After the victory over Wu, Goujian is oddly unappreciative of Xi Shi's great sacrifice, and when his wife writes him, describing Xi Shi as a "wangguo zhi wu" (a femme fatale who can bring a country to ruin), he comes to the conclusion that, however necessary the beauty trap (meiren ji) may have been, it was a shameful stratagem that did not look very good for one in a position now to become the dominant figure in North China. Following his wife's suggestion, therefore, he resolves to eliminate Xi Shi by having her drowned in a river. Luckily, Xi Shi is rescued at the eleventh hour by Fan Li (to whom she had been betrothed before going to Wu) and they go to Qi where they live out their days together under assumed identities. But meanwhile, after this grizzly episode, matters go from bad to worse at the Yue court.Guy, no one proposed using bears to off Xi Shi. And Gou Jian's plot isn't that grisly anyway, no more than Xi Shi poisoning Zheng Dan earlier in the play when she threatens to tell Fu Chai all.
The other historical novel mentioned eliminates Fan Li from the 'Drown Xi Shi' plot entirely. Instead it's Xi Shi and Zheng Dan who have a sisterly tendresse, and Zheng Dan's husband who rescues her from the nefarious scheme. "She returns with him to Ningluo, where she spends her days in domestic bliss, living as a sister to Zheng Dan and Zhuan Yi and a third parent to their children."
And what I want to know is how much these versions are relying on folk tale elements already present and how much is straight whole authorial cloth? Can I trace Woxin's pre-existing engagement between Fan Li and Xi Shi to 20th century versions, or was the idea around before? Ditto Gou Jian's queen drowning Xi Shi. Cohen's focus is on the later period when it's easier to get texts that illustrate mythic and propagandaist uses of the story, but I wish his background chapter hadn't skipped from Eastern Han sources to late Qing ones. What was being said in the intervening ohh approximately 1800 years? Cohen implies that everyone else was using Wu Yue chunqiu (Annals of Wu and Yue) too, but I bet they were taking some real folk tale liberties with it.