The Story of the Willow Pattern Plate,

Retold by M. Alston Buckley

Once upon a time there lived in China a rich and haughty mandarin, who had great riches in lands, and horses, and priceless jewels. This great man had one lovely daughter with soft black eyes, and raven hair that scarcely could be told in texture from the silken robes she wore. The mandarin loved his daughter and showered dazzling jewels on her, and bought rich robes, heavy with choicest needlework, that she might wear them.

Now the mandarin had a faithful secretary, a young man named Chang, whose every thought was given to the business of the man he served. But as he went about the house with downcast eyes, Chang saw the daughter of the mandarin trip lightly to her father’s side to whisper in the ear of her indulgent parent, or flash across the hall, or through the garden where she fed her goldfish in the lake, and when her mother called her name, Kong Lee, it seemed to him like sounds of liquid music. The mandarin talked always of his secretary, and said that he was honest and true and good, and told the truth and did his work as well as ever any man could do it.

Kong Lee learned to think of him and love him.

But the mandarin had a friend, a rich old man, who wished to marry Kong Lee, and take her far away to be the mistress of his castle. Kong Lee refused to marry this old man, and to punish her, her father shut her up in the top room of a lonely house that stood on the lake shore. From her windows she could see the lake, and she could see the willow tree that dipped its drooping branches in the smooth, still water and seemed to hang its head and weep for her. And when the Spring came on and she could hear the singing of the birds, she wished that she could go and walk about the garden where she could see the sweet blossoms that hung like a veil of pink over the peach trees. In her loneliness she wept, and wrote sad poetry, which she threw into the water.

All this time Chang grieved for her, and sent her gifts to comfort her, and when his work was done, he walked along the shore and thought of her. But one day Kong Lee caught sight of him standing on the shore, and she thought, “Chang will help me.” So she took a cocoanut, and cut the shell in two and made a little boat of half of it. Then she made a little sail of fine, carved ivory, on the sail she wrote a message asking Chang to help her and threw the boat out of the window. The little skiff sailed out over the lake, then fell and splashed into the water, the wind caught the sail and the small craft sailed bravely on. Chang saw it, waded out, and caught it, read the message, and went to find Kong Lee.

Kong Lee was waiting for him, and they fled in haste, taking her box of jewels with them. The mandarin saw them, and taking a whip he hastened after them to beat them back again, for he had great fear of his friend’s anger. But they were too swift for him, and reached the other side, where Chang’s boat was waiting to take them to his house.

There they were married, and lived in happiness until the mandarin’s wicked friend found where they were, and secretly, at night, sailed down the lake and burned the house when they were sleeping. But their loving spirits became two doves that rested in the trees and flew about the places they had loved.

And if you look at a blue china plate you will see there the house where Kong Lee was shut up, the willow tree she watched, Kong Lee and Chang running across the bridge followed by her father with his whip, the funny house-boat that carried them away to Chang’s little house that almost is hidden by the trees, and at the top, the pair of doves in which the Chinese poet believed the spirits of Kong Lee and Chang still lived.