The Butterfly Spring

Yehua Yao

 

At the foot of Mount Cang, at Dali, Yunnan, southwest China, there is a spring called Butterfly Spring. The crystal clear, beautiful pond has a spring mouth at the bottom. Every year when the albizzia trees blooms in April, thousands of butterflies gathered around the spring.

 

 

Many Bai people communities have been settling in Dali for thousands of years.  On April fifteenth in Chinese Lunar Calendar, single young girls and boys from Bai communities gather at the Butterfly Spring, dancing and singing to find their lovers. The tradition all comes from an ancient legend.

A long time ago, there was a beautiful girl in a Bai community. Her parents named her Jinhua, which means camillia. Within a warm, humid climate, Mount Cang has such a humid and mild climate, that all kinds of flowers flourish at Dali, especially camellia. Bai people loved to name their daughters after flowers, to express their best wishes.  There was a young man named Peng in the community. People called him Brother Peng, because he was a nice, diligent and honest boy. Everyday Brother Peng went to Mount Cang to work on his family's farm there, while Jinhua went to pick tealeaves at the mount foot.

Bai people were famous for their talent of singing and dancing. To add some fun to their work, people always sing in antiphonal style, which was called Duige. The lyrics were improvisational, so only the most intelligent singers could remain to the last. Jinhua and Brother Peng were the best two singers in their community, and they were always the last two winners. Grown up together, Jinhua and Brother Peng were considered the designed couple by Heaven.

 

However, there was a rich landlord in Dali. The landlord had a son, who was spoiled and in bad temper. The landlord heard about Jinhua's intelligence and beauty, and wanted to make Jinhua his daughter-in-law.  The landlord went to Jinhua's community looking for her parents.

"I hear about Jinhua's beauty, and I think no one else would be good enough to be a good wife for my son. " The landlord said to Jinhua's parents.

"We are glad to hear your compliment. But Jinhua has engaged to Brother Peng already. We are afraid you have to find another good girl for your son." Jinhua's parents replied.

"You know that I'm the richest landlord in Dali. There are many girls who want to be my daughter-in-law. Brother Peng is nothing compared to my wealth. "

"But Jinhua and Brother Peng love each other."

"You really think so? I will give your daughter the best life she could imagine. She will get everything she wants without working day and night. She will live a much happier life in my family." The landlord tempted Jinhua's family.

"They can earn their own life by hard-working, and they should."

"You are so stubborn! You will regret your decision." The landlord left with anger. But Jinhua's family didn't take his words seriously.

The next day, Jinhua went to Mount Cang to pick up tealeaves as usual. But she didn't see Brother Peng all day. When she was wondering why Brother Peng didn't come to work today, suddenly, she remembered the words of landlord last night. A sense of bad foreboding descended over Jinhua's mind. She rushed to Brother Peng's home, and found his old parents in tears. They told Jinhua that a group of people took away Brother Peng before sunrise.

Jinhua went to the landlord's house in Dali downtown immediately.  The landlord told Jinhua:"Brother Peng owed me debt to buy his land a few years ago. If you are unwilling to marry my son, Brother Peng will be my slave until he repays the debt. "

"How much does he owe you?" Jinhua aked.

"The principal is five hundred."

"That's not so much, I will repay you in one week. Please don't harm Brother Peng. " Jinhua was less worried, thinking she could borrow some money from neighbors in her community.

"Haha, you are so naïve, young girl. I haven't finished my word. The principal is five hundred, but the interest is five thousand. Brother Peng cannot go without paying me the total five thousand and five hundred. " The crafty landlord smiled at Jinhua.

"How could a five hundred debt have a such high interest? You must be lying to me! " Jinhua couldn't believe his words.

"Because Brother Peng did repay me for a long time. Year after year, the interest rate will increase as long as he doesn't pay me. That's my rule."

"You are such a profit-driven crafty man!" Jinhua left in sadness, helplessly stranded.

Jinhua and Brother Peng's story quickly spread out in the Bai communities. People all felt sympathetic to the young couple. "Jinhua, don't worry. Our communities will help you to raise money and save Brother Peng." The old chieftain comforted the weeping girl.

It didn't take long to raise five thousand and five hundred coins through the whole community. Jinhua came to the landlord again, with the repayment of Brother Peng's debt.

"You are such a clever and popular young girl! You seem to receive lots of help from others. I really have a good sense when choosing my daughter-in-law, don't I? " The landlord was a little surprised that Jinhua could actually raise that much money.

"Here is all of Brother Peng's debt, including principal and your ridiculous interest. As you promised, Brother Peng can have his freedom back right now. " Jinhua didn't want to waste any time with this old man.

"I know I promised to let him go as long as his debt was repaid. But now things have changed.  The careless slave killed my rare albizzia tree in my backyard a few days ago. Do you think he can go without any compensation to me?"

"What do you want? More money?"

"My tree is so rare that there's no price for it. Money cannot offset my great loss any more. All I want is the tree back to life."

"How come! Restoring the dead to life is never the ability of human! You are assigning me to an impossible task!"

"Well, I can give you another easy option and you know it." The landlord couldn't conceal his happiness.

"Never! I will never marry into your profit-driven, vicious family!" Jinhua ran all the way back to home in tears and anger.

Jinhua's community members were waiting for the couple's return, but only saw Jinhua come home alone. "I really appreciate your help, dear neighbors. But I don't think Brother Peng could ever come home again." Jinhua told them the entire story of her day.

"My child, don't be so sad. Brother Peng is a good boy and we'll get him back." Said the old chieftain.

"Thank you chieftain for your kindness. I know it's impossible to bring the dead to life. I think I should give up."

"Don't give up, my child. Justice should never give up to evil. There is always a way out from bad situations. Do you remember the story of Jiu Se Lu (Nine Colored Deer)? "

"Yes, my parents told me the story when I was a child."

"Actually, Jiu Se Lu is more than a story. It lives in Mount Cang and shelters all Bai people from natural disasters and diseases. When you are dealing with hardship, you could try to find it for help. For now, only Jiu Se Lu could help you. Come to the forest of Mount Cang alone before sunrise next morning, you'll find it if you have courage and belief in your heart." The chieftain left without any more detailed instructions.

Jinhua was a bit dubitative, but she decided to give it a try. She came into the forest in Mount Cang before sunrise, looking for Jiu Se Lu. But she had no clue where to go. It was still very dark in the forest. Although Jinhua had a torch in her hand, she still felt scared walking alone in the boundless, lush forest. Suddenly, an owl flew over her head closely and blew out the torch. Jinhua had cold feet and almost sat on the ground. When she figured out it was an owl flying over, she encouraged herself: "Don't panic. It's just a bird. Brother Peng is still kept in the landlord's place. You are a brave girl and you believe in justice. Nothing can stop you other than your timidity."

 

 

Taking a deep breath, Jinhua went on with her adventure under the moonlight. When the first streaks of sunlight slicing through the mist in the forest, Jinhua saw an incredibly beautiful nine-colored deer, drinking water from a pond in the distance. Jinhua couldn't believe in her eyes. She walked towards the Jiu Se Lu carefully, in case it was frightened and ran away. Finally, Jinhua was close enough to see Jiu Se Lu clearly. Jiu Se Lu saw Jinhua as well, but did not panic at all. Jinhua told the deer her trouble and asked for help. Jiu Se Lu didn't respond, but ran away into the forest.

"The task was incredible for Jiu Se Lu as well. Brother Peng, how could I save you?" Deeply upset, Jinhua began to cry.

On her way back home from Mount Cang, Jiu Se Lu showed up again, with a branch of albizzia tree in its mouth. Gave the branch to Jinhua, Jiu Se Lu said: "Go back to the pond where you first met me, and take a bottle of the spring water with you. With these two, you could bring the landlord's tree back to life." Jinhua was grateful and wild with joy.

She rushed to the landlord's house and told the old man she was ready. Placing the albizzia branch given by Jiu Se Lu in soil, Jinhua watered it with the spring water from the pond.  A brand new, flourish albizzia tree sprouted at an unbelievable speed. Everyone was shocked by what they had seen.

"Now you get what you want. Shall I take Brother Peng back to home?" Asked Jinhua.

 

 

"Well... You could possess the power beyond human being. You must be blessed by heaven. I'll let you go and set Brother Peng free. Please accept my apology for forcing you to marry my son." The landlord replied with high respect.

Jiu Se Lu's story quickly spread out in Dali, especially among Bai people. People admired Jiu Se Lu's kindness and power, so they planted an albizzia tree right next to the pond where Jinhua met it. The albizzia grew into a huge tree that no one had ever seen before. Every year when the albizzia tree blooms in April (Chinese Lunar calendar), the sweet smell attracts thousands of butterflies gathering among the spring pond.

To remember Jiu Se Lu and Jinhua's beautiful love story, Bai people named the pond "Butterfly Spring". Every year on April 15th, single young girls and boys all gather around the Butterfly Spring singing and dancing, seeking for pure love.