Valentine’s Day the Legendary Way

As we all know legend is not real but the reality is that any story where love is concerned can touch your heart, making something fairytale-like seem truly unbelievable and some may even say out of this world…

Hangzhou, one of China’s four ancient capitals, is both a historic city and a modern tourist attraction. It is here in this city that the Liangzhu, Kuahuqiao and Wuyue Cultures were unearthed and the Southern Song and Buddhist cultures boomed. Now also known as a destination of love, Hangzhou, with its abundance of romantic scenery, is also the story teller of many legendary tales. For thousands of years, it is in this land that the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet– Liang Shangbo and Zhu Yingtai fell in love, the legendary love story of Xu Xian and the White Snake took place and the famous concubine Su Xiaoxiao devoted herself to love.

Legend of the White Snake

China’s legend of the White Snake is so popular that it has even spread to Japan and France and whilst over the years it has developed into many different versions, the underlying story continues to tell of the love between White Snake (白娘子) and Xu Xian (许仙).

Having saved a little white snake in his previous life, Xu Xian now an apprentice in a drug store meets with the most beautiful lady he has ever seen. The lady, originally the little white snake, having achieved immortality wants to return her favour to this young man and in doing so the two become attracted by each other, fall in love, get married and eventually have a son. During their time as a couple, they lead a very happy life and the White Snake helps Xu Xian save many people’s lives.

However the happiness doesn’t last long for their love has violated the law of nature and therefore a monk named Fahai is summoned to capture the White Snake. Managing to convince Xu Xian of his wife’s identity as a snake spirit Fahai persuades Xu Xian to help him capture her. Regretting this dreadful deed and out of guilt, Xu Xian later becomes a monk residing in Jingshan Temple.

It is because of her son’s continuous efforts to rescue his mother that after 20 years’ imprisonment in Leifeng Pagoda the White Snake is released and becomes reunited with her family.

Butterfly Lovers

The Butterfly Lovers, Liang Shanbo(梁山伯) and Zhu Yungtai’s(祝英台) tragic love story, is one of the four great folklores of China and the only one to have earned world acclaim as the counterpart to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In 2006 it was listed as one of China’s National Intangible Cultural Heritages.

In ancient times girls were forbidden to go to school but, Zhu Yungtai, a rebellious girl, manages to persuade her father and disguises as a boy to study in Wansong Academy. There she meets Liang Shanbo, a poor student, who has no idea of her gender and in turn becomes like a brother to her.

After three years together Zhu Yingtai falls in love with Liang Shanbo but later has to return home, however before she leaves she indicates her love for Liang Shanbo but he doesn’t catch on. It is not until Liang Shanbo pays a visit to her family home that he knows the truth and then realising his love for Zhu Yingtai he asks her parents' permission to marry her but is refused as, under her parent’s arrangement, she is already engaged with another man.

Liang Shanbo is heartbroken to hear such news and dies of depression and knowing this Zhu Yingtai, on her wedding day, jumps into Liang Shanbo’s grave and the two become a pair of butterflies flying off together happily ever after.

Su Xiaoxiao

Differing from the previous two folklores, the story of Su Xiaoxiao (苏小小) is actually true. According to historians, Su Xiaoxiao was the daughter of a prostitute in the Southern Qi Dynasty (南齐: 479-502) and it has been said that in her early age she grew as beautiful as the West Lake and although she never attended school she became a talented literary figure.

In spite of her talents she was somehow reduced to a sing-song girl but still remained as graceful and elegant as a lotus emerging from the mud. Many playboys from wealthy and powerful families hankered after her beauty and wanted her to be their wife but she refused them all until she met Ruan Yu (阮郁). Ruan Yu, even though he was the son of a wealthy family as well, in Su Xiaoxiao’s eyes, he was different, naïve and unworldly and soon the two fell in love and got married. In spite of her beauty and talent, Su Xiaoxiao was still a low-class sing-song girl who back then was not qualified enough to be part of a powerful family. Aware of this, Ruan Yu was summoned home by his father and was never to see Su Xiaoxiao again. Depressed at being separated from her one true love, Su Xiaoxiao at the young age of 22 died suddenly of a heart attack but according to her wishes she was buried near the Xiling Bridge.