The Butterfly Lovers - by Helen Alvarado

posted Jan 31, 2011, 1:31 PM by Tip Top   [ updated Feb 1, 2011, 8:43 AM ]

The Butterfly Lovers - A Chinese Story and How It Entered the Western World

Kahlil Gibran once said "we live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”  Today, the waiting is over.  My speech is all about beauty.

 (Show pictures...)

This is HP Mini 210 Vivienne Tam Edition laptop.  Here is the designer's name, Vivienne Tam, a fashion world heavyweight.  Many people think this product is the best laptop so far.  It is small, light, and beautiful, yet strong, fast and powerful.

The design theme is called "The butterfly lovers".  Because it was inspired by a classic Chinese love story, also called the Butterfly Lovers, a tragic romance between two young lovers, Liang and Zhu.

The story is set 1600 years ago.  Zhu is a beautiful young lady.  Breaking traditions that restricted females from going to school, she convinces her father to allow her to dress up as a man to study.  When Zhu arrives at school she meets Liang, a handsome fellow student.  She falls in love with him, but she can't express her feelings without revealing her identity as a woman.  The two spend next three years together and become best friends.

 When both the students must return home, Zhu hints to Liang that she is actually a woman, but Liang just doesn't get it.  Zhu finally comes up with an idea and invites Liang to visit her family and to court her sister.  He doesn't know that Zhu is really inviting him to marry her.  Liang promises to see Zhu again, but he waits before doing so.

 When Liang arrives, he sees Zhu and realizes that she is a woman, they fall in love.  As Liang learns that in his absence, Zhu's parents have already arranged for her to marry another man, he is heartbroken.  Not long he becomes sick and dies.

 On the day of Zhu's marriage, Zhu leaves the wedding procession to pay her respects to Liang's grave, which lies along the journey.  She descends in bitter despair and begs for the grave to open up. Suddenly the grave opens with a clap of thunder. Without further hesitation, Zhu throws herself into the grave to join Liang.

The two lovers are magically transformed into a pair of beautiful butterflies and emerge from the grave.  They fly together as a pair and are never to be separated again.

When telling this story, I have to mention a violin concerto.  It was composed by two young Chinese musical students 51 years ago.  The concerto's name again is "The Butterfly Lovers".  Let's listen part of it, and see how the music interprets the story.  I chose the lovers' theme, the violin and cello duet.  But you will barely hear the cello, because it plays when Liang is dying. 

 (Playing music...50 seconds)

Is it beautiful?  This work has become a common feature in figure skating and in concert halls worldwide. 

There are many forms of adaptations inspired by this story.  For two reasons I chose the HP laptop and the violin concerto as the examples.  First, I think they are the most beautiful works based on this story.  Secondly,  they carry the story into the western world.  They are here!  You know where to buy a HP laptop, right?  If you are interested in "The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto", you can find many different versions from many websites, like

One more thing:

In China, almost everybody knows this story.  Six cities in four provinces claim as the home of this story.  They all have their own ancient documents and historical sites, such as Liang and Zhu's graves.  Now the six cities have joined together to apply for "the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" on this legend at UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  If the application is successful, no doubt this story will go farther and wider.

Helen Alvarado

At Tip Top

Aug. 2010

Tip Top,
Jan 31, 2011, 1:48 PM