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One prompt, free to a good home

Posted on 2015.10.16 at 22:44
Who would have thought I'd manage to find too many things to request for Yuletide? Generally I worry if can find enough. But this year it was almost impossible to bring it down from a final seven to the permitted six. So, very sadly, my perennial Chinese Mythology request fell by the wayside, on the grounds people wrote it for me last year. It seems unlikely anyone else will be requesting it, since I was the only one who nominated it, but who knows? Anyway, I post my poor abandoned prompt here, so that I'll have it to hand for next year, nicely formatted, and so that if anyone was wondering who the hell Ch'ing-nü was anyway, they can look at the handy links I've included.

Chinese Mythology - Any (Ch'ing-nü | Qing Nü, Māzǔ)

For Matsu, I'd love something with the seductive power of the sea and the grey savagery of its storms, the loneliness and desperate hope of those who wait on shore and the fitful presence of the divine that lets her save her brothers (or, if you prefer, that leads to her death and apotheosis). For Ch'ing-nü, something about the beauty of frost, delicate and fragile yet deadly, ushering in the killing cold of winter even as it provides a longed for respite from summer’s heat.


With Matsu, I'm struck by the intervention of the supernatural in daily life, the moment when one person on shore had, through longing, prayer, meditation, desperation or just luck, the power to save others. How might it feel to step outside nature like that, and what might the potential cost be? Then, as I said in my prompt, there's the imagery of sea and storm.


For a goddess of frost and snow, the colour association for Ch'ing-nü seems quite unclear. Is she the Dark Maid, the Blue Lady, the Green Girl or the Grey Woman? A case could be made for any of them. Frost and snow are ambiguous imagery: symbols of purity and beauty, but also of death and suffering. Mentioned in conjunction with Autumn, Ch'ing-nü shares the ambivalence of the season - the excessive heat of summer is over, and the nip of frost in the air encourages an autumnal bounty of fruit and nuts, but heralds also the hardships and scarcity of winter. Or, of course, there’s this poem of Li Shang-yin's:
First calls of the migrant geese, no more cicadas.
South of this hundred-foot tower the water runs straight to the sky.
The Dark maid and the White Beauty endure the cold together,
Rivals in elegance amid the frost on the moon.
Li Shang-Yin, trans A.C. Graham

As soon as the migrant wild geese are heard, the cicadas are silent;
The hundred-foot tower overlooks the water that touches the sky.
The Blue Maid and the White Lady both can endure the cold:
The one in the moon, the other in the frost, they compete in beauty.
trans James J.Y. Liu

There isn't much I can find about Ch’ing-nü in English, so I’ve gathered together what scraps I could find and listed them here for you (sadly even fewer than last year, as several links are now dead):
Poem by Du Fu, scroll down fro Autumn Fields No. 4, and accompanying note.
Yang Yi's poem on the peach tree, and accompanying description in The Literary Works of Ou-yang Hsui (1007-72) by Ronald C. Egan (If you can't access Google Books, the relevant line is translated as "The dark maid of nine-autumn enhances the flavour with frost", and Egan adds "The dark maid (‘ch'ing-nü') of line five is the frost goddess, and ‘nine-autumn' alludes to the ninety days of that season."
Wucai cup inscribed with a poem by Luoyin
Poem by Hanshan, scroll down for No. 115 and accompanying note.
Poem by Qian Qianyi

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