In the West, when snow falls in the middle of summer, people ask science to explain it. But in China, people used to ask: “Where was injustice committed?”
Why? A famous drama from the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) by the great playwright Guan Hanqing inculcated this belief in the Chinese people. And to this day, Chinese people, whether educated or otherwise, still consider snow in midsummer a heavenly warning for a gross miscarriage of justice.
Guan Hanqing was a scholar in the early Yuan Dynasty and a talented writer of Yuan Dramas. During his time, corruption and botched up court cases were rampant. Guan, a person with a strong sense of justice, wrote many dramas to expose the state of affairs. “The Injustice of Dou Er” is perhaps Guan’s most outstanding of his “Injustice” oeuvre.
Dou Er was an impoverished girl in Chuzhou County (in today’s Jiangsu province) who lost her mother when she was little. Her father was heavily in debt, and needed money to travel to the capital to take the imperial exam. Having no alternative, he sold Dou Er to the Cai family, betrothing her to Cai. However, two years later, Cai died from an illness leaving Dou Er and her mother-in-law to fend for themselves.
A local ruffian, Zhang Luer, took advantage of their vulnerable situation and coerced the mother-in-law to marry Zhang Luer’s father. Timid and helpless, and fearful of what the ruffian would do, the mother-in-law acquiesced. Zhang Luer then tried to force Dou Er to marry him. Dou Er adamantly refused. Zhang Luer was bitterly disappointed.
Several days later, mother Cai fell ill and asked Dou Er to make some lamb belly soup for her. Zhang Luer quietly put poison in the soup in an attempt to kill mother Cai, so as to be able to force Dou Er to marry him. However, when Cai was about to eat the soup she suddenly felt nauseous, and gave the soup to Zhang Luer’s father who, after eating the concoction, immediately rolled around on the floor and died.
Zhang Luer was terrified that he would be executed if the truth got out. So he put the blame on Dou Er, and filed a murder charge against her in court.
The judge at the county court was corrupt. Bribed by Zhang Luer, he applied torture to coerce Dou Er to plead guilty. Dou Er endured excruciating beatings, but refused to admit wrongdoing. The judge knew that Dou Er would be bound by her filial devotion to her mother-in-law, so he ordered a round of beating for Cai to be executed in front of Dou Er. Dou Er was concerned for her mother-in-law and succumbed under duress.
Thus, the judge extracted a confession from Dou Er. She was to be executed for the capital crime. At the execution site, realizing that there was no possibility of redress and filled with grief and anger, Dou Er lashed out at heaven and earth and made a final wish that there be snow, so heavy that it would bury her corpse. And then, there would be a severe drought in her county for the ensuing three years.
Her outrage shook heaven and earth. Immediately following the execution, in the heat of summer, which was June in the lunar calendar, the sky turned dark and gloomy, and it began to snow heavily. Subsequently, there was severe drought in Chuzhou County for three years.
Later, Dou Er’s father became an official in the capital, and Dou Er’s case was redressed. Zhang Luer was executed. The corrupt judge also received his due punishment.
(Curiously, in recent years in China there have been a number of reports of snows in summer. In 2007, there were three snows in summer. On June 20, a heavy snowfall was recorded in Gansu Province; on July 30, there was snow in one part of Beijing; on Aug. 6, snow fell in the Haidian District of Beijing. On July 21, 2008, the snow lasted about five minutes in Pujiang County, Zhejiang Province. On June 5, 2010, not only did it snow in Taxkorgan County of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the region experienced a full-on blizzard.)
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