The Story Behind the Blue Willow Pattern

The story of the blue willow pattern is a famous Chinese tale that has been traditionally depicted on beautiful china. You have probably seen the blue willow pattern before and just didn’t recognize it for all of its complexity. This article will explain to you the significance of the blue willow pattern depicted in the photo above.

The story behind the blue willow pattern often found on Chinese porcelain is that of two star-crossed lovers from two different social classes who fall into a forbidden love. The lovers leave their homes to be together. Later they are tragically killed before being transformed into doves by the gods.

This famous story is very significant to Chinese culture and has influenced many artistic creations. There are countless artistic interpretations and depictions of the same cultural story, which have contributed to the popularity of the blue willow story. This article will help you understand the meaning of the blue willow story, as well as its history.

Blue willow plate depicting the traditional Chinese story

What is The Blue Willow Story?


The blue willow story is a traditional Chinese story about two star-crossed lovers, roughly estimated to have been created in the 1780s. These two lovers, a girl and a boy, fall into a forbidden love, which is considered inappropriate at the time due to the gap between their social classes. [source]

The Lovers

The girl is the daughter of a wealthy Chinese mandarin. The word mandarin describes a term of great honor that is used to describe Chinese officials who have high social status. The boy is the assistant to the girl’s father, the mandarin, and is of much lower social status than the girl.

A Forbidden Love

Their love is socially unacceptable for many different reasons. Primarily, the boy is not considered of high enough social status to be with the girl.

Secondly, the girl is scheduled to enter into an arranged marriage set up by her father, the mandarin. She is scheduled to marry a powerful and wealthy man who was a Duke, which identifies him as a member of the Chinese male aristocracy.

The Willow Tree

The title of the story, usually identified as Blue Willow, comes from the premise of the scheduled arranged marriage between the mandarin’s daughter and the Duke. In the story, the mandarin’s daughter and the Duke were originally scheduled to be married when the last flower blossom fell from the big willow tree that hung over the Chinese temple.

The Tragedy

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, this arranged marriage did not last, because on the night of the wedding, everyone in the palace got drunk, and the servant boy who loved the mandarin’s daughter snuck in, disguised as a servant, to find the girl.

After having to jump through many hoops to actually escape fully, the two lovers steal the Duke’s boat and sail away together. They end up living together happily for years until the day the Duke found them and in his rage murdered both the boy and the girl.

The Doves

The blue willow legend says that because they were touched by such a deep and tragic love story, the gods resurrected the lovers as doves, which are depicted in the Blue Willow scene at the top. [source]

The two doves from the Blue Willow story depicted on a plate
The two doves from the Blue Willow story depicted on a plate

What is The Story Behind Blue Willow Dishes?

At this point you should understand the blue willow story, but why is it depicted primarily on china dish-ware?

Many people influenced the original Blue Willow artwork. Because the original artwork for the blue willow scene was circular, plates and bowls became the perfect canvas for the scene.

The First Blue Willow Product

No one knows for certain, but the pottery company Spode is believed to have produced the first product with the blue willow scene on it. After that, the look of blue willow ceramic dishes became popular, so much so that their production still continues today.

Spode Blue Willow Plate showing the Willow Pattern Story
Spode Blue Willow Plate

Is The Willow Pattern Story True?

The willow pattern story is not true. It is considered to be a myth, but could potentially be based on a true story of two forbidden lovers. Whether it is or not, it’s impactful and inspiring in Chinese culture, and to its readers.

What is The Rhyme of The Willow Pattern?

The interesting aspect of the rhyme describing the story of the willow pattern is that it starts at the end and rewinds to the beginning if you read it from top to bottom.

It is at the end of the story that the lovers are turned into birds, which is the very first line of the rhyme. The fence is what keeps the lovers apart at the beginning of the story, but it is what ends the rhyme. Each detail in the thyme explains a part of Blue Willow.

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.


Lines 1 & 2

The first two lines, Two birds flying high, A Chinese vessel, sailing by, represents the doves that the lovers were transformed into by the gods, and the vessel that the lovers stole from the Duke to sail away on so that the girl could escape the arranged marriage and they could be together.

Lines 3 & 4

The third and fourth lines, A bridge with three men, sometimes four, A willow tree, hanging o’er, describes the bridge that the lovers had to cross in order to get to the Duke’s boat at the water, and the willow tree that decided when the girl would be married to the Duke.

Lines 5 & 6

The fifth and sixth lines, A Chinese temple, there it stands, Built upon the river sands, depicts the scene around the water and the doc, where the lovers sailed away to a refuge that would not last.

Lines 7 & 8

The seventh and eighth lines, An apple tree, with apples on, A crooked fence to end my song, is an explanation of how the lovers were originally kept apart. During their forbidden courting, the mandarin had a fence built to keep the servant boy away from his daughter. [Source]

Blue Willow Oval Dish
Blue Willow Oval Dish

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