Liu Rushi (Chinese: 柳如是; pinyin: Liú Rúshì; Wade–Giles: Liu Ju-shih; 1618–1664), also known as Yang Ai (杨爱), Liu Shi (柳是), Liu Yin (柳隐) and Yang Yin (杨隐),Yang Yinlian (杨影怜), Hedong Jun (河东君), was a Chinese yiji (courtesan), poet, calligrapher, and painter in the late Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty.

Liu Rushi
Portrait of Liu Rushi.jpg
1847 portrait of Liu Rushi, ink on paper, by Lu Ji and Cheng Tinglu
Yang Yunjuan[1]

Resting placeMount Yu, Changshu, Jiangsu
Other namesLiu Shi (柳是), Liu Yin (柳隐), Yang Yin (杨隐), Yang Yinglian (杨影怜), Yang Ai (杨爱), Hedong (河东 / 河东君)
Occupation(s)Courtesan and poet
Known forPoetry, marriage to Qian Qianyi

Early in her life, she had a relationship with Chen Zilong with whom she exchanged verses.[2] She married the scholar-official Qian Qianyi, who was 36 years her senior, at the age of 25. She committed suicide shortly after he died.

She is one of the "Eight Beauties of Qinhuai" described by late Qing official Zhang Jingqi.[3] In addition to her creative works (many of which have survived) and independent spirit (she often cross-dressed), she has been revered in later times for her unwavering love for her husband and for her country (the Ming) during the Ming–Qing transition. Historian Chen Yinke, who spent decades researching and writing about her, characterizes Liu Rushi as "a heroine, a belle, a wordsmith, and a patriot" (女俠名姝 文宗國士).

Early lifeEdit

Believed to have been born in Jiaxing, Liu was sold by her family as a concubine to the Prime Minister Zhou Daodeng.[4] At the age of thirteen, a scandal led to her expulsion from Zhou's household, and she was sold to a brothel in Suzhou.[1] At seventeen, she had her first major love affair with the painter Tang Shuda.[5] Already a noted poet and painter herself at this early age, she met Chen Zilong in 1635 and lived with him for about a year, eventually leaving after his family disapproved of their liaison. After leaving, she managed a brothel in Wujiang.[1][4][6] An affair with the artist Wang Janming ended when Wang failed to attend an appointment with her at the Rainbow Pavilion. Another affair with Song Yuanwen, a government official, ended when his vacillations over marriage resulted in Liu smashing her lute and storming off in a fit of pique.[5]

She was friends with fellow courtesan Chen Yuanyuan.[1]

Marriage to Qian QianyiEdit

Tomb of Liu Rushi, on Mount Yu, Changshu

In 1640 Liu embarked on a campaign to marry the respected scholar Qian Qianyi. Dressed in men's clothing, she accosted Qian and requested his opinion on one of her poems.[5][6] Qian apparently believed her to be a man, but later in the year he had established her at a specially built hermitage in the grounds of his Suzhou estate, called the "According to Sutra Studio". They married in 1641, whilst on a river cruise; Qian bestowing upon his bride the new name of Hedong.[1][5] Although he married her as a concubine, Qian treated Liu as his principal wife, and they were married in a formal wedding ceremony.[4][6] Her affinity for cross-dressing persisted after they were married; she regularly wore men's clothing whilst in public and on occasion made calls on her husband's behalf whilst dressed in his Confucian robes (this affectation earned her the nickname rushi, "Confucian Gentleman", which also puns on her chosen name Rushi).[1]

After the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644, Liu tried to persuade her husband to commit suicide and martyr himself to the fallen Ming. Qian refused, instead choosing to organise the resistance movement against the newly established Qing regime. In 1648, the couple had a daughter together.[7][6]

The last years of her life were difficult for Liu. In 1663, she entered the Buddhist laity, partly as a response to the destruction of her husband's substantial personal library, the Crimson Cloud-Storied Hall.[6] After Qian's death in 1664, his creditors and enemies attempted to extort money from Liu; their machinations eventually drove her to hang herself.[8][6]

List of paintingsEdit

Landscapes with Figures, album leaves, ink and color on paper. Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.[9]

Misty Willows at the Moon Dike, 1643, handscroll, ink and color on paper. Palace Museum, Beijing.[10]


During her life Liu was a prolific poet, publishing four collections of her work before the age of 22. Her calligraphy was noted for its bold, masculine strokes,[1] using the "wild-grass script" style.[6] Her solo anthologies included Songs from the Mandarin Duck Chamber and Poems Drafted by a Lake, and her poetry was published alongside her husband's in a number of his works.[5][6]

The Qing dynasty magistrate Chen Wenshu (陈文述) helped preserve her tomb and once helped rebuild it. To this day, Liu Rushi's tomb still exists.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dorothy Ko (1994). Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China. Stanford University Press. pp. 273–7. ISBN 978-0-8047-2359-6.
  2. ^ Cahill, James (1990). "The Painting of Liu Yin". In Weidner, Marsha (ed.). Flowering in the Shadows: Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 109–17. ISBN 978-0824811495.
  3. ^ *Xie 谢, Yongfang 永芳; Shi 施, Qin 琴 (2014). "像传题咏与经典重构———以《秦淮八艳图咏》为中心" [Acclaim for portraits and classical reconstruction: 'Qinhuai bayan tuyong' as the centre]. Zhongguo Wenhua Yanjiu (2): 180–188.
  4. ^ a b c Melissa Hope Ditmore (1 January 2006). Encyclopedia of prostitution and sex work: A-N. Vol. 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-313-32969-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e Victoria Baldwin Cass (1 January 1999). Dangerous Women: Warriors, Grannies, and Geishas of the Ming. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 40–44. ISBN 978-0-8476-9395-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Bonnie G. Smith (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History: 4 Volume Set. Oxford University Press. pp. 125–6. ISBN 978-0-19-514890-9.
  7. ^ Cahill, James (1990). "The Painting of Liu Yin". In Weidner, Marsha (ed.). Flowering in the Shadows: Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0824811495.
  8. ^ Cahill, James (1990). "The Painting of Liu Yin". In Weidner, Marsha (ed.). Flowering in the Shadows: Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0824811495.
  9. ^ "Landscapes with Figures". Freer/Sackler. Smitihsonian Institution. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  10. ^ Lee, Hui-shu (April 2015). "Voices from the Crimson Clouds Library: Reading Liu Rushi's (1618-1664) Misty Willows by Moonlit Dike". Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture. 2 (1): 173–206. doi:10.1215/23290048-2887589. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  11. ^ Qian Yong (钱泳)《履园丛话》也有记载:“嘉庆二十年间,钱塘陈云伯(陈文述)为常熟令,访得柳夫人墓在拂水岩下,为清理立石。”

Further readingEdit