In Hangzhou, there lived a Tang official, Zhang Yi, who had a beautiful daughter called Qianniang. In the Zhang household also lived a distant cousin, Wang Zhou. Intelligent and handsome, he was his uncle’s favorite, who often joked that when Wang grew up, he would like him for a son-in-law.
By the time Qianniang and Wang Zhou came to adulthood, they were deeply in love.
Unaware of their mutual affection and forgetting his promise, Zhang betrothed his daughter to another suitor. On hearing this, Qianniang was inconsolable, crying day and night.
Wang was also grief-stricken and decided to leave his uncle’s house. On the pretext of going to the capital, he booked passage onboard a ship to take him as far away as possible. On the night before departure, he stayed on board the ship. His thoughts were full of his beloved Qianniang. Suddenly, she appeared before him, barefoot and dressed in ordinary house robes. She swore her love to him and pledged to follow him to the ends of the earth.
Overjoyed, he took her to Sichuan, where they lived for five years, and she bore him two children. However, she was always melancholy because she missed her father and felt guilty for leaving him. Wang Zhou decided to take her home by boat.
Upon reaching Hangzhou, Wang left Qianniang at the boat while he hurried to his uncle’s house to apologize. Zhang Yi was very surprised and exclaimed,
“Qianniang has not left this house for the last five years. She has been very ill and is lying unconscious in her room.”
He hurriedly ordered his servants to the boat to find out the truth. After seeing Qianniang with their own eyes, they rushed back in trepidation to report to their master.
Suddenly, the Qianniang, who had been unconscious in her room, awoke. She dressed quickly and, with a smile on her face, went down to greet the Qianniang at the pier.
As the two identical women embraced each other, their bodies merged and became one. There was much rejoicing in the Zhang household as the family celebrated the return of a beloved daughter and the union of two devoted lovers.
Chinese historian, military general, and politician during the Tang Dynasty, briefly serving as a chancellor during the reign of Emperor Dezong, (died 783)