couple on scooter

Women becoming moon goddesses? Lovers turning into butterflies? These are just some of the folktales to be found in China.

A story for every situation, here are just a few famous examples.

1. Liang Zhu: The Butterfly Lovers

pair of butterflies

If you’ve ever walked along West Lake and heard the tourist carts warbling music as they zoom past, then you’ve heard the musical rendition of what is called China’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The story, set in Zhejiang, is about a girl named Zhu Yingtai who disguises herself as a man to become a scholar. While in school, she becomes close to a classmate, Liang Shanbo. They really hit it off, and she falls in love with him.

Sadly, Liang Shanbo is so deep into his studies, that he fails to notice.

a couple with man reading book

There’s something about this Zhu Yingtai, but I can’t quite put my finger on it

When Zhu Yingtai gets a letter from her father, she has to go back, and Liang Shanbo accompanies her for a part of the journey. Zhu Yingtai hints that she’s actually a woman, finally telling him that she’ll act as a matchmaker and set Liang Shanbo up with a “sister.” When Liang Shanbo goes to her hometown, he at last realizes that she’s a woman, and they profess their deep love for each other, saying that they will be buried in the same tomb and be together forever.

Happy ending? Not so much.

Zhu Yingtai was already arranged to be married to another man. Liang Shanbo leaves, and then dies from a broken heart. On Zhu Yingtai’s wedding day, she asks to see his tomb, and then begs the heavens to split it open. The tomb opens, and she jumps in to join him.

Two butterflies come out, and fly away together.

2. Chang’E Flies to the Moon

buddha moon

Legend has it that there used to be 10 suns in the sky. While this probably made for spectacular sunsets, it also made the heat on earth unbearable.

At least, that was what the Hou Yi, a famous archer, thought. Known for his good marksmanship, he took on the challenge of shooting down nine out of the ten suns, thus saving the earth from overheating.

global warming effects

…and then global warming brought it back anyways

As thanks, Wang Mu, the queen of heaven, gave Hou Yi an elixir for immortality. If he drank half of it, he would live forever. If he drank all of it, he would become a god.

Hou Yi showed it to his wife, Chang’E, and they planned to both drink it to live forever together. Unfortunately, a man named Peng Meng also found out about the elixir and, when Hou Yi was gone one day, he tried to force Chang’E to give it to him.

Chang’E couldn’t overpower him, and so drank the entire elixir to save her husband. The power of the elixir transported her to the moon, where she became a goddess, living alone with a rabbit.chang-e-rabbit

Hou Yi looked toward the moon to see her face, and it’s said that she watches from her perch above.

Nowadays, this legend has found its way into Mid-Autumn Festival, in which people look toward the moon and think of home. (And you thought it was just an excuse to eat moon cakes!)

chang e mooncakes

Wait, so is the moon made out of cheese or were we lied to our whole lives?

3. The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd

confused looking cow

Another tale that became a festival, “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd” is the story behind Chinese Valentine’s Day, Qixi (七夕).

In this tale, a cowherd, Niulang (literally meaning: “cowherd”) meets a weaver girl, Zhinu (literally: weaver girl). Little did he know, this weaver girl was actually the Goddess of Heaven’s seventh daughter, who’d escaped from her boring life in heaven to have some fun on earth.

daughter rolling eyes

Except in heaven

The two hit it off and get married with the Goddess of Heaven finding out.

When she does, her daughter is in big trouble.

She’s ordered back to heaven, and when Niulang discovers her missing, is very upset. His cow talks, telling him to ride up to heaven and find her (in some versions, telling him to kill and skin it and use this to get to heaven — but you know, talking cows can’t always be trusted, right?)

confused looking cow

Where do you think the word “bullshit” came from?

Wrong, according to Niulang. He’s on his way to finding Zhinu, when the furious Goddess of Heaven takes out her hairpin and slices the sky in half between them, thus forming the Milky Way. Zhinu and Niulang are considered the stars Altair and Vega, forever separated by the Milky Way.

As legend has it, on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month, they can cross a bridge of magpies to reunite.

man giving ring to woman valentine's day

A few diamond rings and you can get with your lover too

Craving something other than tragic love stories? China is rife with ghost stories. Check out the story “The Painted Skin” (link: the this website (link: if you want to read something with more bite.

Categories: Life, Stories

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