Hong Fu Nü (紅拂女), the Lady with Red Sleeves, is a legendary Chinese folk hero from imperial China whose birth name was Zhang Chuchen (張出塵, alternatively 張初塵). She was purported to have lived during the Transition from Sui to Tang and was originally described in Biography of the Dragon-Beard Man from the Tang Dynasty. She was a courtesan in the court of Sui Dynasty minister Yang Su and eloped with Li Jing, an ally and future general of future Tang emperor Li Shimin. Hong Fu Nü, along with Li Jing and the “Dragon Beard Man,” Qiu Ranke, are known as the “Three Heroes of the Wind and Dust” (風塵三俠).

Born Zhang Chuchen, her parents were from southern China who migrated north to Chang’an in the unification wars of the Sui Dynasty. Zhang became a courtesan in the court of Sui minister Yang Su, where she specialized in song and dance. Because she often wore red, she became known as Hong Fu Nü, the Lady with Red Sleeves. According to legend, she saw Li Jing when he came to petition Yang Su to address the grievances of the common people. Zhang fell in love with Li and eloped with him.

Hong Fu Nü and Li Jing first allied themselves with Qiu Ranke to overthrow the Sui Dynasty, becoming the Three Heroes of the Wind and Dust. After meeting future emperor Li Shimin, Qiu Ranke forsook this ambition. Hong Fu Nü and Li Jing allied themselves with Li Shimin and helped Li Shimin and his father Li Yuan establish the Tang Dynasty. Qiu Ranke on went to establish his own kingdom of Fusu (alternatively, Fuyu) to the southeast.

Hong Fu Nü and Li Jing lived together as wife and husband until she died of illness in AD 640. Li Jing, then 70 years of age, survived her by nine years.

 

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