There was a wealthy family who had only one child, a girl, whom they loved very much. The girl loved learning, and longed to go to school. Only boys went to school in China in those days. “I will dress as a boy, and no one will know,” she pleaded. Finally, she persuaded her parents to let her go to school.
She loved school, and made many friends. She had one friend in particular. They were soul mates. They met everyday on the bridge to discuss philosophy or the poets, but the young man never knew she was really a young woman. She fell in love with him.
When school was over at last, and it was time to part, she invited him to come visit her family home. Still, she did not let on that she was not a young man herself.
The young man was poor, and so he did not come to visit for a long time, and in fact, he fell ill and died before he could come visit. Her parents, in the meantime, betrothed her to someone else. When time came for her wedding, she traveled to the home of her husband-to-be in a red carriage. The wedding procession passed by the graveyard where the young man was buried. As they passed by, the young man’s grave opened. The girl jumped out of the carriage and into the grave. Out of the grave flew two butterflies; the lovers were together at last, as butterflies.
Xiao Ning told me this story when we visited Hangzhou. She pointed out the bridge where they were said to have met and talked so frequently.
This is a famous story in China; there are many plays and movies with this theme—I even saw it on television! A friend who teaches in China says that his college students love the story. Personally, I hate it. To me it seems like a warning not to let your daughters go to school, a story to keep women down!