Xu Mu (许穆夫人) – b. 690 BCE – Kingdom of Wei, China

Ancient China, China

Living in feudal China, Lady Xu Mu is considered the earliest poet of note in Chinese history, but this politically astute woman is also known for defending and rebuilding her homeland…

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Lady Xu Mu was often homesick. She lived with her husband, Count Mu, in the state of Xu, but longed for the Kingdom of Wei, where she had grown up. Her father was Duke Wei Xuan, ruler of Wei, and though Xu Mu had accepted she must make a political marriage, she had not approved of an alliance with Xu. Intelligent and educated, Lady Xu Mu did not believe that Mu would be an effective ally if Wei was ever in need.

With a long slender bamboo

I fished the shores of Qi

Can’t help thinking of that river

And the land so far from me.

On the left the fountain gushes

On the right the river flows

Far away the girl has travelled,

From parents, brothers and home.

“EN-WEI260BCE” by Philg88 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, Xu Mu had been correct in her prediction. In 660 BCE Wei was attacked by enemies in the North. Xu Mu received word that her brother, Wei Yi, had been killed in battle and his body mutilated. Upset and afraid for her people, Xu Mu begged her husband to send reinforcements to Caoyi – again, as she predicted, he refused.

Xu Mu could not bear to leave her people in distress, and resolved to help with or without her husband’s permission. She gathered supplies and took a chariot to meet her other brother, Duke Dai, calling for aid from neighbouring states on her journey. Count Mu was not happy with his wife’s disobedience, and sent his agents to stop her and bring her back. Forced to travel back to Xu under duress, the Princess wrote scathing poem Speeding Chariot, for which she became most famous:

The wheels turn fast, the horse trots on,

I return to my brother in Wei,

A long, long way the carriage has come,

To Caoyi, my homeland to stay.

The Lords who follow me, far and long,

Have caused no little dismay.

Harshly, though you may judge me,

From my course I will not veer.

Compared to your limited vision,

Do I not see far and clear?

Harshly, though you may judge me,

My steps you can never stay.

Compared to your limited vision,

Am I not wise in my way?

I walk the land of my fathers,

The wheat fields are green and wide,

I’ll tell the world of my sorrow,

All friends will be at our side.

O listen, ye Lords and Nobles,

Blame not my stubbornness so!

A hundred schemes you may conjure,

None match the course that I know.

Fortunately, all was not lost as the powerful state of Qi responded to Xu Mu’s appeals for help and came to the rescue of the kingdom of Wei. The Kingdom rebuilt their capital elsewhere and thrived for another 400 years – remembering Lady Xu Mu who brought supplies, rekindled hope and gained military aid in their time of need.


References:

Notable women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century by Barbara Bennet Peterson

Lady Xu Mu – poet and patriot

On Wikipedia:

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