The Story of the Two Butterfly Lovers

Background of informant:

My informant SS is an international student from Beijing, China.

The conversation was in Chinese.


Main piece:

SS: “Long time ago in China, I don’t remember what time exactly it was, there was a girl Yingtai. She was different from other girls when she was little. When others girls were studying embroidering, Yingtai were reading books. One day, when she grew up a little bit, she told her dad she wanted to go to school. Dad was so mad and didn’t agree. Also, the family always wanted to marry the daughter Yingtai to a wealthy family in the town. But Yingtai was so steadfast so her parents compromised.

Yingtai disguised herself as a young boy, and was on the trip to school far from home with a maid, who was also dressed up as a young man. During the trip, she met the boy Shanbo. They became really good friend and had great time together. After a while, after they had been in school for about a semester, Yingtai fell in love to Shanbo. But she could not tell him, because she could not expose her gender as a female as women is not allowed go to school.

When school ended, both Shanbo and Yingtai went back home. They lived not far to each other so they always met up. However, the wealthy family asked Yingtai’s family about the marriage and said: ‘Yingtai must be married to their son immediately.’ Yingtai was in love with Shanbo and refused to get married to another man. In order to express her denial of getting married, Yingtai dressed up in her girl’s cloth and met Shanbo. Shanbo was shocked but later fell in love with the real Yingtai. The two wanted to get married by themselves without telling anyone, however, Yingtai’s father found out and prevented Yingtai from seeing Shanbo again. Yingtai became so depressed and were seriously ill. At the day of her wedding to the wealthy family, Yingtai was so weak but she was eager to see Shanbo again. Finally, right before the wedding, Yingtai met Shanbo and she was about to die. However, ‘Bang!’ the two lovers turned into two butterflies suddenly! ”

SH: Wait, what? How?

SS: “Yingtai’s resentment was so strong before she died, so that moved the god on the sky and turned them into two butterflies that can live happily ever after. [laugh]. Oh, I need to correct myself. So it is after Yingtai died, Shanbo went to her grave and cried. His crying moved the god and suddenly, a butterfly flew out from Yingtai’s grave. Then Shanbo became a butterfly too. [laugh].”


Context of the performance:

After heard one classmate in ANTH 333 talking about her short paper writing the variations of the Chinese romantic legend “the Story of the Two Butterfly Lovers”, I talked to my Chinese friend SS about it. Then she told me this version that she knows of.


My thoughts about the piece:

I didn’t remember much about this romantic legend when I first started this conversation with SS. However, when she was telling me the story, there were so many moments I wanted to correct her, or just to point out that I heard this detail or this plot point differently.

Indeed, there are so many variations on this legend throughout history, and “the Story of the Two Butterfly Lovers” is one of the four Chinese traditional love stories. It is one of the most important intangible cultural heritage of China.

Also, I wanted to point out the ending of the story, when the two lovers turned into butterfly. Butterfly is always used as a motif that symbolized resurrection, which explains why the characters only turn into butterfly after death, or why the butterfly flew out from a grave.