Burning Down the Da Sha Tou. An episode from: A Memorial Held for Miss Jin Jiao

(Huo shao da sha tou. Ji Jin Jiao)

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Sha He Creek is located in the southeastern suburbs of the city of Guangzhou. Few people know that Jin Jiao, a famous courtesan of the late Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1644-1911), is buried here, and that her tomb is called Jin Jiao Fen. There is also a pavilion built nearby, called "the stop-whipping pavilion". But what is the story behind it?

The Da Sha Tou area around Sha He Creek was a popular gathering place for courtesans at the end of the Qing Dynasty. Every day after sunset, this area was brightly illuminated with lanterns, lights, torches and candles. Pleasure boats and soft laughter, as well as colorful clothes and delicate fragrances were just some of the attractions for visitors.

Jin Jiao is well known among the local courtesans and has a white boat, making her easy to locate from a distance. She is the most popular courtesan, and clients must reserve many days in advance to see her. The person who loves her most is a young and wealthy tea merchant. He comes to visit her nearly every night, and tells her about everything he experiences both in business and in his daily life. Jin Jiao likes him as well but, because of her profession, she must keep her distance — and must also keep certain things to herself.

One day, Jin Jiao suddenly tells the young tea merchant to stop visiting her for awhile. The young man is puzzled, and asks why, but Jin Jiao refuses to explain, telling him instead that she will let him know at a later date. The young man is not very happy and leaves without staying long.

Several days later, on a windy night, a boat on the creek suddenly catches fire. Many other boats are burned as well, and numerous courtesans are killed in this accident, including Jin Jiao. When the young tea merchant arrives on the scene, it is too late, and Jin Jiao is already dead. Thanking Jin Jiao, who has saved his life, the young man asks someone to bring him her body. Choosing a place for her tomb, he builds a pavilion nearby. He gives the pavilion the name, "the stop-whipping pavilion", implying a place where he and his horse can rest every year on their way to the annual Qingming Festival, a traditional Chinese event during which people visit the cemetery to show their love and respect for the deceased. The spot later becomes a major tourist attraction.

The cause for the fire is never discovered, but most people believe that the courtesan troupe was being blackmailed by local bandits, and that the bandits had been plotting to attack the troupe while also holding their wealthy clients for ransom. Jin Jiao must have realized something was about to happen, and warned her loyal clients in time to keep them from visiting her. People are also moved by the men who treat courtesans with respect — as friends, rather than strangers met by chance.

(This play has similar synopsis to the story The Memorial Heldby the Side of Sha He River for Miss Jin Jiao, also found in this collection.)