Curly-bearded Fellow Going Overseas


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This scene is an episode from the Ming drama ‘The Story of the Girl Holding a Red Fly Whisk (红拂记 Hongfu ji)’.

The story is an account of how a talented scholar Li Jing (李靖) meets Lord Yang Su 杨素’s favourite singsong girl Red Fly Whisk (红拂女). Later, they meet the formidable knight errant Zhang Zhongjian (张仲坚) whose nickname is Curly-bearded Fellow (虬髯客), and they form the well-known ‘Three Chivalrous Heroes of the Wind and Dust 风尘三侠’.

Through twists and turns, the Curly Beard realised that Li Shimin 李世民 (598-649) was the true ‘dragon’s son’ and, therefore, destined to be the future ruler of the Tang dynasty (618-907) and decided not to compete with him. After Curly-bearded Fellow handed over to Li Jing and Red Fly Whisk all his possessions, he left for overseas to start his cause of taking over a small kingdom of Fuyu in the south-east sea. Before his departure, he told the couple that in ten years’ time they would hear his success and should celebrate this occasion by pouring him a libation of wine toward south-east.

In the present scene, the sensible knight Zhang with his signature baby-dragon-like (虬髯) beard is riding a horse, accompanied by his wife sitting in a wheeled sedan chair on their way abroad.

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni


Fig 1-5: beaker vase, 1645-1660, courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, Accession no. EA1978.1223

Fig 6: woodcut illustration, The Story of the Red Fly Whisk, late 16th or early 17th century

Fig 7: woodcut illustration, a print of The Red Fly Whisk in 1601 by the Chen family at the Jizhi Studio in Jinling

Fig 8: woodcut illustration, Li Zhuowu xiansheng piping Hongfu ji, Wanli period (1572-1620)

Fig 9: woodcut illustration, printed copy of the Min Clan of the play The Story of the Red Fly Whisk, Tianqi period (1621-27)

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