Love, Tang Chinese Style

Seeing as how it’s Valentine’s Day, I figured I might as well write something about a love god. I looked at a few on the list of such deities on Wikipedia, and the first one who looked promising as far as actually having enough information was the Chinese Yue Lao.

Looks like a nice guy, doesn’t he? Certainly not as creepy as the baby archer.
His common appellation is apparently short for Yue Xia Lao Ren, or the Old Man Under the Moon. While Cupid makes matches with a bow and arrows, Yue Lao uses red cords that he ties together when people get married.

He’s basically a matchmaker, a significant figure in classical Chinese society, although he has supernatural powers that ordinary mortal matchmakers don’t. He has a book that identifies all fated couples, perhaps the fabled Book of Love of popular song, or at least one volume of it. There’s only one myth involving Yue Lao that I’ve been able to find, dating back to the Tang Dynasty, but this one is very well-known. In addition to showing his power, it also demonstrates the futility of fighting fate. A young man named Wei Gu comes across the god reading his book in the city of Songcheng, and asks who his mate will be. Yue Lao indicates a little girl being carried by an old blind woman in the marketplace, and in order to show his disdain, he stabs the girl. In some versions, he hires an assassin to do this instead. Fourteen years later, Wei Gu is appointed general of Xiangzhou, and the governor Wang Tai gives the officer his daughter’s hand in marriage. He’d been having trouble finding a mate for her because she was scarred and had trouble walking, and it turns out that she was the same girl he stabbed years earlier. They apparently have a good laugh over his attempted murder, which goes to show that love conquers all, or something. Yue Lao remains a quite popular god, especially for people wanting to find partners, but hopefully most people he matches up don’t try to kill their future spouses.

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3 Responses to Love, Tang Chinese Style

  1. He (and his book) appear in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, a really lovely little middle grade novel I think you’d really enjoy if you’ve never read it. It’s a fairytale, it’s got mythological elements, it’s got magic and humor and pathos, what’s not to love. Enjoy! ;)

  2. Pingback: More Moon Men | VoVatia

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