Sword of the Yue Maiden
Although it was the final wuxia work written by the author, it was the earliest in terms of chronological setting amongst his novels. Compared to the other epics written by Jin Yong, this novelette is one of his shorter works.
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Sword of the Yue Maiden is set in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty during the Spring and Autumn Period. Eastern Zhou was the second half of the Zhou Dynasty and it was divided into the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods.
The characters that appear in the story are loosely based on historical figures who lived during that time.
The story revolves around the Yue Maiden who lived during the reign of King Goujian of Yue (496-465 BCE). It based on the legend of the Yue Maiden, and the war between the states of Wu and Yue during the Spring and Autumn Period.
The real name of the Yue Maiden is unknown. In the legends, she is simply referred to as Yuenü,1 which can be translated as the Lady of Yue or, more commonly, the Yue Maiden. It is said that she impressed the King of Yue with her swordsmanship, and he bestowed upon her the title of Yuenü.
He decreed that his army adopt her style of swordsmanship and appointed her to train his army officers, who in turn instructed his army. Hers is the earliest known exposition on the art of the sword, and influenced Chinese martial arts for generations.
The war between Wu and Yue was the last major conflict during the Spring and Autumn Period. When King Helü of Wu2闔閭 – Hélǘ. King Helü is considered one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period due to his military successes with the help of his famous commander Sun Tzu. received news of the death of King Yunchang of Yue, he launched an invasion of Yue but was mortally wounded during the Battle of Zuili.3
His son, King Fuchai of Wu, defeated Yue three years later and captured King Goujian of Yue. Goujian served as Fuchai’s servant for three years before he was allowed to return home.
Upon his return to Yue, Goujian plotted his revenge against Fuchai. Goujian shunned riches and comfort, choosing to sleeping on firewood, ate food suited for peasants, and forced himself to taste bile. These were to be constant reminders of his humiliations when he served under the State of Wu.
A team of swordsmen from the State of Wu defeats the the best swordsmen in the State of Yue in an duel contest. King Fuchai of Wu sends these delegates on the pretext of presenting gifts and to engage in a contest. However, his intention is to remind King Goujian that the State of Yue is a vassal outmatched by the mighty State of Wu by swordsmanship, military discipline, and sword craftsmanship.
The display leaves King Goujian enraged as he wonders at Yue’s chances of exacting vengeance against Wu. Fan Li, the King’s adviser, encounters Aqing, a shepherdess who easily subdues several of the highly-skilled Wu swordsmen that the Yue soldiers were no match against.
Impressed and intrigued by her abilities, he invites her to his residence. She reveals that she has no awareness of her swordsmanship, thinking it is just play, since she acquired the technique through playing with Grandpa Bai.
Thus, Fan Li requests to meet this Grandpa Bai, so they go up the mountains to wait for him where Aqing usually plays with him. It turns out that this Grandpa Bai was not a man, but a white ape.
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Fan Li brings Aqing back to the King Goujian’s court where she demonstrates her swordplay to the Yue swordsmen. Since she is unaware of the swordsmanship, there is no way she could teach them. They have to improvise through watching her moves. The little they pick up from her is enough to greatly improve their battle prowess.
King Goujian’s army finally defeats the State of Wu. With the fall of Wu, Fan Li reunites with Xi Shi, his lover who was offered to Fuchai as tribute to distract him from court affairs.
Aqing has developed feelings for Fan Li and is jealous of Xi Shi, vowing to kill the latter. However, when she sees Xi Shi, Aqing is surprised by her stunning beauty. Finally understanding Fan Li’s devotion to Xi Shi, Aqing leaves. Worried that she might return, Fan Li and Xi Shi flee and go into recluse.
- Aqing (阿青 – Aqīng) is the shepherdess who mastered a strange but formidable swordplay technique from a white ape.
- Fan Li is a dafu, scholar official, in the Yue court and a trusted adviser of King Goujian.
- Goujian is the King of Yue who plots vengeance for his humiliating imprisonment by the King of Wu.
- Xi Shi is Fan Li’s lover and a great beauty who King Goujian gifts as tribute to the King of Wu to seduce the latter.
- Grandpa Bai is a white ape that enjoys playing with Aqing using bamboo sticks, and is considered the one who teaches Aqing her swordsmanship.
- Wenzhong is a dafu in the Yue court, a trusted adviser to the King of Goujian, and Fan Li’s close friend and colleague.
The Chinese idiom 卧薪尝胆 (wòxīn chángdǎn) comes from Goujian’s story. It literally means to sleep on firewood and taste bile, and is used to refer to how one endures hardships and tempers oneself in order to accomplish one’s goal.
Xi Shixishi was a notable supporting character in the story. Legend has it that she clutched her bosom in pain when she was attacked, and the expression was so beautiful that it took the should have any man who gazed upon her. This is the origin of the Chinese idiom 西子捧心 (xīzǐ pěngxīn). It literally means Xishi clasping her heart and is used figuratively to describe a woman’s beauty being enhanced despite being in a state of distress.
xishi: 西施 – Xī Shī. Xi Shi is based after the historical figure who was one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China.
The WuxiaSociety translation is based the Third Edition of the novelette.
See the Sword of the Yue Maiden translation index for more information.
“After you.” The two swordsmen turned the point of their blades downward. Their right palm holding the sword hilt…