As with all the great Chinese Love stories, this one starts with forbidden love and ends tragically. The legend of Dong Yong and the Seventh Fairy (董永与七仙女 ) is a widely known love story between a goddess and a mortal.
Once there lived a very poor family, with just a father and his son. They worked day and night in the field just to earn enough for rent and a little food. One year a brutal drought destroyed the land, and sick with sorrow, the father passed away, leaving no inheritance for the son.
The boy, Dong Yong (董永), was honest and very kindhearted, and all he wanted to do was give his beloved father a proper funeral, but he had no money at all. The impoverished little scholar effectively sold himself into slavery to pay for his father’s funeral. Three days after the funeral ended he started working day and night to pay off his debt.
One day, as he took a moment of respite under a tree, a beautiful maiden approached him and asked why he was working so hard with so little rest. Dong Yong told the girl why he worked so hard for such a pitiless landlord, and burst into tears.
The maiden had a story of her own as well – she said her mother had died when she was young and her father had remarried, and now her new stepmother wanted to marry her off to someone. She then burst into tears as well. Dong Yong, unsurprisingly, had a novel solution – he suggested they get married, because neither of them had anywhere to go, and neither of them had any family left. He said that perhaps these two strangers could help each other heal their wounds. From that moment on, the sorrow that loomed in their hearts drifted away, and they asked the spirits of the earth to marry them then and there.
The newly wedded husband and wife started working together for the landlord, but he had his conditions. The couple had to weave ten items of cloth each night, and they agreed.
One night Dong Yong was weaving cloth and he was getting more anxious that he would never finish in time. What could they possibly do? But his wife was calm and assured him everything would be fine, and ordered him to go to sleep. Dong Yong did not know that his lovely wife was not at all a poor maiden but the Seventh Daughter of The Jade Emperor of the heavens. Deep at night when her husband was asleep, she weaved ten pieces of beautiful cloth with her fairy magic.
Imagine how surprised Dong Yong was when he awoke to find ten perfect pieces of fabric! It became immediately apparent his wife had some kind of secret. He and his wife brought the cloth pieces to the landlord, and the pieces were so beautiful he even reduced their contract from three years to one hundred days. Upon arriving back at their house, Dong Yong could not hold it in anymore and asked his wife how she had weaved such beautiful cloth. She was unable to keep the secret any longer, and confessed to being a fairy, The Seventh Daughter of the Jade Emperor. She had other news as well – she was pregnant.
Dong Yong learned that his beautiful wife was actually a fairy, and that they were going to have a baby. He could not possibly have been any happier in his whole life. For a short period of time their mutual attachment grew into great love, and both were enormously happy together.
But all good things must come to an end. When the fairy’s father, The Jade Emperor, found out about his daughter’s secret husband and her life on earth, he sent messengers to his daughter warning her that if she did not come back home to heaven that same afternoon, he would smash Dong Yong into a million pieces.
The Seventh Fairy loved Dong Yong very much and did not want a cruel death for him, so she said her farewells and told him that next year she would come back to the exact same spot and give him his newborn son. Dong Yong cried and tried to stop her, but the Seventh Fairy was flying back to heaven. Dong Yong tried to run after her and catch her, and fell down in tears.
The legend of Dong Yong has been spreading for over two thousand years and its very popular in the rural areas of China. There are things named after Dong Yong, for instance, there is Dongjia Village and elsewhere there is a stele emblazoned with “Dong Yong’s Native Place”. There is also “Consensual marriage cloth” in Xiaohuai Village in Wanrong County, Shanxi Province. There are even ceremonies that worship such dutiful sons during temple fairs in places like Wuzhi County, Henan Province.