|Literal meaning||Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai|
The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story of a pair of lovers, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), whose names form the title of the story. The title is often abbreviated to Liang Zhu (梁祝) and often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.
Six cities in China have collaborated in 2004 on a formal application for the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on the legend at UNESCO, submitted in 2006 through the Chinese Ministry of Culture.
The legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is set in the Eastern Jin Dynasty.
Zhu Yingtai is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, the ninth child and only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family of Shangyu, Zhejiang. Although traditions of that era discourage females from going to school, Zhu manages to convince her father to allow her to attend classes in disguise as a young man. During her journey to Hangzhou, she meets Liang Shanbo, a scholar from Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing). They chat and feel a strong affinity for each other at their first meeting. Hence, they gather some soil as incense and take an oath of fraternity in the pavilion of a thatched bridge.
They study together for the next three years in school and Zhu gradually falls in love with Liang. Although Liang equals Zhu in their studies, he is still a bookworm and fails to notice the feminine characteristics exhibited by his classmate.
One day, Zhu receives a letter from her father, asking her to return home as soon as possible. Zhu has no choice but to pack her belongings immediately and bid Liang farewell. However, in her heart, she has already confessed her love for Liang and is determined to be with him for all eternity. Before her departure, she reveals her true identity to the headmaster's wife and requests her to hand over a jade pendant to Liang as a betrothal gift.
Liang accompanies his "sworn brother" for 18 miles to see her off. During the journey, Zhu hints to Liang that she is actually a woman. For example, she compares them to a pair of mandarin ducks (a symbol of lovers in Chinese culture), but Liang does not catch her hints and does not even have the slightest suspicion that his companion is a woman in disguise. Zhu finally comes up with an idea and tells Liang that she will act as a matchmaker for him and his "sister". Before they part, Zhu reminds Liang to visit her residence later so he can propose to marry her "sister." Liang and Zhu reluctantly part ways at the Changting pavilion.
Months later, when Liang visits Zhu, he discovers that she is actually a woman. They are devoted to and passionate about each other and they make a vow of "till death do us part". The joy of their reunion is short-lived as Zhu's parents have already arranged for her to marry a man from a rich family called Ma Wencai. Liang is heartbroken when he hears the news and his health gradually deteriorates until he becomes critically ill. He dies in office later as a county magistrate.
On the day of Ma and Zhu's marriage, mysterious whirlwinds prevent the wedding procession from escorting the bride beyond Liang's grave, which lies along the journey. Zhu leaves the procession to pay her respects to Liang. 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. Their spirits turn into a pair of beautiful butterflies and emerge from the grave. They fly away together as a pair of butterflies and are never to be separated again.
Historical accounts 
The righteous woman Zhu Yingtai was buried together with Liang Shanbo.
In Xuanshi Zhi (宣室志), the author Zhang Du (張讀) wrote:
Yingtai, a daughter of the Zhu family of Shangyu, disguised herself as a man and attended school together with Liang Shanbo from Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing). Shanbo's style name was "Churen". Zhu returned home first. Two years later, Shanbo visited her and only knew that she was a woman then. He was disappointed and felt as though he had made a loss. He asked her parents for her hand in marriage but her family had already betrothed her to the Ma family. Shanbo assumed office as a magistrate in Yin (鄞; in present-day western Ningbo) and died of illness later and was buried west of the city of Mao (鄮, in eastern Ningbo). Zhu was on her journey to the Ma residence by boat and passed by Liang's grave. The strong wind and waves prevent the boat from advancing. After learning that it was Shanbo's grave, she set foot on land and broke down. The ground suddenly cracked open and Zhu was buried within. Jin Dynasty chancellor Xie An proclaimed the grave as "Tomb of the righteous woman".
The legend was also recorded in various official records such as Yinxian Zhi (鄞縣志), Ningbofu Zhi (寧波府志) and Yixing Jingxi Xinzhi (宜興荊溪新志).
Liang-Zhu Cultural Park 
Adjacent to the Yuyao River with a land area of 300 mu, the Liang-Zhu Cultural Park features multiple sceneries including "Becoming Sworn Brothers at Thatched Bridge", "Being Classmates for Three Years", "18 Times of Send-off", "Farewell in the Tower" and "Reunion of Butterfly Lovers" according to the main line of the story Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The layout of ancient Chinese architectural style in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River such as kiosks, pavilions, platforms and towers was adopted against the mountains and waters, realizing a gorgeous effect of diverse landscapes of mountain beyond mountain and garden beyond garden.
Liang Shanbo Temple 
Located in Shaojiadu Village, Gaoqiao Town five miles west to Ningbo City, the Liang Shanbo Temple is built with a sitting statue of the couple, with Zhu Yingtai dressed in phoenix coronet and embroidered cape sitting on the right side of Liang Shanbo. The rear hall is their bedroom set with a vermilion wooden bed, behind which is the couple's tomb. People in Ningbo City tend to worship the temple for bliss of eternal love of couples. The Liang Shanbo Temple built in 347 by the locals in memory of Liang Shanbo, who had contributed greatly during his term in office as a magistrate to resolving the problems caused by the flooding of the river. The Liang-Zhu Cultural Park in Ningbo was built by the locals, with the love story as its main theme. The "Liang-Zhu Tomb" (梁祝塚), "Liang Shanbo Temple" (梁山伯廟), "Husband and Wife Bridge" (夫妻橋) and Qin Gong (寢宮) are officially recognized by the Chinese Liang-Zhu Culture Association as culturally significant sites for the birth of the legend.
Sino-Italian love culture festival held in Verona 
The Sino-Italian love culture festival was held Wednesday in the northern Italian city of Verona, co-sponsored by the municipal governments Verona and east China's Ningbo city. As the fictitious hometown of Romeo and Juliet, leading characters in Shakespeare's famous play Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in Italy. Ningbo is also a city in east China's Zhejiang province, where the Chinese classical romantic tragedy Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu, took place. The Butterfly Lovers is also known as China's play of Romeo and Juliet. A white marble statue portraying Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the two lovers who eventually turned into butterflies, was placed in the square in front of the Juliet Museum in central Verona during the festival. Fifteen couples from Ningbo in Chinese-style costumes held a romantic wedding in Verona, with blessing from the locals. Ningbo and Verona became sister cities in October 2005. A delegation of Verona visited Ningbo in 2007 and presented the city a bronze statue of Juliet.
Artistic interpretations 
Stage plays and operas 
The legend had been adapted into traditional Chinese opera in several local varieties, as Liang Zhu in Yue opera (also called Shaoxing opera) and In the Shade of the Willow (柳蔭記) in Sichuan opera. The Yue opera version was made into a colour motion picture in the 1950s in China. The filming by the Ministry of Culture and the East China Military and Political Commission took place in Zhu's legendary hometown of Shangyu.
In 1981, Jann Paxton conceived a full length ballet, titled The Butterfly Lovers Ballet, which made its official United States premiere in 1982 at the Agnes de Mille Theatre by the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The leading roles were played by Sean Hayes and Alicia Fowler. Paxton's story line followed the classic Chinese version, but with the addition of several supporting characters.
In May 2001, a group of students from the University of Oxford formed the Liang Zhu Drama Production Company, and rewrote the whole story into a contemporary drama that was performed in English.
A Cantonese stage musical was produced in 2005, featuring pop singer-actress Denise Ho as the title role.
The story has been adapted into Vietnamese Cai Luong a number of times, with its Sino-Vietnamese title as "Lương Sơn Bá-Chúc Anh Đài. The story's ending is similar to the original one but with some differences. The leading roles have been played by Vietnamese actors and actresses such as Hương Lan, Phi Nhung, Tái Linh, Phương Mai, Mạnh Quỳnh and Vũ Linh.
Film and television 
- The Love Eterne is a 1963 Hong Kong musical film of the Huangmei opera genre, directed by Li Han-hsiang, and produced by Shaw Brothers. The artistic and commercial success of this feature was in part due to the casting of Ivy Ling Po, who was a relatively unknown supporting actress before this feature, as the male protagonist by the director Li Han-Hsiang. On the surface, the story of Butterfly Lovers is one about the freedom to love and marry that is forbidden by the social convention of arranged marriage, but there is a hidden subtext of unspeakable homosexual love: the protagonists first met, became friends, and fell in "brotherly" love when both of them were supposed to be male students in college (In the story, the female protagonist disguised as a male to attend college). The casting of a female actor as the male protagonist in this feature makes this unspeakable homosexual subtext more evident in a socially acceptable way for the conservative mainstream audience of the early 1960s. In ancient and modern China, it is socially acceptable for two guys who are very fond of each other to become sworn brothers, which is part of the plot in this story. The longing for genetic/sexual union is usually realized vicariously by the socially acceptable practice of having one of the guys marry the sister of the other guy, which is also part of the plot of this story, except for the plot twist that the sister and one of the guys are the same person. If both guys were already married, it was a common practice for them to arrange for one's son to marry the other's daughter in the future. Marriage arranged by parents is also part of the plot. The huge box-office success was due to the emotional appeal to a large number of audience. The extent to which this feature resonated with the audience at that time is unbelievable. Reportedly, some members of the audience in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, repeatedly bought tickets and watched the feature in cinema over and over again in 1963, with some watching it over 20 times, a phenomenon also reported for features such as the Titanic(1997) and Gone with the Wind(1939) in the West.
- The Butterfly Lovers is a 2008 Hong Kong film based on the legend, but in a wuxia setting, directed by Jingle Ma and starring Wu Chun and Charlene Choi.
- The Butterfly Lovers: Leon and Jo (蝴蝶夢-梁山伯與祝英台) is an animated film directed by Tsai Min-chin, voice-played by Elva Hsiao, René Liu and Jacky Wu.
- Qishi Fuqi – Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai (七世夫妻－梁山伯與祝英台) is a 1999 Taiwanese television series produced by Formosa TV in Hokkien, starring Zhao Jing and Alyssa Chia.
- Xin Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai (新梁山伯與祝英台) is a 2000 Taiwanese television series released by CTV, starring Show Luo and Noel Leung.
The story also inspired the production of Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto, or Liang Zhu Violin Concerto as known in Chinese, a work for violin and orchestra. It was composed by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao in 1958. The piece has been the most musically symbolic retelling of the legend; at 25 minutes and 40 seconds long, it is one of the classics of traditional Chinese music. During the 1970s, Hong Kong television station TVB adapted the legend as a musical miniseries, with Roman Tam and Susanna Kwan supplying the vocals for the soundtrack composed by Joseph Koo. The musical piece was used as the theme music for more than two films.
- Liang Shanbo Yu Zhuliye (梁山伯與茱麗葉; Liang Shanbo and Juliet) (2006) is a duet performed by Gary Cao and Genie Zhuo. It was listed as the 1st track in the Xi Guan (習慣) album by Genie Zhuo.
- Shuang Fei (雙飛) is a song associated with the story. It was used as one of the theme songs for The Lovers (1994) and the ending theme song for Butterfly Lovers (2007). It was performed by Nicky Wu in 1994 and Peter Ho in 2007.
- Guandog News
- UNESCO Item 7
- "'Butterfly Lovers' to bid for Intangible World Heritage" (June 15, 2004) Xinhuanet.
- "China to seek world heritage listing of 'butterfly lovers' story" (June 14, 2004) Newsgd.com (member of Nanfang Daily Group).