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'Paradise' blessed with immortal love stories

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-09-01 08:01:09

'Paradise' blessed with immortal love stories

The West Lake with Leifeng Pagoda in the background. [Photo provided to China Daily]

I had not set foot in Hangzhou before I was admitted to a college of the city, which later was merged with the much larger Zhejiang University. I was 15, and college kids were not supposed to date back then. My neighbors joked that I'd bump into a beautiful woman disguised as a young man en route.

For those in the know, the joke was a riff on the age-old legend of the Butterfly Lovers. It's a heartbreaking tale many Chinese proudly call China's Romeo and Juliet, but it unfolds more like Yentl from the outset.

Zhu Yingtai, from a wealthy family, wants a proper education at a time when women were denied the opportunity. So, she dresses as a man. Over three years she develops a "bromance" with Liang Shanbo, who had a much humbler upbringing. He fails to see through the gender mask and views her only as his best buddy. Long story short, their romance did not end well on Earth, but they are reunited in heaven-as a pair of butterflies.

There are many places across China that claim to be the hometown of one of the lovebirds, but what's indisputable is that they were schooled in Hangzhou.

The city also plays host to another immortal love story that is even more wide-eyed fantasy: Madam White Snake. With her maid Green Snake in tow, she descends from the mountains and spends a day mingling with mortals. She meets a young man from a local pharmacy and falls in love-the exact location is Broken Bridge on Bai Causeway. A word of explanation: the bridge was not really broken, but just appeared so from an angle in certain lighting.

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