Liang-Zhu in China and Korea: From a Love Story to a Ritual Song

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2010

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



My dissertation focuses on the story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai 梁山伯 與祝英台 (abbreviated as Liang-Zhu) in China and Korea and examines how this story successfully travels and multiplies across genres, periods, and regions. I seek to shed light on what this phenomenon tells us about the story, about local cultures, and about cultural-literary relationships between China and Korea in pre-modern times.

I trace the origins of the story from a legend of a righteous woman to the modern incarnations of the Liang-Zhu as a famous love story and argue that Liang-Zhu has constantly transformed to meet the multiple and changing needs and expectations of local audiences. Through the discussion of the history of Liang-Zhu, I show that the story has not been solely perceived as a love story as is the popular perception, but rather, that Liang-Zhu has also enjoyed popularity as a religious story in which local people’s fears of death and the unknowable future are intertwined with their concern for both the living and the dead. This complex interweaving of localized anxieties is expressed in and through Liang-Zhu in various genres and even, at times, in popular religious ritual activities. Despite its many versions, however, the story has preserved many of its basic elements, which have ensured its continued popularity over thousands of years and into our modern time.

In addition, this study argues that the well-known theme of love between Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is far more complex than a simplistic hetero-normative love narrative; rather, Liang-Zhu offers a complicated tangle of heterosexual and homosocial relationships. Zhu Yingtai’s deceptive gender (a iii woman dressed as a male) helps her develop a profound friendship with Liang Shanbo. Yet, this homosocial relationship is complicated by Zhu’s hidden sexual identity and her love for Liang, not to mention the fact that the eventual revelation of her true sex fractures their friendship and causes a serious emotional loss to Liang Shanbo, who values male-friendship over this new, heterosexual relationship. By paying closer attention to this un-reconciled emotional gap between Liang and Zhu as the fundamental reason for the story’s tragedy, this study suggests that Liang-Zhu embodies the impossibility of the human desire for the ideal relationship and complicates our understanding of Liang-Zhu as a traditional “love-story.” Yet, it is the very adaptability of such a fundamental theme within Liang-Zhu that has allowed the story to explore a broader spectrum of tragedies and disappointments in human relationships, and which, I suggest, goes a long way to explaining its continued widespread popularity.

Further, this study attempts to show that exploring the world of popular literature shared between China and Korea can enhance our understanding of both Chinese and Korean studies. This study of Chinese Liang-Zhu texts is supplemented and enriched by a consideration of Korean Liang-Zhu texts, while, though small in actual number, help foreground aspects of Liang-Zhu often overlooked or understudied in Chinese scholarship. In this regard, this study suggests that further research into cross-cultural exchanges between China and Korea would lead to new insights and understandings of both Chinese and Korean literary history.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Beata Grant

Committee Members

Robert E. Hegel, Letty L. Chen, Jamie Newhard, Steve Miles, Lori Watt


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7TB14VC

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