Yuenü (Chinese: 越女; pinyin: Yuènǚ; Wade–Giles: Yüeh-nü; lit. 'the Lady of Yue') was a swordswoman from the state of Yue, in the modern Chinese province of Zhejiang. She is also known as Maiden of the Southern Forest.
Life and legacy
Yuenü lived during the reign of Goujian of Yue (496-465 BCE). From a young age, she learned archery and how to use a sword by hunting with her father. The King of Yue planned to attack the state of Wu and when he heard about her skills, he invited her to court. Along the way, she was challenged by an old man who was in reality a magic white ape:
The Young Woman of Yue travelled north for her audience with the king. On the way, she met an old fellow who said his name was “Old Mr. Yuan” [Yuan Gong, 袁公].
He said to the young woman, “I hear you fight well with a [sword]. I’d like to see a demonstration.”
She replied, “I wouldn’t presume to keep anything from you: you are welcome to test my skill, Sir.”
So Old Man Yuan drew out a length of Linyu bamboo. But the bamboo was rotten at one end. The end fell to the ground and the young woman immediately snatched it up. The old man wielded the top end of the staff and thrust towards the young woman, but [she] parried straight back, thrust three times, and finally raised her end of bamboo and drove home her attack against Old Man Yuan [fig. 10]. Old Man Yuan hopped off up a tree, turning into a white ape [baiyuan, 白猿, hence the surname]. Then each went their own way, and she went on to meet with the king.
Upon meeting the king, the Maiden reveals the secret to her fighting ability is the application of yin and yang energy, which are metaphorically described as the opening and closing of large and small swinging doors. Furthermore, she claims that, while strengthening the spirit, one should remain outwardly calm.
Her exposition on the art of the sword impressed the king, who decreed that her skills be in training his army and gave her the title 'the Yue Woman' (越女) or Lady of Yue. The king appointed her to train his army officers, who in turn, instructed his army.