Binu and the Great Wall – Su Tong

December 16, 2009 § 4 Comments


“Rain moistens the land,” the boys said. “The river provides for the people, the water in ditches nourishes weeds, and the water in ponds makes fish and shrimps grow big. Only human tears are useless; they are the most worthless things in the world.”

Retelling the story of one woman’s journey in search for her husband, who was brought to build the Great Wall, Binu follows the hardships and challenges that Binu had to face as the result of her decision to go after her husband, Qiliang.

Binu starts off with the story of how people who live in the areas around North Mountain have been forbidden to cry. Even babies and young children are taught to never shed tears from their eyes. But to cry is only natural, after all, and these people have since found some rather mysterious ways in which they could shed tears from other parts of their bodies, but their eyes and cheeks stay dry. Binu, is one such person living in one of the villages at the foot of North Mountain.

She decides to go to Great Swallow Mountain, even if it means to walk a thousand li to get there, when she finds out that her husband, Qiliang, was taken to build the Great Wall there. She makes up her mind to deliver winter clothing to Qiliang, as the weather is turning cold. But sorceresses tell her that she will die if she makes this journey.

You can stop a spirited horse, but not a woman with her mind set on something, for she is willing to suffer for others.

As she embarks on her journey to seek her husband, she comes across a blind frog, reincarnated from a blind old woman who was looking for her son. She comes across deer-children next, children who have taken to prancing and skipping in the woods like deer, forgetting their roots and homes. She then becomes the bride to a dead thief, escaping which only to come across far more bizarre events and characters.


Overall, I found the story rather silly. True, it is the re-telling of a myth, and given that most myths, if not all, are rather unusual and absurd to start with. I love the weird and funky. But I’m not too fond of silliness.

Binu seemed like a story almost obsessed with the act of crying. Everywhere, each and every character, seemed to be obsessed witih it. I found Binu herself to be an amazingly silly girl. She was determined, yes. But in every other aspect, sometimes I almost wish I could give her a brain. For me, it was difficult to connect with her character, and the story itself was less than engaging.

For me, the better part of the story only came about in some of the last few chapters. Words started to paint pictures in front of me, scenes that I could visualise.

There were plenty of white butterflies in Pingyang Prefecture, but the women had never seen such a dense cloud of them. They flew low, with traces of the warm southern sunlight on their wings, looking like a colourful sash with white piping on its way towards Great Swallow Mountain.

It also got a lot more emotionally-engaging.

The spirits of his wronged ancestors had forgotten a descendant who had been away for so many years. They had flown over a thousand li to come to Great Swallow Mountain, to cry with Qiliang’s wife at Broken-Heart Cliff.


Binu was the re-telling of the myth of Meng Jiang Nu. Not having heard of this myth before, I had a search around, and immediately found two sites which contain the story. As is with most myths, they are two different versions, and perhaps we might not ever know which is the original version. You might like to take a look at them HERE and HERE. Do leave me your thoughts.

Binu is part of The Myths Series. I have previously read one book from this series, Weight by Jeanette Winterson. My thoughts on Weight are HERE. I will be reading more from this series. Maybe I should try The Penelopiad next, as I’ve never read Margaret Atwood (shock!) before.


Rating: 2.5

Before giving up on Su Tong, I’m going to give Raise the Red Lantern a chance. A movie was made based on it, and maybe I’ll put up my thoughts on both the book and the movie, when I get about to reading it that is.

Challenges: Lost in Translation 2009, Random Reading Challenge


§ 4 Responses to Binu and the Great Wall – Su Tong

  • Mel u says:

    I enjoyed The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood-it is a short easy to read work and to me it was fun and creative-I like the idea behind this series

  • su says:

    @ Mel: I like the idea too. I’ve heard good things about The Penelopiad. Am looking forward to it.

  • mee says:

    Oh I’m rather disappointed that you thought it’s not so good (I read another blogger has expressed the same lukewarm feelings for it). I have it on my shelf and was ready to read it for the China challenge. Eerr I’m not so sure now. But from what you wrote, I kinda like the craziness of it. Maybe I’ll just try it for a bit and see how it goes. I’d never heard of the myth before too and would love to know more about it.

    I’ve read Penelopiad and it’s alright (not amazing).

  • su says:

    @ mee: I have to say I was rather disappointed myself. But go ahead and give it a try. I’d be interested to see what you think about it.

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