Mengjiangnü Weeping Over the Great Wall (孟姜女哭长城), A Tragic Chinese Legend


In the Qin Dynasty(221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), there lived a beautiful young lady called Mengjiangnü (孟姜女). She fell in love with a hard-working, handsome young man called Fan Qiliang (范杞梁 Fàn Qǐliáng). However, on their wedding night, Fan Qiliang was taken away by force to join the labor to build the Great Wall, as the Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇, first emperor of Qin, a notorious tyrant) ordered. The labor was unbearably strenuous on the wall. People associated being sent to the wall with painful death instinctively, and so did Mengjiangnü. No matter how devasted she was, she was no one but a powerless civilian, and the construction of the wall, which then appeared to be more of a symbol of the emperor’s ambition instead of its defensive use, could not be stopped by anyone’s protest.

A year went by slowly for Mengjiangnü. In late autumn, Meng Jiannu made cotton-padded clothes for her husband and decided no matter how hard the journey was, she must set off to meet his husband. When she finally arrived at the construction site, Fan Qiliang was already dead and buried under the wall.

Mengjiangnü wept in distress for three days. On the third day, a section of the wall suddenly tumbled down and the many skeletons of heavy labor civilians buried underneath were revealed at last. In order to identify her husband, Mengjiangnü bit her finger and prayed to the god that her blood would sink into the very body of her husband. Thanks to the pity of the god, she found her dead husband’s remains before bleeding herself dry.

When the news reached Qin Shi Huang, he was furious that he first intended to persecute Mengjiangnü. But after seeing this beautiful young woman, he took a fancy of her and demanded her to marry him instead. Couldn’t see herself as the tyrant’s concubine, Mengjiangnü jumped into the Bohai Sea (渤海) close to the Great Wall, after burying her husband.


The informant is a 26-year-old male who was born and raised in China. He first heard of the story of Mengjiangnü from his grandparents when the family visited a section of the Great Wall in Beijing. Mengjiangnü is a known Chinese legendary figure and her story has been passed down from generation to generation among most Chinese families to remember not only the wall’s spectacular presence, but also the bitter cost behind its construction.


According to the informant, he had always seen the Great Wall as something monumental and miraculous, a symbol of national pride, but after hearing the story of Mengjiangnü his impression of the Great Wall changed. Despite the public discourse still eulogizing the Great Wall’s glorified symbolism, the story of Mengjiangnü added a tragic layer to people’s perception of it, reminding many generations of the historical, collective trauma of lives buried due to heavy labor building the wall. While the truth value of Mengjiangnü’s story remains doubted, it was historically documented that many lives of civilians had been lost due to poor working conditions, highly demanding labor, and under-developed construction techniques that were unable to aid their work. It was rumored that in the 14th century, civilians of the Ming dynasty first came up with the folk tale because the Ming’s ruling class proposed a large-scale reconstruction of the Great Wall to defend themselves from the northern invasion. This reconstruction raised great wrath among the laboring class, so the story of Mengjiangnü became popular as it embodied not only their discontent with the rulers but also their hope for an undisturbed, happy family life. After hundreds of years of oral circulation, the story of Mengjiangnü now embraces more of an educational value to remind the younger generations of the tragic history that comes with the construction of the Great Wall, a national spectacle.

The story of Mengjiangnü Weeping Over the Great Wall appeals to people because of its plot twists and inclusion of supernatural power. With the help of gods, Ming people believed in their just causes standing against tyrannic orders using the historical and legendary figure of Qin Shi Huang, a villain who not only took away Mengjiangnü’s husband but also her own life as well. The story was crafted with folk wisdom and with generations to come, will remind its audience of the folk’s tolerance.