(a Chinese Legend)
Once upon a time there lived a Mandarin whose daughter, Koong-se, was his pride and joy. And in the Mandarin’s court there lived a young man who tended to the Mandarin’s accounts. His name was Chang, and he was intelligent and handsome and kind.
Over time Chang fell in love with Koong-se, and she with him. As proof of her devotion, she gave him a silver bead from her necklace.
“I will treasure this forever,” Chang said.
Alas, the Mandarin learned of his daughter’s affections, and he was furious. A mere accountant was not good enough for someone as important as the Mandarin’s daughter.
He banished Chang from the estate, and to keep him away, he built a wall and a river around the gardens.
“You are never to think of Chang again,” the Mandarin told his daughter. “I order you never to see him again!”
Chang and Koong-se were brokenhearted. Each day Chang walked around the wall outside the estate, dreaming of his beloved. Inside, Koong-se pressed her hands to the wall and imagined him on the other side. “Can you hear me?” she whispered.
But he could not.
And then one day Koong-se ventured outside the wall to find her beloved. When her father learned of this, he locked her in a little house beside his estate’s temple, and there he kept her until the day she would marry the man he chose for her. However, Koong-se managed to convince one of her maids to take a message to Chang. “Gather thy blossom,” she wrote, “before it is stolen.”
Chang understood he must steal away Koong-se, and so he began to develop a plan with the help of her devoted maid. She wished to help Koong-se in any way that she could.
Alas, the Mandarin announced that Koong-se soon would marry the Duke, a man named Ta-jin.
“The wedding will take place in one month,” he told his daughter. Although she wept in anguish, the Duke arrived to celebrate their engagement. He brought along a box of jewels for his bride-to-be.
That night as everyone celebrated, Koong-se’s maid persuaded one of the servants to give up his robes, and these she carried outside to Chang.
Then, dressed in the robes, Chang slipped into the banquet hall unnoticed, and when he passed by Koong-se, he reached out and lightly touched her hand. “It is I,” he whispered.
Koong-se’s heart rejoiced. “Follow me,” she said, and picking up the box of jewels, she led him outside. Together they ran away.
Just as they were crossing the bridge, a servant spotted them.
The Mandarin at once set his guards after them, over the bridge, across the river.
But Koong-se and Chang had a head start, and soon they reached the maid’s tiny hut. She welcomed them inside and there she hid them.
When the guards stopped at her hut to ask if she had seen the couple, she nodded. “They ran that way,” she said, pointing in the direction of the forest beyond.
The guards later returned to report to the Mandarin. “We have lost them,” they said.
But the Mandarin was determined to destroy Chang: “He has stolen Ta-jin’s jewels. For this he must be hanged! I will reward anyone who brings him to me.”
A few days later Chang and Koong-se heard the footsteps of the guards approaching the hut. “Run!” Koong-se cried.
Chang leaped from a window into the raging river below.
Koong-se lost sight of Chang’s body in the wild current, and certain he had drowned, she wept in unending despair. “I cannot live without him,” she wailed, but before long she heard a familiar voice calling to her, and when she looked outside, she saw a small boat on the water.
Chang stood on the bow.
She fled to the riverbank and climbed onboard, and the lovers sailed away.
They sailed for many days and finally landed on a faraway island. There they took refuge in a tiny wooden house, happy to at long last be together.
But the Mandarin would not give up. He was determined to find them and punish them, and so his guards continued their hunt.
Eventually they discovered the wooden hut, and they waited outside, preparing their plans to capture Chang.
As they whispered, Koong-se woke. Hearing the rustling outside, she understood they were trapped. She made a decision in that moment. “I will be with my love forever,” she vowed, and so she set fire to the house.
As the guards watched in horror, the lovers perished in the blaze.
From the ashes of the lovers rose two doves, stretching their wings and flying toward heaven. There the spirit of Koong-se and Chang lived together in happiness for eternity.
The tale of Chang and Koong-se spread everywhere, and many hundreds of years passed. Then, one day a man in England designed a china pattern that tells the tale. We call it The Willow Pattern, symbolic of Koong-se and Chang’s devotion and of the wonders of undying love.