The Mermaid (1965)

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Zhang Zhen’s family had fallen on hard times but remembering the bethrothal agreement between his father and the prime minister, Master Chin, he set off for his fiance’s home. When he arrived, he was distressed to receive a cold reception from his future father-in-law, who looked down on him because he was poor and was willing to fulfill his promise only after Zhang Zhen had successfully become the top scholar. He bade Zhang Zhen to stay at the Green Waves Study and prepare.

After a year, Zhang Zhen still had not achieved the status of top scholar. His pampered and spoilt bethrothed, Peony, after the initial introduction had already forgotten about him. All he had for a companion, were the carp and the denizens of the pond by the study. The carp spirit was touched by his care for the fish and his loneliness. She visited him one winter’s night in the guise of Peony and was further impressed with his sensitive and gentlemanly considerations for her wellbeing. She managed to persuade him that she was of like mind with his philosophies, acknowledging their bethrothal and her support in his endeavors. Thus a relationship was formed.

One night in spring, during the lantern festival, Zhang Zhen mistook the real Peony for his beloved and was rebuffed. Her father promptly threw him out. Shocked by his beloved’s turn-about, enraged by the betrayal, disgusted with the materialistic and sanctimonious unprincipled attitudes of both father and daughter, he stormed off to return home. The carp spirit went after him and convinced him of her sincerity, telling him too that she was with child. Both decided to return to Zhang Zhen’s home, 300 miles away. They attended the lantern festivities along their journey and were seen by Peony’s father who thought Zhang Zhen had committed the worst of sins.

When two Peonies appeared, the household was thrown into an uproar. Even the righteous Judge Pao could not come to a settlement. Finally, the father summoned an exorcist to chase away the evil spirit. The carp spirit hastily released Zhang Zhen from the shed where he was imprisoned and convinced him to run away with her. However, they were beset by the Celestial Generals and gods who were summoned to subdue her. In despair, she told Zhang Zhen the truth and was gratified when he vowed to stay by her. Just as she was about to be killed, the Goddess of Mercy intervened. The carp spirit was given two choices, return with the Goddess to continue her training to be an immortal or forsake all her powers and become human.

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