Written by Stefania Miletti
Here I am again with another love story, but what can you do when there are so many touching stories in Chinese culture! If I could I would share them all! But for today, I have “The Butterfly Lovers”, a tender young love in a time immersed in traditions.
The Butterfly Lovers
Once upon a time, during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, the costumes were different from what we know now. In fact, while the boys enjoyed their daytime at school, girls stayed at home to help with the household chores. However, Zhu Yingtai, ninth and only daughter to the Zhu family form Shangyu, Zhejiang, begged his father to let her go to school and learn. At first her father was against it but after Zhu continued unceasingly to ask him, he agreed to let her go at the condition that she’ll be accepted in one of the schools. Her father was quite sure that no school would have wanted a girl among their students. But, oh boy, was he wrong to underestimate the intelligence of her daughter. In fact, Zhu, knowing very well that it would have been impossible for her to get admission as a girl, disguised herself as a boy and successfully got admitted into a Hangzhou school, where also her aunt lived.
Every day, she will dress up as a guy and attend the school. In her class, she became close friends with a boy named Liang and, with the passing of time, the two friends became inseparable. With time Zhu started to have stronger feelings for him, realizing she was in love. The problem was that Liang thought she was a boy, but she was not ready to give up. Zhu thought of a plan; she asked Liang to come to her hometown after graduation and to ask her father for her “sister’s hand”. Liang agreed without thinking twice, he did not want to lose Zhu, so he thought that by marring his sister, they will still be good friends and will see each other quite often.
With this promise in mind, soon after graduation, Liang found a job and worked extremely hard to save money for the marriage. Once he reached his goal, he lost no time and presented himself at Zhu house. When Zhu finally saw him, after one year of being apart, she felt as if all her hopes and dreams had come to life. She run into her loved one’s arms crying and shouting: “Liang! It’s me! I’m Zhu, your friend! As you can see that I’m a girl, now there’s nothing standing in our way, we can finally be happy together!”
Liang was initially shocked at this revelation, but soon everything made sense. Now he understood why he felt such strong connection with Zhu since the beginning. Gathering his courage, he confronted Zhu father, explaining his profound love for his daughter and asking for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, the father did not agree, he explained that Zhu hand was already promised to a wealthy merchant and there was nothing the young man could do to change his mind.
The lovers’ hearts were shattered. Liang left, empty handed, feeling more alone than ever. The mere thought of him not seeing Zhu again, filled him with despair and on his journey home, he collapsed and died.
When Zhu heard of his lover’s death, she lost her all her will to live. She agreed to marry the merchant her father choose for her at the only condition that the wedding procession passed by Liang’s grave.
The dreaded wedding day came, and Zhu collected herself, put up a façade and started the wedding procession. Wind began to howl stronger and stronger, and the shy darkened as the procession neared the cemetery. Suddenly Zhu jumped out of her palanquin and through herself on his lover’s grave, crying her heart out. As the weather conditions worsened, a lightning bolt broke the grave open and Zhu jumped into it.
After that the storm subsided as fast as it had started. But when the people reached the grave, trying to find the bride to be, all they could see was an empty coffin. Then, out of the blue, two beautiful and radiant butterflies flew out the coffin, dancing and chasing each other like two young lovers. People all around were in disbelief and watched the scene as the two butterflies flew out of sight, beginning their lives together.
From Story to Music
In 1959 “The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto” was written by the skilled minds of two Chinese composers, Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. The work they presented is astonishing and is divided into seven section. Each of these sections depicts a clear image in the story’s timeline, from the joyful youth, to the unbearable sadness derived from a lost lover.
I assure you that listening to this concerto will make you feel every emotion that the butterfly lovers experienced in their story, especially thanks to the brilliant execution of the orchestra.
Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
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