Madam Qian's Search for Her Husband

(Qian shi xun fu)

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Young scholar Wang Shipeng loses his father when he is quite young. He and his mother must live in a shabby house with a small income from his mother's part-time work as a seamstress. Mr. Qian, a scholar and close friend of Wang Shipeng's late father, lives in the same village, and views Wang Shipeng as an honest young man who is studying hard. He betrothes his daughter Qian Yulian to Wang Shipeng, believing that the young couple will be able to make a better life for themselves through their hard work. Wang Shipeng's family has no valuables, so his mother presents the couple with a thorn hairpin as her betrothal gift.

Qian Yulian's stepmother does not like Wang Shipeng, simply because he is poor. She wants Qian Yulian to marry a rich local man named Sun Ruquan instead. Sun Ruquan has desired the beautiful Qian Yulian for some time, and visits her stepmother often to promote the marriage. Qian Yulian is unwilling, however, to refuse her father's arrangements, partly because she has liked Wang Shipeng ever since they played together as children. They are eventually married and they live happily together.

They have only been married six months when the imperial examination rolls around. Wang Shipeng must take the exam, as it is a scholar's only opportunity to change his fate. He reluctantly leaves his wife and mother behind to take the exam in the capital city. He attains the title of top scholar, and is appointed a county magistrate in Jiangxi Province, near his hometown. The Prime Minister, who is in charge of the exam, notes his talent and appearance, and wants Wang Shipeng to marry his daughter. Wang Shipeng refuses. Feeling insulted, the Prime Minister becomes angry and relocates Wang Shipeng to remote Canton Province, and will not grant him leave to visit his family during his entire tenure.

Before Wang Shipeng leaves for his post in Canton, he writes a letter to his wife and his mother, asking them to move to Canton and meet him there. Sun Ruquan bribes Wang Shipeng's staff and manages to get the letter. He tampers with the letter, forging a message that Wang Shipeng has remarried, taking the Prime Minister's daughter as his bride. Sun Ruquan then visits Qian Yulian's stepmother and forces Qian Yulian to marry him. Qian Yulian cannot believe what has happened, and feels she has no other option but to throw herself into the river as a demonstration of her faith in love. Fortunately, she is rescued by Qian Zaihe, a cabinet minister on his way to his new post. He adopts her as his daughter, and sends his servant to Canton to seek Wang Shipeng. The servant brings back news that a newly appointed county magistrate in Canton with the surname Wang has recently died. Qian Yulian is distraught when she hears the news.

Wang Shipeng receives no reply to a letter he sends to his wife and his mother. He sends his servant back home to bring them to Canton. He is stunned and grief-stricken when he is told that his beloved wife is already dead, having thrown herself into the river. Five years later, Wang Shipeng is transferred to a new post in Ji An. Qian Zaihe has meanwhile been promoted to the post of governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. On his way to his new post, Qian Zaihe passes through the Ji An region and Wang Shipeng, as governor of Ji An, goes to the wharf to pay his official respects. Qian Zaihe realizes in conversation that Wang Shipeng is Qian Yulian's husband. He holds a banquet on the boat, and husband and wife are finally reunited.