The Broken Mirror


Caroline Young, artwork and text

Beautiful Princess Changle was the daughter of Chinese emperor Xuanzong of Tang and she was also the sister of the last emperor of Chen.
She and her husband, Xu, a member of the east palace retinue, were totally devoted to each other.

On the eve of the fall of Chen, Xu took a bronze mirror and broke it in half, handing his wife one of the halves. He then said:

“A beautiful, intelligent woman like you will survive the demise of the empire. But you will easily attract the attention of a wealthy protector I’m most certain. Sadly, I must leave with the army.”

He instructed her to go to the market on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the following year, and offer her half of the mirror for sale. If he were still alive, he promised to go there to look for her.

As he predicted, the Chen empire fell and Princess Changle soon after became the concubine of a wealthy duke of the Sui dynasty (581-618).

Xu suffered great hardships, but became a renowned hero. On the appointed day he eagerly made his way to the market. There, he saw a servant girl trying to sell a broken bronze mirror. Rushing over, he saw that it matched his piece. The servant told him of her mistress’s situation and that it was impossible for her to leave the duke’s compound.
Xu wept in bitter disappointment, and went away broken-hearted. Upon hearing this, the princess vowed to starve herself in memory of her husband.

When the duke learned of the love Princess Changle had for Xu, he held a banquet for him. There, husband and wife were reunited, and, with the blessing of the duke, they settled in southern China, living to a ripe old age.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.