Monday, September 10, 2012

Butterfly Lovers and the Legend of Liang Zhu (Essay)

"Butterfly Lovers and the Legend of Liang Zhu" (Essay)
by Tim Kavi

In my poetry, the image and symbol of the butterfly, and its predecessor, the chrysalis (or cocoon) is a recurrent theme. To me, as a Westerner, these symbols often personalize  personal development, change, and metamorphosis.  Butterflies are also seen as beautiful winged creatures. To me, many times, the symbol of the butterfly is a flight to freedom and a discovery of our beautiful natures. In any regard, let me simply say that the winged flight of a butterfly is a symbol of a flight to freedom.  Perhaps it is the freedom to be what we always wanted to be, and is therefore a flight to acceptance and being.

In the case of a pair of butterflies, perhaps we have the acceptance of this freedom to be with another, but there are other ways to view this beautiful symbolism of butterflies together and to accept the flight of butterfly lovers.

In the ancient Chinese legend of Liang Zhu which has also been called the 'Oriental Romeo and Juliet', we have a remarkable Chinese folktale from the Jin Dynasty which was about 1600 years ago.  This legend which most school kids learn about in China, has birthed a number of inspirational works including, operas,
concertos, literature, and art.

The story goes like this. In order to pursue her studies, Zhu Yongtai disguised herself as a man.  Over the next three years of study, she fell in love with her fellow student, Liang Shanbo. The legend has it that she admired his intellectual capabilities.  During this time, and up until it was time to leave the school, she kept dropping hints to him, but he missed their meaning. Later, after realizing Zhu Yongtai's intentions, he went speedily to her family to propose marriage. Unfortunately, her father had already betrothed her to another man, which was a grave disappointment to Shanbo.  He became sickly, and after several incidents of illness, he died.  Later, on the day of her wedding, Zhu Yongtai  was riding in  her processional cart (some accounts say boat), and she decided to pay a memorial to Shanbo at his tomb.  It was very windy and there were thunderstorms.  The storms caused the tomb to open up.  Yongtai then lept into the tomb to be with her lover.  Later, they transformed into a pair of beautifully colored butterflies, and flew out of the tomb wing to wing together, and headed towards a rainbowed sky.

A beautiful and touching story.  The Legend of Liang Zhu is another example of beautiful transformation, acceptance, and becoming transfigured beings--in this case the jump and flight into a true love across a rainbow draped sky.~~TK 


  1. Thank you for the Wonderful post. I never heard the 'Oriental' version of Romeo and Juliet, so you greatly expanded my horizons. The story eloquently reminds about the cost of the dreams and thus encourages us by giving the meaning for our hardships.
    I bookmarked your site, and would like to invite you to visit my blog Art by Tomas (and all other locations of Tomas Karkalas on the web) I hope you will enjoy my artworks and you comments will make this joy the mutual.

    1. Greetings Tomas! Thanks for visiting my blog and your comment. Yes, it is rather a coincidence but I had already just this morning (I am in Asian time zone) visited your blog and admired your artistic endeavors. This was at the encouragement of our mutual friend, Alexander M Zoltai and his blog he has for writers. On his just recent post he encouraged his blog readers to visit YOUR blog! Hence our opportunity for dialogue was born! Anyway, I wanted to say that I admire your work very much, and appreciate your artistic expressions. I find it inspirational, and encourage you. I look forward to our ongoing exchange as per the mutual joy you speak of! In dialogue! ~TK