaning “double pupils,” a peculiar feature of Shun’s appearance according to some early sources.

9. “Lie wen,” Book of Odes, Mao no. 269, translated in Legge, The Chinese Classics, vol. 4, p. 573.

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia