An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Fairy of Mt. Wushan 巫山神女

Aug 15, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The Fairy of Mt. Wushan (Wuhshan Shennü 巫山神女) is in Chinese mythology a deity believed to live in the region of the twelve peaks of the Wushan Range along the middle course of the Yangtse River.

The fragmentarily preserved book Xiangyang qijiu zhuan 襄陽耆舊傳 says that she was also called Yao Ji 瑤姬 and was a daughter of the Red Emperor 炎帝. She died before she was married, as the book Zhugong jiushi 渚宮舊事 says.

In the Wushan Gorge 巫峽, there is a temple dedicated to her memory, the Fairy Temple 神女廟. It is standing on the north bank of the River on a small hill called Yangyun Terrace 陽雲臺 or Gaotang Watch 高唐觀. An inscription in the temple, titled Yongchengji 鏞城記, says that she was a daughter of the Queen Mother of the West 西王母 and was called Lady Yunhua 雲華夫人 "of the Cloudy Flower". She supported Yu the Great 大禹 in taming the waters of the Yangtse, chased away the evil spirits and broke atwain large rocks obstructing navigation. In Daoist belief she was therefore bestowed the title of Miaoyong zhenren 妙用真人 "Perfect Person of the Miraculous Practice". The title of the temple is Ningzhen Watch 凝真觀. The landscape around the temple is very famous for its spectacular appearance and the beautiful clouds mysteriously covering the slopes of the mountains.

Very famous is the story that King Huai 楚懷王 (r. 329-299 BCE), ruler of Chu, once came to Gaotang Watch, where he had to spend the night. In his dream the Lady appeared to him. King Xiang of Chu 楚頃襄王 (r. 299-263) also had the same experience.

From the narrations of the dreams, and in a story told in the book Shanhaijing 山海經, it can be learnt that the Fairy of Mt. Wushan was even seen as the daughter of an emperor that died in her youth and was transformed into a plant called yaocao 䔄草.

Yuan Ke 袁珂, ed. (1985). Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), 193, 301, 415.