The Butterfly Lovers
Once upon a time, there lived a girl called [祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái)]. She was extremely intelligent and hungry for knowledge. She always wanted to go to school, but in those days girls were not allowed to leave home, not to mention attending school and mixing with boys. Yingtai was often encouraged to stay at home to perfect her embroidery. She always looked out of her window as very often she could see boys carrying their books to school. She always dreamt of the opportunity of going to school to study history, literature and how to compose poetry.
After she had celebrated her eighteenth birthday, her desire to attend school became so strong that she discussed with her maid how she could convince her parents to allow her to leave home and attend a very famous school at Hangzhou. They came up with a daring but brilliant idea.
A few days later, Yingtai’s parents were resting at home. Somebody knocked at the front door and a fortune teller was shown into the drawing room by a servant. The fortune teller told Mr. Zhu that he could see from afar that an air stream was rising from the house, manifesting that something auspicious would happen very soon to the family. Mr. Zhu was curious and asked the fortune teller exactly what would happen to his family. The fortune teller said that a member of the family would have the blessing of traveling to a place distant from home and this would bring fortune and luck to the family. Mr. Zhu thanked the fortune teller for his advice and saw him to the door. Just as he was about to bid farewell to the fortune teller, the fortune teller suddenly removed his hat and down flowed her silky hair.
“Father, can’t you recognize me?” uttered the fortune teller.
Mr. Zhu was shocked by this sudden change and after a few seconds, it dawned on him that the fortune teller was in fact his daughter, Yingtai, in disguise.
“Father, even you did not recognize me when I disguised myself as a man. Would you let me go to Hangzhou to study? I will disguise myself as a boy. You know that I really want to go to school very much,” begged Yingtai.
“Alright, Yingtai, I will allow you to go only if you promise me that firstly, you must return home whenever I send for you, because both your mother and myself are getting old now. Secondly, you must maintain a very high moral standard and keep your virginity,” said Yingtai’s father reluctantly. Yingtai was ecstatic at her father’s change of heart and immediately made preparation for the trip to Hangzhou. Naturally, both she and her maid had to put on man’s clothes as soon as they stepped out of their house.
Having walked for seven or eight days, they reached a pavilion where they took a rest and had some food. There came a young man with his page, who also stopped at the pavilion.
“Sir, may I ask whether this is the way to Hangzhou as I am going to visit my teacher Master Meng?” asked the young man.
“Yes, sir. I am also going there too. In fact, Master Meng will be my teacher,” said Yingtai.
“Is it really? That will be great. My name is [梁山伯 (Liáng Shānbó)]. Shall we travel together so that we will have company on the way?”
“Yes, of course, I will be delighted. My name is Zhu Yingtai.”
Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai together with their servants traveled together to the school. They became very good friends in no time and Shanbo suggested that he and Yingtai become brothers. Yingtai agreed and they both knelt down, kowtowed to the sky and took an oath that they would be good brothers as long as they lived. They then continued their journey to Master Meng’s school.
When they arrived at the school, they were shown to the pupils’ dormitory. As they were good friends, they shared the same room where there was only one bed and two quilts. Yingtai was extremely worried about sharing the same bed with a man although Shanbo did not know that she was a girl. She trumped up an idea, and went to the kitchen to fetch a large bowl of water and placed it in the middle of the bed.
“What on earth are you doing? Why do you put a bowl of water in the bed? The bed will be wet if we spill the water when we are sleeping. What kind of a game is this?” asked Shanbo, slightly annoyed.
“I am not used to sleeping with another person in the same bed. The bowl of water will help you and myself keep to our own side of the bed. I am sorry it is a bit awkward, but I really need to do this, otherwise I will not be able to sleep comfortably,” replied Yingtai.
One day, Master Meng told his pupils that Confucius believed that women were vile persons because they could bring about the downfall of kingdoms. Yingtai was outraged to hear that and said that she did not agree with Confucius. As Confucius was regarded as a saint and whatever he had said was taken as sacrosanct, Master Meng and the other pupils, including Shanbo, were shocked by Yingtai’s views. However, nobody had yet discovered that Yingtai was a girl.
Time flew quickly. Shanbo and Yingtai had been studying at the school for three years. Naturally, Yingtai was very pleased with all the knowledge she had acquired during her time studying in the school. One day. Yingtai received a letter from her father asking her to return home as quickly as possible, as her mother was ill. Although Yingtai would like to continue her studies at the school, she had no alternative but to pack her belongings immediately and bid farewell to Master Meng and her fellow pupils. Shanbo, being Yingtai’s brother and her roommate, accompanied Yingtai in the first leg of her return journey.
On the way, Yingtai tried to hint to Shanbo subtly that she was in fact a girl and she had fallen in love with him. When they passed a river and saw a pair of mandarin ducks, Yingtai said to Shanbo that the pair of mandarin ducks looked just like her and Shanbo. Being a very straightforward person, Shanbo did not take the hint and responded by saying that it was not an apt comparison. When they walked past a well, Yingtai invited Shanbo to look down the well together and asked him whether they looked like a bride and a bridegroom. Shanbo took that as a joke and ignored the question. When it was time for them to part, Yingtai said to Shanbo that she had a twin sister who looked exactly the same as her. She would like her sister to marry Shanbo and offered to be the matchmaker. Shanbo happily agreed because he was very fond of Yingtai. Yingtai gave him a jade butterfly as an engagement gift on behalf of her so called sister, and asked Shanbo to go to her place as soon as possible to ask for her sister’s hand.
When Yingtai returned home, she discovered that her mother was in fact enjoying good health. Her father wanted her to return home immediately because he had accepted a proposal on her behalf from Mr. Ma Wencai, the son of a powerful and rich man and the date of the wedding had been agreed by the two families. He was worried that Yingtai would not come home immediately and therefore told Yingtai the lie. Yingtai’s repeated protests came to no avail because during those ancient days, marriage was usually arranged by the parents. Yingtai dared not disclose to her father that she had fallen in love with Shanbo.
Six months later, Liang Shanbo arrived at the home of Yingtai happily, hoping that he could meet Yingtai’s sister and marry her. At the door he saw red lanterns and other decorations indicating that there would be celebrations in the house. He asked to see Yingtai and was led to the sitting room. After a moment, out came a young lady who looked exactly like Yingtai.
“Shanbo, I am glad you have come,” said Yingtao.
Shanbo remained silent for a while, wondering why Yingtai’s sister could recognize him.
“You must be Yingtai’s sister,” said Shanbo.
Knowing why Shanbo was baffled, Yingtai said, “Don’t you recognize me? I am Zhu Yingtai.”
Shanbo was speechless for a while. “Ah, no wonder you have been talking about us being a man and a woman which I did not understand at all at that time,” replied Shanbo.
Shanbo instantly transformed the three-year friendship with Yingtai to true love for her.
“Come, let’s sit down and have a cup of tea,” said Yingtai, showing some kind of sadness on her face.
“Why is it that your house is decorated as if there is some kind of celebration?” asked Shanbo.
Tears began running down Yingtai’s face.“ My father has already betrothed me to a powerful and rich man’s son. I cannot act against his wishes. Today is my engagement day. You have come too late to ask for my hand.”
This was a blow to Shanbo. He was completely devastated and could not hold back the blood that was throwing out from his mouth. As he was about to pass out, his servant immediately came up to support him. Feeling very weak and despondent, Shanbo decided to leave Yingtai’s house. Before he left, he said to Yingtai, “While we had the good fortune of spending three great years together as classmates, our destiny dictates that we cannot be husband and wife.”
Seeing Shanbo’s despair and pain, Yingtai was completely shattered and was in such agony that she felt a sharp knife had pierced through her heart.
After Shanbo returned home, he could not recover from his broken heart. He died a month later. When he passed away, he was still holding the jade butterfly that Yingtai had given him. Upon his death, Shanbo’s page ran as fast as he could to see Yingtai and brought her the news. Yingtai was overcome by both guilt and sorrow. She believed that she had caused Shanbo’s demise. She was so affected by deep sorrow that she kept herself in her room and refused to speak to anyone. Her parents were so worried that they thought it would be better for her daughter to marry Mr. Ma Wencai as early as possible.
The wedding day came. Yingtai refused to put on her wedding gown and proceed with the wedding. After a long argument with her father, Yingtai finally suggested that she would get married only if she was allowed to visit Shanbo’s grave on the way to the bridegroom’s residence. Her father grudgingly agreed.
Yingtai secretly put on a white dress under her red glamorous wedding gown and went into the sedan chair which led the wedding procession to the bridegroom’s home. When the procession reached Shanbo’s grave, Yingtai came out from the sedan chair, took off her wedding gown, thus baring her white mourning dress. She rushed to Shanbo’s grave and wailed hysterically while embracing the tomb stone tightly. Suddenly a big whirl of wind swept through the dark sky and a bolt of lightning struck open the grave. When Yingtai saw this and desperately wanting to be with Shanbo, she jumped into the grave. Then in no time the grave closed up by itself. All this happened so quickly that her maid just could not stop her from sacrificing herself.
A few moments later, the sky became clear again. Yingtai’s maid, shaken by what Yingtai had done, tried desperately to dig open the grave to save Yingtai. However, she was mesmerized when she saw a pair of beautiful butterflies emerge from the grave. The butterflies were flying happily, apparently enjoying being together.