What on earth is love that makes lovers vow to stick together in life and death? Below are the top 10 widespread ancient Chinese love stories, some are myths or legends, some are literary works, and some are real persons and real stories. Most of them are tragic stories and of course there is also romantic comedy.
1. The Butterfly Lovers 梁祝
The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend which tells a tragic love story between a pair of famous lovers- Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. Their love story is considered as the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet.
The story happened in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420). In order to pursue her studies, Zhu Yingtai disguised herself as a man and decided to go to Hangzhou for further study. During her trip she met Liang Shanbo, a scholar from Kuaiji, they soon became good friends and then sworn brothers. They studied together in Songshan Academy in Hangzhou for the next three years and Zhu gradually fell in love with Liang. But Liang did not know that Zhu was a woman and failed to notice it.
One day Zhu had to go home as her father missed her so much. She frequently hinted that she loved Liang when seeing her off, however Liang was an honest and unassuming man and did not understand her love confession. But under, Zhu professed that she would be a match-maker to introduce one of his sisters to Liang. However, Liang’s family was poor and he did not arrive at Zhu’s family on time. Later Liang headed to Zhu’s family to propose marriage. Unfortunately, it was too late and Zhu had been betrothed by her farther to Ma Wencai, a son of an high local official. The two had no way to change it but to shed tears face to face. They promised at parting that even if they could not stay together during their lifetime, they hoped to be buried in the same tomb after death.
Later Liang was ordered to govern a county, however he missed her so much that he becameill and finally died. Hearing his death, Zhu vowed to die for love after him. On her marriage with Ma, Zhu went to Liang’s tomb to pay respect to him on the way. She was very grieved and prayed the heaven to open up the tomb. Then miracle appeared, the tomb opened as she hoped and Zhu leaped into it immediately, and then the tomb soon closed. Later on, the lovers turned into a pair of butterflies and the two would never to be separated again.
Their touching love story is very popular in China and East Asia areas.
Related: Top 10 Chinese Love Songs Ever
2. Niulang and Zhinu 牛郎织女
Niulang was an honest and kind cowherd who lived by himself herding cattle and farming. One day he met a beautiful girl named Zhinu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess, who had descended to the earth to look for fun. Zhinu soon fell in love with Niulang and came down secretly from the heaven to earth and married him. They lived a happy life and gave birth to two children. Unfortunately, the Goddess soon found out the fact that her daughter married a mortal. She was furious and immediately took Zhinu back to the heaven.
Niulang was very grieved after his wife Zhinu left him. Driven by Niulang’s misery, his ox should begin to talk and help him fly to heaven to meet his wife. Whe was about to catch up with his wife, the goddess found Niulang and used her hairpin to slash it across the sky and created the Milky Way between to top him. Then Zhinu became the star Vega and Niulang the star Altair. They were separated on the two banks and could only shed their tears. Moved by their love and devotion, lots of magpies formed bridge for the couple to meet each other. The Goddess was also touched by their love and finally allowed them to meet on the 7th of the 7th lunar month every year, which became today’s Double Seventh Day, the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
On that day Chinese people will look up the sky and watch the two stars Altair and Vega meet on the same side of the Milky Way for the yearly meeting.
3. Legend of the White Snake 白蛇传
Legend of the White Snake is a widely circulated folklore which happened in Hangzhou, south China. It tells the love story between Bai Suzhen (a snake turned lady) and Xu Xian, a scholar.
Bai Suzhen was a human incarnation of a white snake spirit. She fell in love with Xu Xian. The two married and soon had a child. However, their happiness was short-lived and soon was destroyed by a monk Fahai, who has great magical powers, He soon discovered the real identity of Bai Suzhen and decided to separate them but failed. Fahai then captured Xu Xian and imprisoned him in Jinshan Temple. In order to rescue Xu Xian, Bai Suzhen and her sister Xiaoqing used their powers to flood the temple. However, Bai was eventually captured and imprisoned by Fahai in the Lei Feng Pagoda.
20 years later their son Xu Mengjiao topped the imperial examination. He went to pay respect to his mother at the Lei Feng Pagoda, his filial piety moved the heaven and freed Bai Suzhen from Leifeng Pagoda , the whole family were finally reunited.
4. Song of Everlasting Regret 长恨歌
Song of Everlasting Regret is a long poem by Bai Juyi (772-846), depicting the romance between Emperor Tang Xuanzong (685-762) and his beloved concubine Yang Yuhuan (719-756).
Yang Yuhuan, one of the four beauties in ancient China, first married the son of Emperor Xuanzong and somehow came into Xuanzong’s favor and became his consort. Emperor Xuanzhong was indulged in the beauty of Yang Yuhuan that he ignored the state affairs and finally led to An’s rebellion in 755. Yang Yuhuan was blamed for the rebellion and forced to hang herself by the Emperor’s disgruntled officers and soldiers. Tang Xuanzong was so grieved that he later abdicated the crown and passed on his leadership to his son.
Their love story is very famous in Chinese world and has been recomposed into a live dancing performance show staged in Xian City.
Related: Top 10 Classic Chinese Love Poems
5. Romance of the West Chamber 西厢记
Romance of the West Chamber is a Chinese drama written by the Yuan Dynasty playwright Wang Shifu. It tells the love story between Zhang Sheng, a scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of a former chief minister.
Zhang Sheng met Cui Yingying in a temple and soon fell in love with her. However, Yingying’s beauty became known by a local bandit. He dispatched his men to besiege them, in the hopes of taking her as his consort. Yingying’s mother declared that she would marry her daughter to whoever could save her daughter. Zhang Sheng managed to save Yingying with his friend’s help. But her mother refused to fulfil her promise because Zhang Sheng was a poor man. With the help of Hong Niang, Yingying’s maid, they broke the traditional barrier and finally got married.
During the past several hundred years, this beautiful story has greatly stimulated numerous hearts of the young people.
6. Feng Qiu Huang 凤求凰
Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE) was a well-known poet and Zhuo Wenjun was the widowed daughter of Zhuo Wangsun of Linhong County, Sichuan province. Sima Xiangru went to a grand party held by Zhuang Wangsun, Sima Xiangru was good at playing Guqin (Chinese zither) and was asked to play a song, which soon touched the heart of Zhuo Wenjun, who was listening from the next room. A sudden gust of the wind shifted the curtain. They saw each other and soon fell in love at first sight. Then Zhuo Wenjun run away together with him but found that he had a very poor family. They had to run a wine shop and live in poverty until her father finally forgave them and gave them some support.
Feng Qiu Huang as a love story can be found in many ancient Chinese literature works and dramas. It has served as a symbol of the Chinese youth’s pursuit for love, free marriage and happy life.
7. The Peacocks Fly to the Southeast 孔雀东南飞
The Peacocks Fly to the Southeast written by ancient Chinese poet Xie Lingyun (385 – 433) is the first long narrative poem in Chinese literary history. This poem describes a tragic love story which happened during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
During Jian’an Period of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Liu Lanzhi, a girl from a poor family married Jiao Zhongqing, who was from a declining official family. Though the couple loved each other deeply, Liu was forced by her mother-in-law to leave her husband because of their difference in family status, she left his husband and went to her family, and was then forced by elder brother to remarry. Liu still loved Jiao, he did not want to marry another man, she had no choice but drowned herself in a lake. Hearing her death, Jiao also hanged himself on a tree in his yard to express his faithful love to his wife.
The Peacocks Fly to the Southeast presents people’s desire for love and free marriage in ancient China. The heroine’s faithful love and her courage have aroused echo in Chinese youth’s hearts.
8. Tian Xian Pei 天仙配
During the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), a scholar Dong Yong would sell himself into slavery to pay for his father’s funeral. Moved by his filial piety, the Seventh descended to Earth to marry Dong Yong without the knowledge of his father, the Jade Emperor. When Jade Emperor discovered this he ordered his daughter to return to the Heaven and threatened to kill Dong Yong if she did not follow his order. The Seventh Fairy had no choice but to leave her husband.However the couple is allowed to reunite only once a year across the Milky Way at the 7th July evening of Chinese Lunar Calendar
The story is much favored by the general public and has been selected on the List of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritages.
9. The Chang’e Benyue 嫦娥奔月
The Chang’e Benyue (Chang’e Flies to the Moon) is a beautiful love legend in ancient China.
According to the legend, Hou Yi was a mighty archer who had shot down nine of the ten suns, leaving just the one that still lights up our sky. He had a beautiful wife named Chang’e whom he loved with all his heart. He hoped their happiness last forever and asked the Queen Mother of the West for some magic water for the eternal of life. Hou Yi and Chang’e decided to share the drink in mid-autumn date when the light of the full moon shone on the earth. However, on that day an envious man who wanted to be ever-young killed Hou Yi and threatened Chang’e. Chang’e drank the liquid immediately, soon flew to the moon and became a goddess. She lives there with a rabbit named Jade.
This touching story spread in China widely and the common people began to pray to the moon for good luck and safety from this virtuous goddess.
10. Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦
Dream of the Red Chamber, written by litterateur Cao Xueqin in Qing Dynasty, is one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels. The novel mainly centres love story of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu.
The well-educated, beautiful and talented girl Lin Daiyu lost her parents from childhood and lived in her grandma’s home in Beijing receiving coldly treatment. Lin had a very sentimental character. She and Jia Baoyu were attracted to each other and fell in love with each; however, their love was constrained by the concept of “match made in heaven.” Suffering from long-time love sickness and the grievous blow that his lover Jia Baoyu had to marry another girl Xue Baochai ; Lin could not take this and finally drowned herself in a pond. Later Jia became a monk in a temple, mourning of his beloved one.
Their love story is called China`s Romeo and Juliet and the novel is favored by many Chinese people.