Our story begins in Suchow, the strong city situated on the southeastern edge of the great plain of China. Beyond the Emperor’s Gate, which leads into the quarter of the rich and aristocratic, the region of comfortable living and “red dust,” stretched the “Ten Mile Street.” In a narrow bottleneck of that street, close by an old temple familiarly known as the “Temple of the Gourd,” lived the respected citizen Shih Ying with his good and virtuous wife, née Feng.
Shih Ying was one of the most respected, if not the most aristocratic, people in his suburb. Being the fortunate possessor of a nice country estate, he was able to live a life of leisure. He was not a lover of honors or riches and was quite happy just tending his flowers, cultivating bamboo, or reciting poetry over a glass of good wine. In short, he lived an idyllic and unworldly life. Only one thing was lacking to his complete happiness: he was already past fifty and had no little son to rock on his knee. Fate had granted him only a little daughter, now three years old, named Lotus.
–by Hung Lou Meng