5 Chinese Heroes You Must Know About
With 5,000 years’ worth of stories and legends, China has too many heroes for anyone to remember. Here are five of the greatest you should know about, all of whom have appeared in Shen Yun performances.
1. The General Yue Fei
One generation after another, the values of Chinese culture have been preserved through stories, with different heroes symbolizing different virtues. The great general Yue Fei is a symbol of loyalty.
You see, back during the twelfth century, China was invaded from the north, and the young Yue Fei (pronounced yweh-fay) faced a dilemma. On the one hand, he wanted to go to war and defend his country. But, on the other hand, he also wanted to stay back to look after his elderly mother. He didn’t know what to do.
To encourage him, Yue Fei’s mother tattooed four Chinese characters on her son’s back: jing zhong bao guo “Serve the country loyally.” Now able to fulfill both his mother’s wish and his duty to the country, Yue Fei promptly went off to war.
A brilliant general, Yue Fei never lost a battle. Once, with only 500 men, he defeated 100,000 invaders. He cared deeply for both his soldiers and civilians, and his spirit of loyalty lives on in his timeless poem: “The River Turns Red.”
Ever seen the Disney version of Mulan? It’s the story of a young girl who goes out to find herself, and ends up finding both herself and a guy. She’s accompanied by a pet dragon, speaks fluent English, and…
Well, almost. Mulan is actually a symbol of filial piety, and here’s how her story goes, as recorded in the ancient Ballad of Mulan.
Mulan’s father was conscripted to join the fight against the invading Huns. But he was already old and frail, and Mulan didn’t have the heart to see her father off, knowing very well he will likely never return. So, disguising herself as a man, she went to war in his place. For 12 years, Mulan fought courageously and won many a battle without anyone discovering her secret.
After the war, the emperor offered Mulan many honors and rewards. She refused them all and asked for only one thing—the fastest horse to take her back home.
It was only one day, when fellow soldiers came to visit Mulan, that they discovered she was actually a woman.
3. Monk Ji Gong
Dressed in sloppy torn rags and tattered shoes, brandishing a shabby “magic fan,” Ji Gong isn’t your typical hero. But nothing really is typical about this beloved monk.
Wild and eccentric, Ji Gong was a Buddhist monk who broke the ordinances, eating meat and drinking wine. He was very kind-hearted, though, and because he attained magical powers, he used them to rescue people in need.
Ji Gong has many quirky heroic stories. One tale depicted in Shen Yun’s 2009 season, tells of how Ji Gong crashes a wedding and abducts the bride, leading the entire village to chase after him. Why? To rescue the village from a collapsing mountain, of course.
In the recent 2012 season, Ji Gong returns as “Crazy Ji,” helping a young maiden escape from a gang. He then teaches the hooligans a lesson by disguising himself in her cape, scaring the bejeebers out of them, and then flying off on a cloud.
4. Han Xin
Han Xin might be surprised to know that, more than two thousand years after his life, he’s remembered not for his military prowess but as a symbol of tolerance.
After the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, the great Xiang Yu and Liu Bang both wanted to rule China—but only one could. With the help of the brilliant general Han Xin, Liu Bang become emperor and established a glorious new dynasty.
Han Xin grew up as an orphan. Though poor, he studied hard and spent his days practicing martial arts, often carrying a sword. One day, as he was walking down the street, a young man stopped him outside a butcher's shop.
“So, you think you’re so tough carrying that sword! Do you dare kill a man?” the bully sneered at him, blocking his path. Bystanders began circling around. “I dare you to cut off my head,” the bully stretched out his neck. “If you’re too scared, you can only get by if you crawl through my legs.”
Han Xin stared at him, mulling over the ultimatum and the choice between killing a man and the most-embarassing public humiliation. He then slowly knelt down and crawled between his legs. The crowd exploded with laughter, with one hand on their bellies and the other pointing at Han Xin. But the young Han Xin knew this was just a small sacrifice on his road to greatness.
5. Lady Mu Guiying
Mystery shrouds the question of whether this heroine actually existed, but she came for a real historical family that is forever enshrined as a symbol of courage.
Over a thousand years ago, the Yang family was known for its military skill and fearlessness on the battlefield. They were invincible—enemies shuddered just hearing the Yang Clan's name.
Four generations of Yang warriors bravely fought and died defending the Middle Kingdom. But with the dynasty teetering on the edge of destruction, the last of the family’s men was killed in battle. He was Lady Mu Guiying’s husband.
After encouragement of clan matriarch She Taijun, Lady Mu Guiying, along with her faithful maid and all the Yang widows, took charge of the emperor’s military and saved the dynasty. They have been celebrated ever since as symbols of courage and strength in trying times.
These five heroes are household names, and most Chinese know their stories from a young age. Now, next time you see them on stage, you’ll be in on the story too.
July 2, 2012