Let's Read the Story: The Spring Butterflies

There are nineteen peaks at Cangshan in Dali. One of them is called Yunnong peak where the cloud play. Beneath it there is a pond about ten meters across, surrounded by thickly covered trees and tall bushes, and, in spring, yellow flowers among the green leaves. This pond has a beautiful name: people call it the spring of butterflies."
It wasn't always called "the spring of butterflies". Long ago, because the water was constant, purer than other springs, and because nobody knew how deep it was, or had ever seen its bottom, the villagers who lived near it used to call it " "the Bottomless Pond."

There lived by the side of this pond a farmer by the name of Lao Zhang. Lao Zhang had no relatives other than a daughter. He never went anywhere or did anything, year in, year out, except work, work, work on his little piece of land.

Wengu, his daughter, was nineteen years of age. Her face was so beautiful that the pettiest flower couldn't be compared with her. Her eyes gleamed   like stars in the sky. Her fine black hair cascaded like the leaves of a weeping willow. Her rosy cheeks were red as an apple. She was very kind, and her heart was as pure as the spring water. She was very kind, and her heart was as pure as the spring water. She worked hard alongside   her father in the fields during the day and in the evenings busied herself with weaving. There wasn't another girl in the country who could weave as well as Wengu. Her slender body was always occupied either in the field or at her loom.

Wengu was famed for her diligence and her beauty. Everyone talked of her; the girls envied and copied her, and the boys all dreamed winning her love.

At that time there was a young woodcutter by the name of Xiana who lived at Yunnong Peak. He had no parents, and lived a poor and lonely life. Like the girl Wengu, he worked hard and long. His wisdom and quick intelligence outstripped that of Luban, the famous carpenter of ancient China. He was loyal and forthright. His singing voice was also incomparable: as graceful as a lark, as resonant as a nightingale. When he sang, the birds fell silent and the breeze hushed in the pines. The whole world stopped to listen to his songs.

Xiana went to sell his firewood in town once a week and he had to pass the Bottomless Pond each time he came down.  Like most of the young men, Xiana was in love with Wengu. Every time, he would secretly watch out for her as he passed her home.

Wengu also loved Xiana.  As soon as she heard him singing, she would stop everything to listen to his beautiful voice. She would look out of her window and watch him, off in the distance.

Days passed. Pure and real love was rooted deep between them.

One calm moonlit evening, Wengu met Xiana at the pond side. Under the moonlight they poured out their hearts to each other. From that evening, their shadows were seen often near the Bottomless Pond, and their footprints found beneath the trees around the water.

Now below Cangshan Mountains, there lived a notorious local tyrant called Tyrant Wang. He was the chief ruler of Cangshan and Dali Lake. He   exploited and oppressed people cruelly. All his riches were stolen from the common people. Many soldiers worked for him, arresting people and destroying their property. The people' hatred of Tyrant Wang was as high as Cangshan and as deep as Dali Lake.

Tyrant Wang heard tell of Wengu, and decided to steal the girl as his eighth wife.

With a gang of his hired ruffians, Tyrant Wang went looking for the girl at the Bottomless Pond. The old man Lao Zhang was seriously beaten, and they took Wengu away by force.

Like a greedy dog slavering over a titbit. Tyrant Wang said to Wengu, "There is uncountable silver and gold in my royal treasury. I have the best food in the world, and the most beautiful clothes. You alone will enjoy all these good things, if you agree to be my wife."

Wengu paid no attention to him and said scornfully, "I promised to love Xiana, the woodcutter. My heart cannot be bought by your silver and gold. I don't care how much you have.”

Tyrant Wang was furious, and said, "Well, my power is stronger than the heavens. I was born to rule others forever.  If I stamp my foot on the ground, the sky will fall or a mountain move. I have great powers. How can a woodcutter compare with that? You can never escape from my hands. Hear me."

Wengu became braver still. She said boldly, " I don't care how great you are. I'm not interested if you can bring down the sky or move a mountain. I love Xiana. Nobody can change my heart. It is as constant as snowfall on the White Snow Peak. You want me to be your wife. That's impossible. It's just a daydream."

They argued for three days and nights. Tyrant Wang tried every way to make her agree, but Wengu still replied, "No." Finally Tyrant Wang gave his soldiers orders to hang the girl up by her arms till she saw sense.

That day Xiana walked down to the pond with a light heart. He thought he would meet Wengu by the pond, and talk with her. But he was not met by Wengu’s smiling face. Instead he found only Lao Zhang, bruised and beaten. The old man died shortly after stammering out the details of what had happened.

Xiana was filled with pain and hatred.  He hurriedly buried the old man and then sped to Tyrant Wang’s palace, carrying an axe.

In the darkness, Xiana climbed over the high wall, and found Wengu tied up in a stable.  He cut her ropes, and helped her over the wall.

Wengu and Xiana ran fast in the darkness.  Tyrant Wang, with a rabble of soldiers, was close behind.

They ran up to the hills. Tyrant Wang followed them. They escaped into a valley, and the gang followed them down. Tyrant Wang called out in a proud and loud voice, "We'll capture you up in the air or underneath the earth. You'll never escape from my hands."

Wengu and Xiana ran to the edge of the Bottomless Pond. They were surrounded by the gang. Tyrant Wang ordered them to kneel down on the ground and surrender.

Now Wengu and Xiana embraced each other tightly. They replied with cold eyes, said nothing, but jumped down into the Bottomless Pond...

When the people living around the Bottomless Pond heard the fate of the young couple, they were first of all moved to tears. Then they were moved to anger. Carrying makeshift weapons on their shoulders, they marched into Tyrant Wang's palace and destroyed everything. They killed Tyrant Wang and all his men.

The next day, a large crowd gathered at the Bottomless Pond. They were going to search for the bodies of Wengu and Xiana. All of a sudden, the water in the Pond opened up. From its centre, a pair of fresh and charming butterflies flew out, one after the other. They flew above the pond as though they were trying to catch each other. Hundreds and thousands more butterflies followed them, and circled about the pair, flying everywhere above the pond and under the trees.

From that day on, people gave the Bottomless Pond a new name: Spring of Butterflies. Each year in spring, all sorts and sizes of multi-coloured butterflies come to dance above the water. The pond becomes a sea of butterflies.  It is a mystery and a wonder.

----Adopted from He Li-yi's first book The Spring of Butterflies (London and New York, 1985)                                                                         Back to Top 

This folk tales story book is available in Mr. China’s Son Café. But at present, the illustrations are only white and black.


    Back to Homepage