According to legend, Zhu Yingtai assumes a male identity so she may travel to study in Hangzhou, a southern city in China, where she meets Liang Shanbo. 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. TheButterfly Loversis a treasure of Chinese folk literature and art.
The Butterfly Lovers originated in the Jin Dynasty about1,600 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 andtemples for the couple. This story, the most influential folk tale in China, is also known in Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
All kinds of literary works, like the Yue Opera, violin concertos and films have drawn inspiration from the story of the Butterfly Lovers.