The Red String that Binds Predestined People

October 15, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

LINKED BY DESTINY: A newly wed couple dressed in traditional Han costumes drinks wine from a pair of cups linked by a red thread in Xian city, China. The legend of the red thread has evolved into a mulitude of traditions. (China Photos/Getty Images)
LINKED BY DESTINY: A newly wed couple dressed in traditional Han costumes drinks wine from a pair of cups linked by a red thread in Xian city, China. The legend of the red thread has evolved into a mulitude of traditions. (China Photos/Getty Images)
The ancients in China believed in “fatalism,” that amidst the unknown everything in life is predetermined. Hence, it was thought that one should rarely force the issue in matters for fear of creating karma. The Chinese idioms "The Old Man in the Moonlight" and "The Red String that Binds the Predestined People" both come from an ancient parable that illustrates how important events like marriages are predetermined.

According to the parable, Wei Gu of Dulin lost his parents when he was little. He wanted to get married early. However, all his marriage proposals were unsuccessful. In the second year of Zhenguan during Emperor Tang Taizong's reign, on a sightseeing trip to Chinghe, he stayed at a hotel in the southern region of Song City. A traveler brought a prospect with him, the daughter of Pan Fang, a former Chinghe government official. He was invited to meet with the Pan family in front of Longxing Temple, west of the hotel, the next morning.

Very early next morning, Wei Gu, being eager to get married, rushed to the temple. The moon was still lingering high above in the sky when he arrived. There was an old man sitting on the steps, leaning on a bag and reading a book in the moonlight. Wei Gu glanced at the book, but could not recognize the writing. So, he asked the old man, "What kind of book are you reading, sir? Ever since my youth, I've studied many different writings, even Sanskrit. But I've never come across what’s written in this book. What’s it all about?"

The old man smiled and said, "This isn't a book from the human world. How could you have seen it?" Wei Gu asked, "Where does the book come from?" The old man said, "It comes from the netherworld." Then Wei Gu asked, "How can someone from the netherworld appear here?" The old man replied, "It's not that I should not be here, but that you have arrived too early. All officers of the netherworld have jurisdiction over and administer matters in the human world. How can we not be here?"

Wei Gu asked, "Tell me, please, What are you responsible for?" The old man replied, "Marriages in the human world." Wei Gu was elated and said, "My parents died when I was little. I want to get married early to ensure the family name is passed on uninterrupted. However, all my marriage proposals during the last 10-plus years were rejected. Somebody told me about official Pan's daughter. That’s why I am here today. Do you think this marriage will consummate?"

The old man responded, "No. The woman you'll marry has just turned three. She'll be your wife when she turns 17." Wei Gu asked, "What's in your bag?" The old man said, "Red strings used to tie together the feet of couples. Once they are destined to marry each other, I’ll tie their feet together with this red string. Whether these two are foes, polarized by extreme disparity of wealth or poverty, or separated by vast distances, as long as the red string is tied, they will be together. When your feet are tied to hers, why search for another?"

Wei Gu asked, "Who is my wife? Where does she live?" The old man answered, "The girl was born into a family that sells vegetables, north of the hotel." Wei Gu asked, "May I see her?" The old man said, "She is always with the old woman who sells vegetables. Come with me and I'll point her out to you." They waited until sunrise, but the people Wei Gu was supposed to meet at the temple didn't show up that morning. The old man closed the book and picked up the bag. Wei Gu followed the old man to the market.

There they saw an old woman with one eye blind who held a three-year-old girl. Both looked very dirty and ugly. The old man pointed to the girl and said to Wei Gu, "That's your wife." Wei Gu angrily asked, "Can I kill her?" The old man responded, "This girl is destined to be very wealthy and enjoy life’s blessings together with you. How can you kill her?" Then the old man disappeared.

Wei Gu sharpened a knife after he went back home. He gave the knife to his servant and told him, "You've always handled matters well. If you can kill this girl for me, I'll reward you with 10,000 coins." The servant promised to carry out Wei Gu's wish. He went to the market hiding the knife in his sleeve. He waited for a chaotic moment when there were lots of people jostling around. He stabbed the girl and hurried away.

After the servant returned, Wei Gu asked, "Did you stab her?" The servant replied, "I tried to stab her heart, but missed the target, and stabbed her between the eyebrows instead."

Wei Gu continued proposing marriages with no success. Another 14 years went by when, owing to his late father's contacts, he was offered a job working for Wang Tai, a defense officer at Xiangzhou. Wei Gu was put in charge of interrogating prisoners. Wang Tai gave him his daughter's hand in marriage because he found Wei Gu to be quite capable. Wei Gu's wife was between 16 and 17 years old and beautiful. Wei Gu was very pleased. However, he found his wife always put a small artificial flower between her eyebrows and would never remove it, even when taking a bath.

At the end of the year, he asked his wife why she always wore an artificial flower between her eyebrows. She told him in tears, "I'm actually Wang Tai's niece, not his daughter. My father was the head of a county and died in office. I was a baby at the time. My mother and brother died soon after. The only property my parents left me was a house south of the city of Song. I lived there with my nanny, Chen. We survived by selling vegetables. Chen felt sorry for me and always took care of me. When I was three, Chen took me to the market where a crazy man stabbed me between my eyebrows leaving a scar, which I cover up with an artificial flower. About 7 or 8 years later, my uncle came to Lulong to take up a position. He adopted me as his daughter and I moved in with him and subsequently married you."

Wei Gu asked, "Did nanny Chen have one blind eye?" His wife said, "Yes, how did you know?" Wei Gu confessed, "That crazy man was actually sent by me." Then he told his wife the whole story.

Thereafter, the couple became even more respectful of each other. Later they had a son, named Wei Kun, who became the governor of Yanmen. His mother also received high honors from the throne because of him.

Destiny cannot be changed by man. When the mayor of Song City learned about this incident, he named that hotel west of Longxing Temple the "Engagement Hotel."

Ever since then, nuptial intermediaries are referred to as "The Old Man in the Moonlight."

Source: Records of Mystical and Weird Things

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