There is a very famous story in the fifteenth-century collection of tales, the Arrayed Tales of Selected Oddities from South of the Passes (Lĩnh Nam chích quái liệt truyện), about Lord Lạc Long (Lạc Long Quân), a mythical figure who lived in an underwater palace and his female “partner.”

When Đế Lai, a Northern (or what we would call “Chinese”) emperor, toured the area near where Lord Lạc Long lived, he brought along his wife, Consort Âu (Âu cơ). Lord Lạc Long saw her, and liked what he saw, and to make a long story short, the two ended up having children together. . . In fact, they had 100 of them, 100 sons, but all at one time (100 eggs in one sac that all hatched into 100 sons), and one of those sons became, as the Hùng king, the founder of a new ruling house.

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So it is good that these two could produce a king together, but what exactly was the relationship between Lord Lạc Long and Consort Âu? The fifteenth-century official chronicle, the Complete Book of the Historical Records of Đại Việt (Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư), recorded that Lạc Long Quân “married” (thú 娶) Consort Âu.

The Arrayed Tales, however, presents this information quite differently. This is what it says:

“The Dragon Lord [i.e., Lord Lạc Long] suddenly came and saw that Consort Âu was wondrously beautiful. The Dragon Lord took a liking to her and transformed himself into a young man of handsome appearance. With servants following on his left and right and a large group singing and playing flutes, he arrived at the palace. Âu Cơ happily followed him. They hid at Long Đại Crag.”

(見嫗姬容貌奇偉,龍君悅之,乃化作好兒郎,豐姿秀麗,左右前後侍從者眾,行歌鼓吹,虚建宮中。嫗姬悅從龍君,藏於龍岱巖。)

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Correct me if I’m wrong, but that does not look like “marriage” to me. I would call it “wooing/tricking a girl to elope.”

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In the eighteenth century, Ngô Thì Sĩ saw the contradiction between these two accounts and he concluded that the author of the Complete Book, Ngô Sĩ Liên, had “whitewashed” the information. To quote, this is what Ngô Thì Sĩ wrote:

“The historian [i.e., Ngô Sĩ Liên] concealed this matter, saying that [Lord Lạc Long] married Đế Lai’s daughter. He was ashamed that the quails had raced off and that he would have to talk about the moral behavior of birds, both of which were unacceptable, so he omitted this.”

(史氏諱其事,言娶帝來女,耻鶉奔而談鳥行,均不可道,不如闕之。)

What I have translated as “quails had raced off” is a reference to a passage in a poem in the Classic of Poetry (詩, 墉風, 鶉之奔奔) where it literally says something like “Racing, racing go the quails” (鶉之奔奔).

Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi later gave this line a morally positive meaning by emphasizing that these birds raced about “together,” which is the reading that James Legge followed in the nineteenth century when he translated this line as “Boldly faithful in their pairings are quails.”

However, at the same time the term “quails racing” (鶉奔) also continued to have a negative meaning – “to elope” – and this is the way in which Ngô Thì Sĩ used it to refer to what Lord Lạc Long and Consort Âu had done.

So Lord Lạc Long and Consort Âu eloped together. . . and had 100 sons. . . It looks like life at Long Đại Crag was pretty good.