The Story of Yingying

This idea is supported in his subsequent actions, and the cleft between these two characters in underscored in their mental states after they part. These are revealed in Yingying’s letter and in Zhang’s reaction to it. Yingying demonstrates that she really does continue in her love and regard for Zhang. She even expresses understanding about why he chooses to remain in the capital and pursue his studies at the expense of seeing her. Yet while her account of the tale proves more accurate according to the way the writer has told it, Zhang’s account resembles a critical analysis of the characters meant to justify his position.

Yingying writes: Our first meeting was at the banquet, as cousins. Then you persuaded my maid to inform me of your love; and I was unable to keep my childish heart firm. You made advances, like that other poet, Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju. I failed to repulse them as the girl did who threw her shuttle. When I offered myself in your bed, you treated me with the greatest kindness, and I supposed, in my innocence, that I could always depend on you.

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How could I have foreseen that our encounter could not possibly lead to something definite, that having disgraced myself by coming to you, there was no further chance of serving you openly as a wife? (Zhen, 1978). The reader recognizes as true the events in this retelling of the tale and understands that, as this is the version of the tale on which Yingying bases her current dejection, she is very likely suffering as much as she says. The reader also recalls that Yingying’s letter mentions some consolation that Zhang has attempted to provide her.

Yet, with his ensuing actions, he is shown untrue. He speaks of Yingying’s using her charms to rain down disaster on men and describes her as a monster capable of inconceivable cruelty. He also compares himself to great men who were “brought low by women” (Zhen, 1978). Therefore, though in parts of the speech Zhang claims that he has struggled to “repress [his] love,” his account of Yingying (whom readers know to be false) heralds Zhang as a deceiver who has counterfeited his emotions and really intends no good toward Yingying.

The love that is shared between these two characters, Zhang and Yingying, has proven to be a very complex phenomenon. While on the part of Zhang the love has shown itself to be merely physical and exacting, Yingying demonstrates that the love she has experienced is considerate and lasting. It paints a favorable picture of Zhang, though the reader is privy to the inconstancy that he has exhibited. Zhang’s “love,” on the other hand, allows him to paint a cruel and unfair picture of Yingying. The moral dilemma faced by the two reveals the strength of Yingying’s love while it shows the frailty of what Zhang feels.

Yingying disgraces herself to be with Zhang, giving up her virtue for his love. Zhang, in loving Yingying, gives up nothing. He retains all in abandoning Yingying. For though he may never again look on her, he remains in the capital to be come an acclaimed scholar, all the while knowing that he is in possession of her love.


Zhen, Y. (1978). “The Story of Yingying [trans. James R. Hightower]. ” in Ma Yau- Woon, Joseph S. M. Lau (eds. ), Traditional Chinese Stories, Themes and Variations, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 139 – 145.