Fu Chai, the king of Wu, had a gifted and beautiful daughter of eighteen named Yu. She was in love with a learned youth of nineteen named Han Zhong. They exchanged secret messages and she promised to marry him. When Han went to study in the north, he asked his parents to arrange for him. But the king was angry and refused. Then the princess died of a broken heart and was buried outside the west gate.
Three years later Han returned and questioned his parents.
"The king was very angry and the princess died of a broken heart," they told him. "Now she is in her grave."
At that Han wept bitterly and prepared a sacrifice to mourn for her. Then the princess appeared from her grave and shedding tears said:
"After you left you asked your parents to approach my father, and we thought our wish would surely come true, but fate was against us – alas!" With a sidelong glance, she hung her head and sang:
Crows were on the southern hill,
Nets upon the north were spread:
But the nets were set in vain, Far away the birds have fled. Fain would I have followed you, But detractors barred the way. Falling ill of grief, I died; Under yellow earth I lay. This was my unhappy fate, Doomed to weep day after day. Phoenix is the chief and queen Which each feathered fowl reveres; Phoenix, when it lost its mate, Wept and mourned for three whole years. Phoenix could not find a mate Though bright songsters filled the skies, So despite my humble looks; I appear before your eyes; And, though torn so far apart, Still you keep me in your heart!
After this song she wept and cried, unable to control her grief, and begged Han to accompany her into the grave.
"The dead and the ling go different ways," said Han. "I fear this would not be proper. I had better not."
"I know the dead and the living go different ways," she replied. "But once we part we shall never meet again. Are you afraid that because I am a ghost I will harm you? I am asking you in all sincerity – why don't you trust me?"
Touched by her words, Han saw her back. In the grave they feasted for three days and three nights, and completed the rites of marriage. When he was leaving she gave him a pearl one inch across.
"My reputation was spoiled and my wish never came true," she sighed. "What more is there to say? Take good care of yourself, and if you pass our house give my regards to the king."
When Han left the grave he went to the king and told him what had happened. Fu Chai flew into a rage.
"My daughter is dead!" he exclaimed. "This fellow is lying to dishonor the dead! He is simply a grave-robber who has stolen this pearl and trumped up this story of a ghost. Arrest him at once!"
But the young man escaped and went back to the grave where he told the princess what had happened.
"Don't worry," she said. "I shall go to speak to the king."
Then she went to see her father, who was dressing. At the sight of her he was overcome with joy, sorrow and surprise.
"What has brought you back to life?" he demanded.
"When the young scholar Han Zhong asked for my hand, you refused him," she replied, kneeling. "I had lost my good name and broken my word, so I died. Recently he came back from far away, and hearing that I was dad prepared a sacrifice to morn at my grave. I was so touched by his loyalty that I appeared to him and gave him that pearl. He is no grave-robber. Please do not punish him."