I have read many stories involving ghosts of lovers. They usually include a couple who is forbidden to be together and death either reuniting them or dooming them to forever search for one another. However, one love story written centuries ago in China during the T’ang Dynasty, has an unexpected supernatural twist that begs the question, “Does love truly conquer all?”
The story was called “Between Body and Soul”. A young couple yearns to be together, but the girl has been arranged to marry another. The young man leaves his homeland, heartbroken. He decides to focus on his work and plans to take a job in the capital city under the emperor T’ien Shou. During his travels, he was pleasantly surprised to see his true love catch up to him. She tells him that she has decided to be with him regardless of what her family wants. The lovers hearts are filled with happiness as they set to travel together to the capital.
For five years, they live in unmitigated bliss, as he enjoy success in his work and she bears him two children. Their happiness is marred only by the fact that her family has no idea where she is. After a time, they decide to go back home so she can visit with her parents and siblings and he will have the opportunity to show them how happy he has made her. He forges ahead to prepare her family for her return as well as face any anger they have towards him. Convinced that they will be appeased once they see how wonderful their daughter’s life has been as well as having two grandchildren, he is determined to make things right with the family.
Upon arrival at his in-laws home, he is greeted by their grief stricken faces. Expecting anger, the young man is surprised to find only sorrow. He tells them of their daughter’s life with him and the two children she will be bringing with her, as well as his office in the capital. They look at him in disbelief.
It cannot be.
It is impossible.
Because she is with them…in the bedroom where she has been for the last five years, slowly dying of a broken heart at her true love’s departure. The young man went into the bedroom, and there she was, wasting away from the sadness of losing him five years ago. Confused, he told her parents of how she came to join him as he was on his journey to the capital, how they reunited and married, and had enjoyed much love and success. How could it be that she was still lying here, dying at home?
The mystery deepened when there was a knock at the door, and there she was, in all her vibrant good health and glory. Her husband, still awe-struck at what was going on, took her into the bedroom where the sick woman was lying. The healthy woman took the sick one’s hand and the two merged into one.
We often speak of spiritual love overcoming all obstacles, and this story is an illustration of that concept. In the girl’s mind, she was that healthy woman who had followed her dreams and achieved her greatest desires. Her body was slowly ceasing to function, but her spirit grew stronger…so much so that even her true love could connect with that vision.
This story, written during the T’ang dynasty, was part of a literary style known as the Chanqui tale. Much like myths and legends, they are told locally first, and then are elaborated upon until each version is more exciting than the last. “Body and Soul” was said to be the inspiration for one of the operas during the Yuan Dynasty, which often put music and staging to the Chanqui tales from before.
Any truth to the tale is left for the reader to decide. It does however bring to mind what we all need to believe about love, which is that it truly can conquer all.