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Yue Lao: The Matchmaking God

According to one ancient tale, your love life has already been determined by Yue Lao and his red strings

03·02·2015

Yue Lao: The Matchmaking God

According to one ancient tale, your love life has already been determined by Yue Lao and his red strings

03·02·2015

You are destined to marry that person!

It doesn’t matter if the person in question is a friend or an enemy. They might be pretty/handsome, or hideously ugly. They could be healthy, or on death’s door. What really matters is whether your ankles are tied to theirs with a red string, invisible to human eyes.

What, you don’t agree?

In what is perhaps a personification of the concept of fate, Chinese traditional beliefs tell of a matchmaking god named  Yue Lao (月老), which literally translates to “old man under the moon”, who was said to be in charge of all the marriages with his magic red strings. According to this tale, who you fall in love with was decided the moment you were born.

The character of Yue Lao originated from a story in The Sequel to the Collection of Mysteries, a book of mythology from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The tale begins with young scholar Wei Gu, who one day decided to visit his friend in Qinghe. On the way, he stayed at an inn.

Another man, surnamed Zhang, who lived in the same area, heard that Wei was a bachelor, so with Wei’s consent he decided to arrange a meeting  with a girl surnamed Pan, whose father was the former mayor of Qinghe. Wei and Zhang made an appointment to meet at the gate of a temple early the next day to inform Wei whether the girl was interested.

Wei awoke before sunrise to go and meet the matchmaker. But on his way there he met an old man with a white beard and hair, who was lying down on a bag and reading a book under the moon.

Wei took a glance at the book and surprisingly found that he couldn’t recognize even a single word.

He approached and asked what book it was. It was then that the old man told him that it was a magic book recording all the marriages in the human world.

Naturally, Wei was skeptical. So the old man took out some red strings from his bag and explained that people were all tied up with their partners as soon as they were born, no matter how far they lived from each other or how differently they were raised, and that they were all fated to eventually become husband and wife.

Wei’s first question was of course, who was destined to be his wife.

The old man laughed and said, “Your wife is only three years old now and will marry you at the age of 16.” He then led Wei to a nearby market, pointed at an old blind woman who was selling vegetables, and told Wei that the woman’s daughter would one day become his wife.

Wei felt insulted, because as an intellectual it was beneath him to marry a woman from the bottom rungs of society. In a rather harsh move, he ordered his groom to kill this girl. But the groom was too softhearted to hurt such an innocent little girl, so he just dropped his knife after pricking  the girl on her forehead.

More than ten years later, Wei became a government official, but he was still single. All matchmaking attempts to find him a wife had failed, including the attempt with Pan.

Finally, his superior Wang Tai married his daughter to him. The couple lived a happy life, but Wei noticed that there was always a paper flower between his wife’s eyebrows, even when she slept. Wei asked why. His wife told him that the skin there had been pierced by a ruffian when she was three and the paper flower was to cover the scar.

Wei was shocked and then investigated the identity of his wife. It turned out that his wife was the girl he had seen in the market 13 years ago. The girl’s parents had both died at that time and the blind woman was her wet nurse. Later, the girl’s uncle Wang Tai found her and then adopted her as his daughter.

Listening to the story, Wei recalled the old man under the moon he had met that night. Since all he said had come true, Wei firmly believed that he had encountered the god who decides the fate of couples.

It is said that Wei talked so much about his story with Yue Lao that Yue Lao’s reputation spread far and wide. People then built temples for Yue Lao and prayed in front of his statue for good marriages. Gradually, Yue Lao became a graceful synonym for matchmaker, who played a very important role in ancient arranged marriages. Due to the fact that a marriage without a matchmaker was regarded as at least immoral even illegal,  men and women were not supposed to meet each other before they got married officially, or it might become a scandal. So happy marriages largely depended on matchmakers, who were responsible for selecting the right partners for young people and served as the contacts between them. It is perhaps no wonder then that ancient people respected matchmakers like gods.