Title: A Chinese Love Story – similar to Romeo and Juliet
General Information about Item:
- Verbal lore, Legend, Myth, Drama
- Language: Chinese
- Country of Origin: China
- Informant: Brandy Zhang
- Date Collected: 11-07-19
Informant Data: The informant’s name is Brandy Zhang. Brandy is a twenty-year-old female who attends Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH as a sophomore. Brandy studies music and theatre—she is very passionate about both, and loves to listen to music, play music, and watch theatrical productions in her free time. She was born and raised in Shenzhen, China, where she still lives today. Brandy attended Blair Academy for high school, which is located in New Jersey. When Brandy is in China, she lives with her mother—her parents are married but live in different households due to work. Brandy spends a lot of her time with her maternal grandparents. She is an only child.
Contextual Data: This story can be viewed on screen as an opera or it can be told to children as a bedtime story.
“So, this is a story about these two people, the man is called Liang Shanbo and the woman is called Zhu YingTai. Basically, this is known as the Romeo and Juliet of China, but it came like thousands of years ahead of time—ahead of Shakespeare so that’s an interesting little side note. So, there are a lot of different versions in different towns. Even within the same province there are a lot of different versions, either written down or just passed on as oral traditions.
So yeah, basically the story is the man, Liang Shanbo, wanted to learn and study, and that was something that…if you are trying to be a cultured man and trying to get into the court of the emperor, you go study somewhere. He was very talented, so he found this master that he studied with—so that’s his side of the story.
And for the girl, her name is Zhu YingTai. Basically, she was ahead of her time and she wanted to learn as much as anybody else did. Back in those days, girls weren’t allowed to learn or attend school, or get schooling of any sort, so she had to pull a Mulan. So, she basically disguised herself as a man and then went to the same master, as a matter of fact, and became a student of his.
So, these two, the man and the girl who is disguised as a man—they met and then they became roommates. So, during this whole duration of their schooling, which lasted about two and a half, three years, they became really great friends, during which the man never knew that his roommate was not supposed to be male. But then they build such a strong emotional connection that Zhu YingTai, the girl was very much in love with her roommate.
So, the schooling was coming to an end and they have to leave—or she has to leave because family pressure. There’s a famous snippet of the story; they walked about 18 miles…I don’t know exactly how many miles that is nowadays, but it’s a pretty long walk, I would say. So, they walked to this mountain. And then, near this mountain there’s this little pavilion thing. And then, they basically talked and then the girl was so in love that she was like ‘If you come find me, I will make sure that my little sister marries you.’ But then, she’s actually talking about herself because she is the youngest daughter of the family.
And then Liang Shanbo, the man, was like ‘Oh, cool. Would be sick if I could marry my best friend’s little sister.’ And then basically, what happened was she left and then she went home, he went back. The master, who was very wise, was like, ‘Oh, I bet you didn’t notice that your roommate, your best friend, is/was a girl, or was a woman.’ And then he’s like, ‘Oh god, she literally just promised me that she would marry me if I go find her.’ And then he’s like, ‘I’m gonna go find her!’
So, then he went all the way to her hometown to try to marry her because he’s like, ‘This is great—I love my best friend and now that she’s a girl it’s even better.’ But then when he got there, he wasn’t even allowed to go into the courtyard of her house because apparently, right after she got home, her dad has made a wedding arrangement for her and this random man who is supposed to be a prominent figure. She’s never met him before, but again, this is very old times.
So yeah, she didn’t have a choice. And as a bride, or a bride-to-be, she is not allowed to see anybody, or like, she was supposed to be kept in the dark, especially when her supposed lover is looking for her. So, the man became very depressed; he didn’t even get to see her or say goodbye. He was just shunned away and had to go home. He was so sad that he became very sick. And so, he contracted what we know nowadays as tuberculosis. Basically, back in that time, it’s like cancer—there’s no cure for tuberculosis. You get it, and that’s it for your life.
For the very end of his life he told his mom, ‘Hey mother, if I die, please bury me at the pavilion where I said goodbye to my best friend.’ So, his mom did so. And on wedding day—so, brides are carried in like, chariots, but not chariots, but carriages that are carried by strong men. And then, they go from their home…they have a face cover, it’s like the equivalent of a veil, but more opaque so you can’t see the face at all. So, their confined in this carriage box with their veil. So, the girl had to be carried from her own house to the husband’s house. And what happened was, when they passed the spot, the pavilion where they said goodbye, there was this monstrous wind that just passed by. And the whole queue of people had to stop because the wind was so strong. So, she asked to come outside and to see what’s going on and then she realized that she is where the pavilion is. And because of that she saw the grave, the tombstone of the man. And she became really sad, so she decided to…kill herself by hitting her head against the tombstone. It was said that the power, it was so powerful that she cracked the tombstone. And then, for some reason, after she died, she disappeared into the crack, and then, out flew two butterflies. And then, they were intertwined and together forever as butterflies.”
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):
“Well, it was definitely one of the most famous stories. It’s actually one of the four major love stories of Ancient China, which sounds really funny. There are three other ones that are very intense as well. This is the only one—like all of them have some sort of magical element to it throughout, or one of the characters is magical, or some sort of snake person or whatever—but this is the one where they’re both normal humans, and their very ordinary people. And the funny part is, just the idea of the girl disguising herself as a man to go study somewhere is like a very modern…you can see it in a lot of modern iterations of different stories. You can see like a girl goes into an all-boys school because of sports—you see a lot of troupes like that, which is very interesting considering this story came from thousands of years ago. I remember watching it in like a Beijing Opera version with my grandparents during one of the summers. And I’ve asked very specifically, you know, what does all of this mean? And a fun fact is that in…well it’s not the Beijing Opera, it’s like the regional type of Chinese opera. In that specific genre, men are considered…it’s the complete opposite of Shakespearean times…it’s considered disgraceful for men to perform and they can’t hit high notes like women can. So, both the man and the woman are played by women. It’s very interesting, I remember that very well.”
Like Brandy mentioned, this story is very similar to Romeo and Juliet; it’s a story of two star-crossed lovers who cannot end up together because of external influences. The ending is a bit different though; I thought it was very unique. The two lovers turn into butterflies and end up together. While this story first appears to have a tragic ending, it actually has a happy one. This differentiates it from the Romeo and Juliet tragedy.
Collector’s Name: Milla McCaghren
Tags/Keywords: Legend, myth, love story, China, folklore