Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

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Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby GuoBia » Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:47 am

I just got my little hands on two books I’ve been looking for! This text that has info about Lady Sun is Notable Women of China Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century, Peterson with Fei, Jiyu, Tie, Guangyu.

Lady Sun. You can find basic information about her life in her archive file here, so I won’t go into that. This is intended as a supplement to what everyone already knows. This is new information I got from Notable Women of China.

Anyways, just a little bit on her. I don't elaborate much, but if you start from reading my previous posts on women you should be able to start analyzing facts on your own without me spoonfeeding.

Click on the Spoiler tags to read more!

Information about the Sun’s family background can be found in de Crespigny’s online works concerning the Sun family. A summarization goes that the Suns had been minor local officials and were established in their community, but outside of that not too influential until Sun Jian was distinguished starting with his fight against the Yellow Turbans. From there, he attempted to marry rather higher up to the Wu family after hearing of Lady Wu’s ‘beauty and talent.’ Because of his lower social status they were reluctant, but Lady Wu successfully argued her case, telling them that it was better to gamble off a daughter than risk the consequences should Sun Jian rise and remember this slight.
This shows the role of marriage as a political and social tool. Marriage joined two families together and gave them closer and special social ties. Lady Wu argued that there was nothing to lose by forming this connection with Sun Jian, but they would be taking a gamble if they refused a tie with him, in the case that she should rise to prominence. Lady Wu was later shown to be a woman of remarkable foresight and political acumen, hence her wise advice. She also said that she was just a daughter and if Sun Jian failed to live up to his potential, so be her fate, sacrificed in the better interest of the family. This should give you some indication of the role of daughters as political tools as well as the cultural emphasis on community above individual. Although this self-sacrifice had more meaning to a daughter because she was not quite as important as a son (except for for marrying out), this selflessness is a unisex virtue. The Suns have always been big on marriage alliances to gain and cement support.
The Wu family later became strong supporters of the Sun. Sun Jian died in 192, and Lady Wu died in 202 or 207 [from her advice to Sun Quan, I personally lean towards 207].

Lady Sun herself was born probably in Kuaji. In 189, Sun Jian left his position as Administrator of Changsha to join the coalition against Dong Zhuo, Lady Wu took herself and their children easy to Lujiang to live with Zhou Yu’s family, and when Sun Jian died, to Guangling.
Sun Jian was away from home and communication probably would have been difficult, meaning that the family's survival was dependent on the head of the household present: Lady Wu. The woman's role in this family was to take charge and make important decisions about the family when necessary. Imagine if Sun Jian had married an idiot woman- how could Wu have formed without the Lady Wu's leadership?
When Sun Ce first joined Yuan Shu, the family was in danger of Tao Qian, so they fled once again, this time fully south of the Yangtze, to Yuan Shu in Jiujiang. After Sun Ce broke from Yuan Shu, the family moved to join Sun Ce in Danyang (196). I would also consider the possibility that after Sun Ce’s death, she probably moved with Sun Quan until his household and harem were established in one place. When Lady Sun married Liu Bei, she moved with him to Gong’an. I am reading here in Notable Women that she actually lived apart from Liu Bei in a city (or camp) five miles outside Chanling (still in Gong’an). This is the first mention of this that I have found, but then again, I have never really read Shu’s records. If someone can confirm this better for me, the sources cited by the article are SGZ 32, 43, 36, 37, 46, and 50, The Records of Huayang State vol 6, Actual Accounts of Jiankang, The Records of the Prefecture of Taiping. I don’t want to make any interpretation of this tidbit until I can confirm it. More on this later.

She was married to seal an alliance between Sun Quan and Liu Bei in 209.
De Crespigny writes that Lady Sun was probably around twenty at this time. Now, this is all about marriage. As stated before, marriage was a social and political tool that was more about the families overall, not the individual. To the modern reader they can seem intensely unromantic, but keep in mind that harmony and strength was more important than individual happiness. And see Lady Sun's role in life here. Despite her courage and capability, her role in the Sun family was to be married off to seal an alliance with someone. This is very normal, so normal in fact, that it was the social norm. To their natal families, women's primary purpose was to be married off into another family to form and seal ties.

Marriage alliance was a powerful tool in politics and utilized by the Suns often. It was a way of showing genuine intentions and conviction to the deal, if he would marry in his own sister to Liu Bei.

It was fortunate that the position of primary wife was open at the time, as to marry Lady Sun into anything lower than that would have been inappropriate and insulting.

---Add more to this later-----


How was she during this time? de Crespigny writes, "she took general control of Liu Bei's household, and she
exercised guardianship over his infant son and heir Liu Shan" (Gen. of the South, Warlord State).

This biography of women makes the claim that Lady Sun made a separate home from Liu Bei five miles from Gongan. It uses the word city, which makes it highly doubtful that she would be allowed the resources to establish an entirely new town. Although primary wives were in charge of the household and managing its expenditures and finances, including development of property and investment, it would be unlikely that she could have built a whole new city right under the nose of the Shu government. However, it would not be surprising or inappropriate if she and Liu Bei lived separately, as their loyalties lay in opposite directions. This is not an unusual arrangement for married couples would could not tolerate one another. In fact, considering the political tensions between the two, especially as the alliance began to fracture, it would have been mutually beneficial to live separately. I would think that Zhuge Liang would have wanted her under watchful eyes, though, so I would think it more realistic that she merely lived in a separate house in the capital city. But I have no way of knowing.

In 215, due to Liu Bei’s capture of Yizhou the alliance fell apart. Whether of her own initiation or by Sun Quan's coaxing we do not know, but she kidnapped Liu Chan and attempted to make her way back to Wu. However, she was stopped by Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei. However, she was allowed to return back to Wu.
This is the ultimate end of the alliance, a divorce in more ways than one. Allowing Lady Sun, the symbol of the alliance, to return home is especially poignant. There, Liu Bei clearly states that he is "returning" her, that he wants nothing more to do with the alliance, not even his wife. The deal's off- we go our separate ways.


About her as a person. She kept a group of armed maids (retainers). This is in no way shape or form normal for this time period. Women were not taught to fight, and it probably would have been frowned upon, as it definitely went outside the inner quarters. Even in times of rebellion and the such there was no significant effort to arm women to even protect themselves. For this time period, this was extremely, extremely unusual, to the point of having to interpret her actions and traits from the perspective of a man instead of a woman.

Liu Bei was said to have been scared of her to the point that he was frightened in his own home. [spoiler]A married woman lives in her husband's home.[/spoiler] Zhuge Liang himself regarded her as a potential source of a coup. This should say something about her ability and strength.

The text provides the following information, but except for the Embroidery Forest part, I highly doubt the rest of them and would consider them folklore-based embellishments. “The Embroidery Forest Moutainn, 2 miles southwest of the Shishou county in Hubei province, is where Liu Bei married Madam Sun. It was so named because, in Madam Sun’s eyes, the forest looked as if it were made of many sheets of beautiful silk.
This doesn't reveal any tidbits about her- we can already assume that she was educated and at least fairly well-off, enough to be familiar with fine silk.
In this place the Embroidery Forest Pavilion was built. Two miles east of Shishou county is the Watching-for-Husband Mount, where she supposedly awaited her husband’s return from his military campaigns on the Golden Rock Stand.
Unlikely, considering that it was not a marriage of any love.
Madam Sun is said to have been buried in the river at Daoji, above which the Favored Madame Temple was built in her memory” (132).
Can someone find any info to support this whatsoever?
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby Elitemsh » Sun Aug 28, 2011 11:42 am

Great article but a few things i disagree with. I don't think Liu Bei was afraid of Lady Sun specfically but rather her hundred armed maids who were always present in that home. There is also the fact that these maids were apparently far from docile. They were absuing the people and breaking laws. IMO Liu Bei would never have been afraid of Lady Sun herself simply because he's a veteran of war whereas she, while apparently proficient in the martial arts, had never even fought in real battle. Liu Bei was afraid of a hundred guards (when he went into his home) but not one woman.

It also seemed to be Liu Bei that was suspicious of Lady Sun and her followers due to their law breaking behavious, hence why he moved Zhao Yun to Gong'an before he left Jing. Although i don't think it had anything to do with predicting a coup but simply because of the problems they were causing to the populace. I'm uncertain as to why you've mentioned Zhuge Liang. He didn't seemed to be involved in any of these affairs as far as i can tell.
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby GuoBia » Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:19 pm

I'm not a psychic, and I don't know what Liu Bei was thinking- I'm just restating the tome "A woman of character, who maintained a corps of armed female retainers, she frightened her husband and was regarded as a threat to his embryo state."

You're talking about if Liu Bei and Lady Sun were warriors on a duel or at war. Reading the text, they're not talking about that. This is women's studies and you need to pick up on the nuances of it instead of taking the statement at face value. Instead of "He shouldn't have been afraid of her- he was a seasoned general and she's never been in a battle," think about why having such a strong character with an opposing agenda in the position of Primary Wife would have been a bad idea. You have to look at it through the point that Lady Sun was a woman, and what her role dictated. They were not opposing generals- they were husband and wife. With a woman like Lady Sun in charge of his household, managing the household finances and dominating the house, he has every right to be afraid. Not only that, but as her position dictated, she was in charge of his son. With such a strong opponent as the boss of his inner chambers, he would certainly be nervous.

But yeah, it was definitely probably the maids. lol, I think this is more of a wording flutter than a factual one! XD Yes about the maids, however, they are already assumed to be a "part" of Lady Sun. Yes, they would have been quite intimidating to a man inside his own house, especially because they were loyal to Lady Sun. Although married women technically didn't really have "private" property that much, the concept of a dowry as a woman's personal property is slowly taking shape at this point in time, but when a woman bought maids into a new house (armed or otherwise), they generally were "her" maids.

Oops, I forgot to mention that she kind of ran a bit wild. I can't find an exact statement of what she did, only that she "flaunted established law." Did you find anything?

No, Zhuge Liang saw her as a potential source of coup. Empresses and Consorts, page 47 of the intro, the version with a purple book jacket.
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby Elitemsh » Mon Aug 29, 2011 4:28 pm

GuoBia wrote: I'm not a psychic, and I don't know what Liu Bei was thinking- I'm just restating the tome "A woman of character, who maintained a corps of armed female retainers, she frightened her husband and was regarded as a threat to his embryo state."

You're talking about if Liu Bei and Lady Sun were warriors on a duel or at war. Reading the text, they're not talking about that. This is women's studies and you need to pick up on the nuances of it instead of taking the statement at face value. Instead of "He shouldn't have been afraid of her- he was a seasoned general and she's never been in a battle," think about why having such a strong character with an opposing agenda in the position of Primary Wife would have been a bad idea. You have to look at it through the point that Lady Sun was a woman, and what her role dictated. They were not opposing generals- they were husband and wife. With a woman like Lady Sun in charge of his household, managing the household finances and dominating the house, he has every right to be afraid. Not only that, but as her position dictated, she was in charge of his son. With such a strong opponent as the boss of his inner chambers, he would certainly be nervous.

But yeah, it was definitely probably the maids. lol, I think this is more of a wording flutter than a factual one! XD Yes about the maids, however, they are already assumed to be a "part" of Lady Sun. Yes, they would have been quite intimidating to a man inside his own house, especially because they were loyal to Lady Sun. Although married women technically didn't really have "private" property that much, the concept of a dowry as a woman's personal property is slowly taking shape at this point in time, but when a woman bought maids into a new house (armed or otherwise), they generally were "her" maids.


I understand what you’re saying. Perhaps Liu Bei was afraid in another sense other than the way I was referring to. He was afraid because of how abnormal her demeanor was. He was probably used to being married to more docile women but this woman was something else altogether. It’s natural to be afraid of a situation you’re completely unfamiliar with.

GuoBia wrote:Oops, I forgot to mention that she kind of ran a bit wild. I can't find an exact statement of what she did, only that she "flaunted established law." Did you find anything?


All we know on that is what is stated in Zhao Yun’s SGZ. There are different translations but the best English one is the one at wiki (I know wiki’s generally not reliable but in this case it is actually the most accurate and complete translation of this passage because it even mentions Gong’an. Its terminology is also more appropriate.):

Liu Bei's wife, Lady Sun, was the younger sister of the warlord Sun Quan, who was Liu's patron and chief ally. Emboldened by her brother's power and influence, Lady Sun and her militia often ran wild and broke the law. Liu Bei considered Zhao Yun to be serious, firm and unwavering, so he granted Zhao special authority to oversee internal affairs in Gong'an, as well to keep close watch on Lady Sun and her followers.


Now I know this is basically the same as what you said but there is a key point that’s worth mentioning here. From looking at the above quote although we don’t precisely what they did (the obvious guess is pillaging and verbally/physically abusing the commoners- if they were male guards I would say raping too but considering they were woman that was probably unlikely), I think we can still say confidently that the problems Lady Sun and her cohorts were causing and could be expected to cause were considered to be serious because Liu Bei felt he had to bring in Zhao Yun. This is significant because Zhao Yun was Governor of Gui Yang at the time. According to the map, Gui Yang was far south from Gong’an. In fact it is the farthest away of Liu Bei’s territories from his main base at Gong’an. Why not just appoint somebody who was more local? Additionally, surely Liu Bei had other subordinates, ones who were loyal enough and not already in the position of Governor? To go to the trouble of relocating one of his champions to try to keep Lady Sun and her miscreants under control shows Liu Bei was probably very worried and considered them a threat of sorts.

GuoBia wrote:No, Zhuge Liang saw her as a potential source of coup. [i]Empresses and Consorts, page 47 of the intro, the version with a purple book jacket.


Empresses and Consorts also says (I think in Lady Gan’s SGZ) that when Lady Sun tried to steal Liu Shan away, Zhuge Liang sent Zhao Yun to bring her back, yet the other source says that Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun stopped her. IMO, Empress and Consorts doesn’t make sense here because Zhao Yun was in charge of Gong’an which would suggest that Zhuge Liang was stationed elsewhere. Consequently Zhao Yun would obviously know of Lady Sun’s actions well before Zhuge Liang and therefore he would act before Zhuge Liang could order him to do anything. If Empress and Consorts is wrong about this then can one believe what it’s saying about Zhuge Liang worrying of a potential coup?

If we are to believe Empress and Consorts then perhaps Zhuge Liang advised Liu Bei to beware of Lady Sun before he (Bei) departed for Yi hence influencing Bei’s relocation of Zhao Yun.

Anyway perhaps one thing that should be said about Lady Sun is that while she was a strong, unique and physically impressive woman, she was somewhat sadistic. No wonder Sun Quan tried to dump her on Liu Bei. He was probably eager to be rid of her. When it’s all said and done, Lady Sun tried to steal a boy away from his father and she bullied those weaker than her. Strong but crazy.
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby Embrace Your Demise » Sat Sep 03, 2011 9:27 pm

This was pretty interesting :)
I agree that even if she wasn't in an actual battle before, she still could be a strong force to deal with, I know that from some of my ex's ;)
Couple questions, even though they might not be good ones :P
Did either of them ever get married again afterwards?
And could Liu Bei possibly have been worried also because he didn't trust her family or their intentions?
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Sep 04, 2011 5:44 am

Did either of them ever get married again afterwards?


Liu Bei married the widow Lady Wu (not SSX's mother)
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby cryptguardian » Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:27 pm

SGYY mentions something on the lines of Lady Sun and her procession of armed female guards tormenting the local population and frequently flaunting the law. Interestingly enough SGYY mentions that Lady Sun committed suicide shortly after hearing of Liu Bei's death. So perhaps there was some love stemming from the relationship they had after all.
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby capnnerefir » Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:40 pm

cryptguardian wrote:SGYY mentions something on the lines of Lady Sun and her posse of armed female guards tormenting the local population and frequently flaunting the law. Interestingly enough SGYY mentions that Lady Sun committed suicide shortly after hearing of Liu Bei's death. So perhaps there was some love stemming from the relationship they had after all.

SGYY is a work of fiction, not history. So it really depends on what version of events you're concerned about : the characters in the story or the actual people.
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby cryptguardian » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:05 pm

Similarly to SGYY I've read other sources that also claim something to the extent regarding Lady Sun being watched over by Zhao Yun in Jing in order to stop her and her followers from frequently flaunting the law and terrorising the local populace.

As for her suicide by drowning, I don't believe I have found anything about it in other sources other than in SGYY; albeit I am not interested in the type of suicide. With that said, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Either way (though we may never know the reality), I prefer the idea of womanly devotion towards ones husbands, now if you believe death by natural causes as other sources claim then so be it, but I am going with SGYY on this, so please let me be happy :D :pika: :P :mrgreen:
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Re: Lady Sun (Shang-Xiang, Ren)

Unread postby capnnerefir » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:43 pm

You can believe whatever you want, but it is important for you to understand that the place from which you are drawing your conclusions is a work of fiction. It's like treating Inglourious Basterds as a WWII documentary because you like the way Hitler died in that movie.
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