Blazing Star Beauty* 明星玉女

The Jade Maiden of Venus lived on Huashan. Drinking a jade brew, she ascended to the heavens in broad daylight. On the mountain peak there was a stone turtle, its breadth several mu, and its height three ren. At its side there was a stone staircase, and all this was visible from afar. Before the Jade Maiden’s shrine there was a five-dan stone mortar, called ‘the Jade Maiden’s hair-washing bowl.’ The colour of water within it was a deep transparent green; rain did not cause it to overflow, and drought did not cause it to dry out. In the hall stood a single jade horse.

From the Jixianlu.

Li Fang 李昉, et al., Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Extensive Gleanings from the Era of Great Harmony), 10 vols (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), ii, 59.362

明星玉女

明星玉女者,居華山。服玉漿,白日昇天。山頂石龜,其廣數畝,高三仞。其側有梯磴,遠皆見。玉女祠前有五石臼,號曰玉女洗頭盆。其中水色,碧綠澄澈,雨不加溢,旱不減耗。祠內有玉石馬一匹焉。出集仙錄

*Title edited to adopt the excellent suggestion from Ofer Waldman (see comments).

 

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Author: Geoff Humble

Hobby translator of mosty 14th century Chinese texts. Enjoys strange tales. Image is my doodle based on an element within this work: http://archive.asia.si.edu/collections/edan/object.php?q=fsg_F1938.4

5 thoughts on “Blazing Star Beauty* 明星玉女”

  1. I suggest “Blazing star beauty” for what was called so far “The Jade Maiden of Venus”.

    Reasoning follows:

    The Jade lady is a well known figure in the context of Hua mountain’s middle peak, which is a turist attraction in modern times. The peak is today linked with the story about Nongyu, the beautiful daughter of duke Mu of Qin from the 7th century BC, who fell in love with a hermit till they both ended up ascending to heaven as immortals. Indeed, the Taiping Guangji source for this story (4.5 蕭史, quoted from 神仙傳拾遺) gives a different location to their story, western mountain of Hong perfecture (洪州西山) , but that didn’t stop tradition from locating it on mount Hua.
    Considering this tradition, we may deduce that no actual jade aspect is involved, and the term “Jade lady” is probably best translated as “beauty” in this context. This is the way I preferred to translate it, but it is not a clear-cut decision: Due to the location mismathces some other story sources might change the picture. The most meaningful is the source of term “jade lady” itself, which originally referred to a heavenly being which was related to the jade emperor, and which also has a story about love and dwelling in a mountainl. Again, this story does not take mount Hua as it’s location, but rather mount Wuyi (武夷山) in Fujian, far to the east-south, but combine it with Li Bai’s poem “Old songs – on top of the lotus flower mountain in the west” (古风·西上莲花山) which seem to refer to the term “Blazing star” (明星) as mount Hua’s immortal lady’s name – the same lady in our story – and the whole Nongyu reference seem much less solid than the option of a more ancient heavenly jade lady serving as a fairy of blazing stars. As said, I prefer to use “beauty” rather than the literal translation.
    As to the possible reference to planet Venus: Although the term 明星 is used as another name for venus, mainly known as “metal planet” (金星), we can see as early as the Zhuangzi (莊子·盜跖) that it is commonly used for it’s literal meaning “Blazing star” (As Legge translated it). Since in addition Venus is not mentioned anywhere as a planet with a special connection to mount Hua, I believe “Blazing star” is a more correct term here.

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  2. As said, the Blazing star beauty cliff is a real place. Actually, many of the wonderful things mentioned in the story are real as well, although not always match the legendary description, maybe because many of them wre destroyed over time be man and nature. Anyway, there are online photos of the current surviving and restored items:
    The hair washing basin:

    The stone horse:
    https://image.baidu.com/search/detail?ct=503316480&z=0&ipn=d&word=%E7%8E%89%E5%A5%B3%E7%9F%B3%E9%A9%AC&step_word=&hs=0&pn=1&spn=0&di=257188010321&pi=0&rn=1&tn=baiduimagedetail&is=0%2C0&istype=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&in=&cl=2&lm=-1&st=undefined&cs=1244079772%2C2779823119&os=3740783317%2C1820913347&simid=0%2C0&adpicid=0&lpn=0&ln=236&fr=&fmq=1541189808739_R&fm=&ic=undefined&s=undefined&se=&sme=&tab=0&width=undefined&height=undefined&face=undefined&ist=&jit=&cg=&bdtype=15&oriquery=&objurl=http%3A%2F%2Fimg.bqatj.com%2Fimg%2Fa2426bab83287513.jpg&fromurl=ippr_z2C%24qAzdH3FAzdH3Frtv_z%26e3Bkqwp3_z%26e3Bv54AzdH3FrAzdH3Fg201b1g20j0j42junjg2ljmjAzdH3F&gsm=0&rpstart=0&rpnum=0&islist=&querylist=

    The turtle’s stone staircase (I could find no image of the turtle itself):

    And a general great video of mount Hua using a drone:

    But were all things actually there when the source of this story was written?
    西岳华山志 from 1183, around 200 years after 集仙录 which is the origin of this story, describes those mount Hua peculiarities in a way which is somewhat more down to earth:

    _Blazing star beauty, the beauty’s stone horse, the beauty’s hair washing basin_

    The Blazing star beauty temple is standing on the back of of the mountain top middle peak’s turtle. The temple hall has the beauty’s stone room, a statue depicting the beauty, and a stone horse of the beauty. That horse is exceptional and supernatural, whenever a neigh is heard in the night it will gaze at the sound. On the shadowy side of the mountain top, commonly seen in front of the temple are five stone mortars. The mortars are full of water, and are called the beauty’s daily head washing basin. Their waters are dark green by color and are clear, would not fade with dawn, and is not overflown by rain. The “Shenwu Jing” says: “Blazing star beauty has got a hold of jade paste, swallowing it causes men to become gods”.

    _Stone turtle steps_

    The stone turtle beauty temple is located on the stone turtle. That stone resembles a turtle, eight or nine steps east to west, and above 20 zhang (above 60 meters) south to north, over it’s two sides cliffs are standing, and the shape is that of a turtle. In front there are the stone stairs, like cracks torn apart which width might reach five fingers (around 11cm), and of unfathomable depth. When something is being thrown inside, you can hear it hitting the bottom within a short while. This is the place where mail for the peak residence was received in ancient times .

    _Sources for the text:_
    https://zh.wikisource.org/zh-hant/%E8%A5%BF%E5%B6%BD%E8%8F%AF%E5%B1%B1%E8%AA%8C#%E7%9F%B3%E9%BE%9C%E8%BA%A1

    https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=gb&chapter=205773

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  3. A new finding:
    Guo Pu’s commentary on the Shan Hai Jing from the 3-4 century seem to contain the first reference to the jade lady story. His information takes it to the earthly side, although a bit different from the Nongyu story. And most interestingly, it gives an actual jade context to the main character, which might pull us back to calling her “Blazing star Jade lady”. Messy case indeed. :
    其高五千仞,其广十里【〈仞,八尺也。上有明星玉女,持玉浆得上,服之即成仙。道险僻不通,时含神雾云〉】
    Shan Hai Jing says of mount Hua: “It is 5000 Ren high and ten Li wide.”
    Guo Pu comments: “Ren is eight feet. On top of it there was the blazing star jade lady, who became top-notch at handling jade brew, and by consuming it attained immortality. The way is dangerous, secluded and impassable, and is sometimes covered with a cloud of spirits fog.”

    Text source here:
    https://zh.wikisource.org/zh-hans/%E5%B1%B1%E6%B5%B7%E7%B6%93/%E8%A5%BF%E5%B1%B1%E7%B6%93

    Liked by 1 person

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