The Love Legend of Zhou Mu-King and Xiwangmu

In the 10th century B.C., Zhou Mu-King (周穆王), the fifth king of the Western Zhou Dynasty, ascended the throne. At that time, the Zhou Kingdom was very eventful. Some states rebelled, and other nations often invaded states of Zhou. The young king decided to revive his kingdom.

Zhou Mu-King commanded six armies by himself and sent a punitive expedition to the Chu (楚) State which was a southern state. He warned the king of Chu by analogy, that there were not two suns in the sky so there were not two kings in Zhou Kingdom. The king of Chu feared this threat, so that he abandoned the title “king” and obeyed the royal family of Zhou.

The Huns (匈奴), which was called Xianyun (玁狁, 猃狁) by the people of the Zhou Dynasty, was a strong northern enemy. In the book "Classic of Odes" (诗经), a warrior wrote these lines to his wife, “I miss you and my beautiful hometown, but I can’t return, because of Xianyun.” (曰归曰归,岁亦莫止。靡室靡家,玁狁之故。不遑启居,玁狁之故。) Zhou Mu-King commanded his armies to go to the desert to find Hun. The army chased Hun for a thousand Li (里. At that time, 1 Li=about 0.4 kilometers). After this battle, Hun was unable to attack China for a long time.

When Zhou Mu-King returned Haojing (镐京, the capital of the Western Zhou), the monarchs and the chiefs of many states and many other nations had audiences with the Heaven-Son which was the title of the supreme monarch. But the chief of Quan-Rong (犬戎), the northwest nation, didn’t come. Mu-King was angry, and decided to teach Quan-Rong a lesson. Zhaibo (祭伯), an old minister, advised Mu-King not to start wars to force other nations into doing things, and said virtue was a better behavior for making other nations obedient. Mu-King refused the sincere advice of Zhaibo. Though his armies captured five kings of Quan-Rong and the sacred animals of this nation including four white wolves and four white deers, the war between Chinese and Quan-Rong was not over. In 771 B.C., Quan-Rong suddenly attacked Zhou Kingdom on a mass scale and they seized Haojing. Zhou You-King (周幽王), the last king of the Western Zhou, was killed and the Western Zhou Dynasty ended. In the early days of the Spring-Autumn Period, Quan-Rong was defeated completely by many states of Zhou including the Guo (虢) State, the Zheng (郑) State, the Jin (晋) State and the Qin (秦) State.

By many wars, Zhou Mu-King revived the powerful nation. He started to hope to visit all places of the world. He thought there were seas on the east, the south and the north, and there was endless land on only the west. So he decided to visit the west. He traveled by a chariot which was hauled by eight horses. Six armies safeguarded him. On the way, many countries of the West welcomed them and presented many treasures.

Zhou Mu-King arrived at Kunlun Mountain (昆仑山, in modern-days Pamirs), and Xiwangmu (西王母) who was the queen of local nation gave an entertainment to him in Yaochi (瑶池, a large lake near Kunlun Mountain). The young and beautiful queen loved the young king who had great ambition and achievements.

During this banquet, Xiwangmu danced and sang, “There are white clouds in the sky, and the reflection of the mountain is so spectacular. The way is so remote, and separated by many mountains and rivers. Wish you long life, and that you can come here again.” (白云在天,山陵自出。道里悠远,山川间之。将子无死,尚能复来。)

Mu-King was affected, and sang, “I will return the East, and govern Chinese states peacefully. As soon as my people are all happy, I will visit you again. After three years, I will return your fields.” (予归东土,和治诸夏。万民平均,吾顾见汝。比及三年,将复而野。)

After the banquet, Zhou Mu-King and Xiwangmu watched the West. The King said he would go to remoter places, but Xiwangmu advised he didn’t go, and she said there were many ferocious and big raptors which liked to eat humans in the western endless desert. Mu-King smiled and said these things couldn’t stop him.

During their converstaion, they saw a upstanding tree. The king said, “Let this tree manifest our love.” He carved the characters “The Mountain of Xiwangmu” (西王母之山) on the tree with his sword. Xiwangmu leaned lightly against his shoulder, and felt peerlessly happy.

Mu-King promised to live with Xiwangmu for many days, and they returned the palace of Xiwangmu. But a messenger of the eastern states was waiting there. The messenger reported that Xu-Yi (徐夷) rebelled and invaded the eastern states, so the states asked for help. Mu-King was agitated and annoyed, because he knew he couldn’t live here any longer, and he must command his armies to go to the east and subjugate Xu-Yi which was an eastern foreign nation.

Mu-King hoped to take Xiwangmu to return the East. He said he would let her be his queen, but Ximangwu refused sadly. She watched Mu-King and sang, “My people have been to the western fields, and live with beasts and birds. But under the mandate of Heaven, we don’t remove, because I am the daughter of Heaven. For your people, you must leave. With the graceful music, our spirit will become pure. You are the monarch of people, and you have great expectations from Heaven.” (徂彼西土,爰居其野。虎豹为群,于鹊与处。嘉命不迁,我惟帝女。彼何世民,又将去子。吹笙鼓簧,中心翱翔。世民之子,唯天之望。)

Zhou Mu-King understood her heart, and held her hands, and said, “I wish you can visit my nation afterwards.” Xiwangmu promised, and followed him with her eyes until he and his armies disappeared on the horizon.

In the next year, Xiwangmu visited Haojing, and met Zhou Mu-King who she missed day and night. After this parting, they didn’t meet any longer. After several decades, Zhou Mu-King remembered Xiwangmu, and wanted to see her. Ignoring his health and the opposition of the ministers, he traveled again. On the way, he was taken ill. Ministers knew the trudge was harmful for the health of the old king, and they were worried that if the king died in the remote West, there would be unrest in the kingdom. So they prayed to Heaven to stop the travel of the king. In this night, Zhou Mu-King, the most romantic monarch in Chinese history, died, with his last dream which was unfulfilled.

Over several decades, Xiwangmu often stood on the top of Kunlun Mountain and watched the East. She hoped that her lover would return, but she would never see her lover again. She understood the path of life for her lover. Because her lover was the son of Heaven, the son of Heaven was concerned about the people under the sky.

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