By Xiaochen

As life tears us apart,

Let death bring us together.

We are incarnated in butterflies upon death,

Dancing in undying love and happiness.

Yingtai Zhu, the only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family in town, loved reading and longed to attend school like her brothers. In that era, women were discouraged to take up academic pursuits, but Yingtai finally persuaded her parents to allow her to take courses in disguise as a man in a nearby city.

On her journey to the city for schooling, Yingtai met a young man named Shanbo Liang, who happened to attend the same school with her. They felt like old friends at the first meeting and even took an oath of forever fraternity during the journey.

Amid the three years of being intimate classmates and best friends, Yingtai gradually fell in love with Shanbo, but Shanbo was too nerdy to notice the feminine features in his best friend.

One day, Yingtai received a letter from home asking her to return right away. To bid farewell to Yingtai, Shanbo accompanied his bosom friend for 18 miles to see her off. During the journey, Yingtai hinted several times at her true identity, but Shanbo still failed to catch her real intent. However, since Yingtai had already been secretly devoted to Shanbo, she finally came up with an idea and lied to Shanbo: “I have a little sister who is similar in appearance and disposition with me. I’d love to be a matchmaker for you and her if you come to visit me.” Shanbo agreed to visit Yingtai’s residence at a scheduled time in the near future.

Nonetheless, Shanbo was several months late for his appointment with Yingtai at her home because of his poor family background. It was only then that Shanbo knew Yingtai was a woman. Sadly, Yingtai’s father had engaged her to the son of the wealthy Ma family and refused Shanbo’s proposal. The heartbroken couple had no choice but to say goodbye. After Shanbo returned to his home, he was so inconsolable and lovesick that his health deteriorated drastically. Before long, he passed away in despair.

On the day of Yingtai’s forced wedding with Ma, she asked the wedding procession to take the way where Shanbo’s cemetery lay. There, Yingtai mourned in loud cries, asking Shanbo to take her away. Suddenly, the wind swirled, thunder boomed and lightening crackled, while the grave opened with a crack. Yingtai jumped into the grave unhesitatingly without fear and then the grave closed. After a short while, the sky cleared up, a pair of butterflies, emerging from the grave, danced and flew away together freely and happily.

The tragic folk story Shanbo Liang and Yingtai Zhu (abbreviated as Liang-Zhu) is one of China’s Four Great Folktales. This legend has been passed down from generation to generation for around 1700 years, and the earliest written record of the full story can be traced back to as far as about 1200 years ago. As a poetic masterpiece for eternal love, the legend now takes on many artistic interpretations, including poetries, movies, television, music, stage plays and traditional Chinese operas. However, the birthplace of the story is still not confirmed as more than ten cities claim to be the original source with slightly different versions of the story being recorded.

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