Butterfly Lovers is one of the most well-known Chinese tragic love stories of all time. The Chinese title is actually a combination of the names of the two lovers: Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, which was then shortened to Liang Zhu. The tale begins during the time of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (265–420 AD), when women were not allowed to have an education. A young woman, Yingtai, manages to persuade her parents to let her attend school disguised as a man. On her way to school, she meets another student, Shanbo, and they became good friends. For three years, they studied together, and during that time, Yingtai fell in love with Shanbo, but could not let him know her true identity.
One day, Yingtai was called home. Shanbo accompanies his best friend on the journey, during which Yingtai hinted that she was a woman. But Shanbo remained oblivious. When they arrive at Yingtai’s home, she asks Shanbo to return soon to meet her “sister”. When he does, he finally realizes who she is and he falls in love. Shanbo decides to propose, but discovers that Yingtai’s father has arranged for her marriage to a wealthy merchant. Shanbo is devastated and shortly after, dies from heartbreak.
On the day of the wedding, the procession passes Shanbo’s grave. Yingtai stops to pay her respects when suddenly the gravesite opens! Yingtai immediately leaps into the grave to be with her love. Moments later, two beautiful butterflies emerge and fly away.
This love story has been adapted into operas, plays, TV dramas, and music. The most well-known is the violin concerto, which has been performed world-wide. For our concert, we are using the adaptation for erhu and Chinese orchestra.