By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer
Butterflies have long held a special place in the hearts of the Chinese people. The tragic story of the Butterfly Lovers, Liang Shangbo and Zhu Yingtai, is one of the most celebrated romance stories in China. This legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer
Butterflies have long held a special place in the hearts of the Chinese people. The tragic story of the Butterfly Lovers, Liang Shangbo and Zhu Yingtai, is one of the most celebrated romance stories in China. This legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.
The Butterfly Lovers (also known as the Love Story of Liang Shangbo and Zhu Yingtai) has inspired all kinds of literary works, like the Yue Opera, violin concertos, plays, films and even a TV series have drawn inspiration from the story of the Butterfly Lovers.
Set in the picturesque town of Hangzhou (which lies about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai), the only daughter (Yingtai) of a rich provincial lord disguises as a boy in order to go into higher education where she meets a scholar, Shangbo. He is talented and hard-working, but poor, but nevertheless soon she falls in love with him. However, not long after, she is ordered to return home because her parents decide to marry her into a rich family. It is then that she confesses to Shangbo of her love for him.
In spite of her declaration, Yingtai is forced home to wait for the day of her marriage with the rich man, whilst Shangbo goes to the capital city to sit for his exams.
Later, Shangbo receives a post as a provincial officer and goes to Yingtai's family to propose marriage, but is harshly turned down because of his poor family background. Shangbo dies in the misery for his love for Yingtai, and Yingtai is still made to follow the engagement her parents made for her. On the day when she is sent to the wedding ceremony, her carriage passes by Shangbo's tomb. She goes down from her carriage to pay her tribute to Shangbo, a request she made to her parents. As she knelt in from of his tomb, the tomb opens and she steps in...
Yingtai disappears, and onlookers only see two butterflies flying out of the tomb. It was said that they were Shangbo and Yingtai, freed from the bounds of tradition.
According to another version of the legend, Zhu Yingtai assumes a male identity so she may travel to study in Hangzhou, a southern city in China, where she meets Liang Shangbo. In the course of their studies, Zhu and Liang become very close friends. From a Confucian perspective, the notion of "Junzi" (gentleman) is a well-exemplified ideal in Chinese history and its quality and characteristics are well expounded upon by Confucian scholars. Basically, this implies the highest integrity, morality and demeanor, coupled with well-refined abilities and skills both in martial arts and academia -- the kind of relationship that Zhu and Liang had achieved. When the time came for Zhu to return home, the pair is overcome with much suppressed sadness. Zhu offers her younger sister's hand in marriage and entreats Liang to visit her residence to discuss the issue with her parents. Liang is unaware that Zhu is female nor that she does not have a younger sister. (She is, in fact, offering her own hand in marriage.)
A year passes before Liang makes his way to Zhu's residence. He is overjoyed to realize Zhu's true identity and that she is in love with him. However, happiness turns into sorrow as the two soon discover that Zhu has been betrothed to another man. In great sadness, the two lovers meet at the tower and lament their great misfortune.
Upon his return to Hangzhou, Liang falls ill in his great misery and dies. When Zhu hears of this on her wedding day, she flees to his grave. There, legend has it that her tears move the heavens so much that the clouds themselves shed tears over Zhu's grief. Then, the earth beneath her cracks open and the ill-fated Zhu commits suicide by jumping into the open grave. Miraculously, the pair is transformed into butterflies. Arising into the sky, they flutter and dance side by side among the flowers, never to be separated again.
For thousand of years, its theme of the pursuit of knowledge, admiration of love and appreciation of life has moved people's hearts. The devious plot, vivid characters and ingenious storyline have made it a classic for many Chinese. The Butterfly Lovers is a treasure of Chinese folk literature and art.
The Butterfly Lovers originated in the Jin Dynasty about 1,600 years ago, and mainly spread through Ningbo, Shangyu, Hangzhou, Yixing, Jining, Runan and others cities. Through time it has been enriched, and people even built gravestones and temples for the couple. This story, the most influential folk tale in China, is also known in Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
Thus the Chinese have come to revere the butterfly and by sharing this story we hope it will provide you with a culturally-enriching experience and explain why the Butterfly School Project was added as an activity for A Passage to China. Also, as part of the fashion show that will be part of this event, clothing that would have been worn by Shangbo and Yingtai will be on display. See back page for complete details on A Passage to China.
Editor’s Note: For additional information on The Butterfly Lovers go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_Lovers