An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yunü 玉女, the Jade Girl

Jun 30, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Yunü 玉女, the "Jade Girl", was according to Chinese mythology a daughter of the Jade Emperor 玉皇, a Daoist deity. She created nature and mankind.

According to a legend popular in the province of Jiangxi, Pan Gu 盤古, the creator of the universe, had separated Heaven and Earth but not produced any landscape or animals nor sun and moon. He therefore asked for support by the Jade Emperor, but the latter refused to provide help. Pan Gu therefore burst out in rage, destroyed the palace of the Jade Emperor, emptied his wine cellar and fell asleep. The Jade Girl thereupon beseeched her father to send her down to earth to support Pan Gu, but he continued refusing help. She so secretly slipped away, tore out her eyes to create sun, moon, stars and landscape, and used her own heart to produce man and woman. She also transformed her own intestines into rivers and swamps and her own bones to mountains and hills. Her hair transformed into trees and bushes.

In the story collection Shenyijing 神異經 it is told that the Jade girl and her companions loved to play touhu 投壺 "dart vase" (pitchpot game), a Chinese game in which arrows or darts are thrown into a vase.

"Jade Girl" is also a common designation for a beautiful woman, or, in Daoism, for a fairy or immortal. In a larger context, it is a term for "your daughter" and used as a parallel to jintong 金童 "golden lad" or yutong 玉童 "jade lad" for "your young son".

Yunü is also the name of the plant Usnea spec. (nüluo 女蘿), a species of lichens.

It is said in popular tales that the men and women in the Celestial Palace (tianting 天庭) were not married to each other and remained pure and untouched, so that the expression yunü or yutong also means "pure", "immaculate" or "virginal".

In popular romances like the Xiyouji 西游記, jade girls are servant maids in Heaven.

Following some local fairy tales, there are several mountain peaks (Yunü feng 玉女峯) of that name, like a summit in the Huashan range, the Huashan Yünu 華山玉女, and one in the Wuyi Range 武夷山.

Li Jianping 李劍平, ed. (1998). Zhongguo shenhua renwu cidian 中國神話人物辞典 (Xi'an : Shanxi renmin chubanshe), 144.
Luo Zhufeng 羅竹風, ed. (1989). Hanyu da cidian 漢語大詞典 (Beijing: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe), Vol. 4, 471.
Shi Xuanyuan 施宣圓 et al., ed. (1987). Zhongguo wenhua cidian 中國文化辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexue yuan chubanshe), 1068.
Xia Zhengnong 夏征農, ed. (2002). Cihai 辭海 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol. 4, 2613.