Flowers in the Mirror (Chinese: 鏡花緣; pinyin: Jìnghuāyuán), also translated as The Marriage of Flowers in the Mirror, or Romance of the Flowers in the Mirror, is a fantasy novel written by Li Ruzhen (Li Ju-chen), completed in the year of 1827 during the Qing dynasty.
The 100-chapter novel is well-known today for its various kinds of fantasy stories and humorous writing style.
Flowers in the Mirror is set in the reign of the Empress Wu Zetian (684–705) in the Tang dynasty. She took the throne from her own son, Emperor Zhongzong of Tang. Empress Wu lets the power she is given go to her head, and she demands that all of the flowers on the earth be in bloom by the next morning. The flower-spirits fear her and follow her orders, but they are then punished by the gods for doing so. Their punishment is to live on earth. Once their penance is complete, they will be allowed to go back to heaven again.
Tang Ao is the father of the incarnation of the Fairy of a Hundred Flowers. The Empress suspects him of having had a part in plotting rebellion against her and so she takes away his high scholarly rank and leaves him with the lowest rank that one can attain. Tang Ao responds to this by freeing himself from the coil of the mortal strife which binds the soul to the body and resolves to become an immortal by cultivating Tao.
Tang Ao is then told by a dream spirit that his destiny lies in foreign parts; and he decides to go overseas by junk with his brother-in-law, Merchant Lin. Tang Ao finds twelve of the incarnated flower-spirits during his journey and helps them all with the difficulties that they are having. Doing so enables him to become an immortal and, at the fair mountain of Little Penglai, he disappears.
During his journey, Tang Ao travels to the Country of Gentlemen, the Country of Women, the Country of Intestineless People, the Country of Sexless People, and the Country of Two-faced People, as well as many other countries. In the second half of the book Tang Ao's daughter goes to Little Penglai to look for him after his disappearance. Also, the incarnated flower-spirits take part in the "Imperial Examinations for Women", and along with their husbands and brothers they rise up and overthrow Empress Wu's rule, so restoring Emperor Tang Chung-tsung to the throne.
The novel is known for its contribution to the idea of feminism. It eulogizes woman's talents, fully acknowledges their social status and breaks the old concept of gender roles. The author's idea is reflected through his creation of “The Nation of Girls” (女兒國), where a woman is the center of all. Men are made to dress like women and stay at home and look after the children, while women wear men's clothes, own businesses and are involved in politics. From the emperor to officials and servants, all are women. The author reinforces the idea that a woman's capability is not any less than a man's and that they can do just about anything that a man is capable of.
The author's ideal society is expressed through another model, the "Comity of Nation" (君子国/君子國). The name itself in Chinese, junzi, is originally from Confucian tradition and means a person of noble character and integrity. The real-world during Li Ruzhen's time was rather a nation of contention that is opposed to the idea of the "Comity of Nation" which suggests "rather yielding than arguing" (好讓不爭). Under the author's imagination, there is no putridity, no bribes between officials; citizens are all amicable and live a joyful life under a steady and rich government.
The author, Li Ruzhen, apparently believed in equal rights for women, a revolutionary idea in the feudal society of his day. In writing Flowers in the Mirror, he was attempting to ask for equality of men and women. When Li writes about the different countries he is giving his aspirations for an ideal society. The novel is full of fantasy which shows the author's unique vision of life.
Li had planned on writing a sequel to the Flowers in the Mirror but never did. He spent fifteen years writing the one hundred chapters of Flowers in the Mirror, and three years after it was published, he died. Li said that those of his friends who had been having trouble emotionally laughed when they read the first one hundred chapters and insisted that he get them published without writing any more.
- The Peach Blossom Spring: Another journey to a flower-related utopia.
Other late-imperial fantasy novels, whose content and style are comparable:
- ^ McMahon, Keith (1995). Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male-Female Relations in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Fiction. Duke University Press. p. 284. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1198x1t. ISBN 978-0-8223-9729-8.
- Zhu Meishu 朱眉叔 (1992): Li Ruzhen yu Jing hua yuan (李汝珍与镜花缘/李汝珍與鏡花緣 "Li Ruzhen and Flowers in the Mirror"). Shenyang: Liaoning jiaoyu chubanshe.
- Li, Ju-chen (1965). Flowers in the Mirror. Translated by Lin Tai-yi. California: University of California Press.