Twelve Ladies of Chin Ling


You may have watched the movie- the Flowers of the War and you may be impressed by the thirteen beautiful and brave ladies. Apart from this, have you ever heard of the twelve ladies of Chin Ling in the novel of The Story of the Stone? The Story of the Stone also known under the title of The Dream of the Red Chamberand written by Cao Xueqin in the mid-18th century is universally considered the greatest classical Chinese novel. Someone thinks that the novel follows just lives of "a number of females, conspicuous, if at all, only for their passion or folly or for some trifling talent or insignificant virtue.” Whether it is true or not, I am fascinated by the twelve Ladies of Chin Ling’s great beauty. We can see different fates from different poses and expressions of them. Especially, after reading and appreciating the Chinese and two English versions of verdict poems of the twelve girls of Chin Ling, you may agree with me. Enjoy it.

Chinese Beautiful Ladies Painting

Chinese Beautiful Ladies Painting

黛玉宝钗——可叹停机德,堪怜咏絮才。 玉带林中挂, 金簪雪里埋。


Alas for her wifely virtue, Her wit to sing of willow-down, poor maid!

Buried in snow the broken golden hairpin, and hanging in the wood the belt of jade.


One was a pattern of female virtue,

One a wit who made other wits seem slow.

The jade belt in the greenwood hangs,

The gold pin is buried beneath the snow.

元春——二十年来辨是非,榴花开处照宫闱。 三春争及初春景,虎兕相逢大梦归。


For twenty years she arbitrates where pomegranates blaze by palace gates;

How can the late spring equal the spring’s start?

When Hare and Tiger meet from this great dream of life she must depart.


You shall, when twenty years in life’s hard school are done,

In pomegranate-time to palace halls ascend.

Though three springs never could with your first spring compare,

When hare meets tiger your great dream shall end.

探春——才自精明志自高,生于末世运偏消。 清明涕送江边望,千里东风一梦遥。


So talented and high-minded she is born too late for luck to come her way;

Through tears she watched the stream on the Clear and Bright Day;

A thousand li the east wind blows but her home in her dreams is far away.


Blessed with a shrewd mind and a noble heart,

Yet born in time of twilight and decay,

In spring through tears at river’s bank you gaze,

Borne by the wind a thousand miles away.

 湘云——富贵又何为,襁褓之间父母违。 展眼吊斜晖, 湘江水逝楚云飞。


Nought avail her rank and riches while yet in swaddling clothes an orphan lone;

In a flash she morns the setting sun the River Xiang runs dry the clouds over Chu have flown.


What shall avail you rank and riches,

Orphaned while yet in swaddling bands you lay?

Soon you must mourn your bright sun’s early setting.

The Xiang flows and theChuclouds sail away.

妙玉——欲洁何曾洁,云空未必空。 可怜金玉质,终陷淖泥中。


Chastity is her wish seclusion her desire;

Alas though fine as gold or jade she sinks at last in the mire.


For all your would-be spotlessness

And vaunted otherworldliness,

You that look down on common flesh and blood,

Yourself impure, shall end up in the mud.

迎春——子系中山狼,得志便猖狂。 金闺花柳质,一载赴黄粱。


For husband she will have a mountain wolf his object gained he ruthlessly berates her;

Fair bloom sweet willow in a golden bower too soon a rude awakening awaits her!


Paired with a brute like the wolf in the old fable,

Who on his saviour turned when he was able

To cruelty not used, your gentle heart

Shall, in a twelvemonth only, break apart

惜春——勘破三春景不长,缁衣顿改昔年妆。 可怜绣户侯门女,独卧青灯古佛旁。


She sees through the transience of spring Dark Buddhist’s robes replace her garments fine;

Pity this child of a wealthy noble house who now sleeps alone by the dimly lit old shrine.


When you see through the spring scene’s transient state,

A nun’s black habit shall replace your own.

Alas, that daughter of so great a house

By Buddha’s altar lamp should sleep alone!

熙凤——凡鸟偏从末世来,都知爱慕此生才。 一从二令三人木, 哭向金陵事更哀。


This bird appears when the world falls on evil times none but admires her talents and her skill;

First she complies then commands then is dismissed; departing in tears to Jinling more retched still.


This phoenix in a bad time came;

All praised her great ability.

‘Two’ makes my riddle with a man and tree:

Returning south in tears she met calamity.

巧姐——势败休云贵,家亡莫论亲。 偶因济刘氏,巧得遇恩人。  


When fortune frowns nobility means nothing; when a house is ruined kinsmen turn unkind;

Because of help given by chance to Granny Liu in time of need she is lucky a friend to find.


When power is lost, rank matters not a lot;

When families fall, kinship must be forgot.

Through a chance kindness to a country wife

Deliverance came for your afflicted life.

李纨——桃李春风结子完,到头谁似一盆兰。 如冰水好空相妒,枉与他人作笑谈。 


Peach and plum in spring winds finish seeding who can bloom like the orchid at last?

Pure as ice and water she arouse envy vain the groundless taunts that are cast.


The plum-tree bore her fruit after the rest,

Yet, when all’s done, her Orchid was the best.

Against your ice-pure nature all in vain

The tongues of envy wagged; you felt no pain

可卿——情天情海幻情身,情既相逢必主淫。 漫言不肖皆荣出,造衅开端实在宁。


Love boundless as sea and sky is but illusion, when lovers meet, lust must be king;

Say not all the evil comes from the Rong Mansion, truly, disaster originates from the Ning.


Love was her sea, her sky; in such excess

Love, meeting with its like, breeds wantonness.

Say not our troubles all from Rong’s side came;

For their beginning Ning must take the blame.

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