Zhu Ying Tai was a beautiful lady who wanted to learn the scholarly arts. Her father strongly opposed this decision, and tried to dissuade her many times. However, seeing that his daughter remained determined to study the arts, he grudgingly agreed. So he sent her off, along with her maid, to study at the famous Academy of Ten Thousand Pines. They had to be disguised as young men in order to enroll into the academy.
As they traveled along the road, Zhu’s horse suddenly pulled back, throwing her off its back. As the two women struggled to bring the animal under control, a handsome young scholar, Liang Shanbo, and his servant passed by and stopped to help them. Liang was also on his way to study at the Academy of Ten Thousand Pines.
The four young ‘men’ continued their journey to the academy together. They were delighted to learn that they would soon become schoolmates. Liang and Zhu became the closest of friends. They eventually became sworn brothers, vowing eternal support for each other.
Three years quickly passed, and the two friends were inseparable. Both enjoyed school life thoroughly. But they shared a common dislike for Ma Wencai, the spoiled son of a wealthy official, who, along with some of his brutish friends, bullied other students.
Meanwhile, Zhu realised that her feelings for Liang had developed beyond brotherly love. She had, on several occasions, tried to hint to Liang that perhaps their love for each other was romantic in nature. However, Liang never got the hint as he never imagined that Zhu was actually a female.
One day, Zhu received a letter saying that her mother was sick and that she needed to return home immediately. Zhu was saddened at the thought of having to leave Liang. Since she wanted to be able to see him again, she lied to him that she had a twin sister who looked just like her. She then proposed to introduce her twin sister to Liang if he agreed to visit her home in two months. Zhu reasoned with herself that Liang would probably fall in love with her when he found out she is a lady. She was thus delighted when Liang agreed to her plan.
On reaching home, Zhu discovered that her mother was in good health, and the letter was merely a trick to get her to return home to be married. To her horror, her parents had selected the hated bully Ma Wencai as her husband-to-be. Zhu’s father was delighted to marry his daughter to the son of a prominent official. Thus, he was infuriated when Zhu confessed that she had already fallen in love with another man. Selecting mates, after all, was the parents’ task, and Zhu was not in a position to refuse this arrangement. Despite her pleas, he ordered her to cooperate in the marriage plans.
Two months later, Liang visited Zhu’s house, eager to meet the twin sister of his beloved sworn brother. He immediately discovered the truth that Zhu herself was the sister, who had been disguised as a man in order to study. He also learned of her love for him, and her unwillingness to marry Ma, whom her parents had engaged her to. Almost immediately, Liang’s brotherly affection for Zhu turned into desperate love for her and a desire to marry her.
Zhu’s father, however, refused to give any thought about cancelling the marriage plans between Zhu and Ma. Furthermore, he had already accepted marriage gifts from the Ma family, so the arrangement was effectively finalized. In order to get rid of Liang, he had him beaten and thrown into the street. Suffering from bruises and a broken heart, Liang died shortly after.
Zhu was distraught. She reluctantly agreed to marry Ma, but on the condition that she was permitted to wear white, the colour of mourning, under her red wedding gown and pay her respects to Liang’s grave en route to Ma’s house on the day of the wedding. Ma consented, although the proposal was an outrageous one. He had hoped it would help to calm Zhu, who seemed to be at the brink of turning hysterical.
On the day of the wedding, the wedding procession paused near Liang’s grave. Zhu was then given permission to pay her respects. When she did so, she began sobbing uncontrollably. All of a sudden, to the horror of on-lookers, Liang’s tomb burst open, exposing his body. Zhu threw herself upon it, and in a flash Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai were transformed into two magnificent butterflies, who fluttered up from the grave and flew away into the sky.
All who witnessed the sight were shaken yet amazed by the power of true love.
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