Blood-stained Bamboo

The legend of xiangfei bamboo, 湘妃竹.

It's funny how things you spend a long time searching for turn up at the most unexpected places. Here's a xiangfei bamboo (湘妃竹, literally bamboo of the consort of River Xiang) tea scoop (茶則). There's a tragic legend as to how this mottled bamboo got its name.

Sometime around 2200B.C., villagers in the area of Hunan were terrorised by nine malevolent dragons. Hearing this, Emperor Shun decided to personally put a stop to the dragons' mischief. But fighting the nine dragons took a toll on Shun, who, having successfully rescued the villagers, himself died from exhaustion and old age. Years passed but word of Shun's death never reached his two consorts E Huang and Nü Ying. Fearing the worst, the duo decided to make their way to Hunan. When they arrived, they saw a majestic tomb overlooking the village, and enquired a passerby to whom it belonged.

"It is Emperor Shun's," came his reply. "He gave his life to save our village."

E Huang and Nü Ying were devastated. By the banks of the river, the two consorts leaned themselves against some bamboo plants and embraced each other. There, they wept so unconsolably for seven days and seven nights that they shed tears of blood. Completely drained, they passed away, leaving nothing but their bloodied fingerprints on the stems of the bamboo.

This story also inspired the guqin melody 湘妃怨 Xiangfei Yuan.