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The first known printing of the Willow Pattern Legend goes back to the mid-1800s. Since then and in countless forms, the Willow Pattern Legend, or story, has been told and retold from generation to generation. Many individuals remember their mother or grandmother telling them the story on the blue willow plate as they ate dinner. Perhaps one of these legends will bring back great memories, or provide you with a story you didn’t know existed.



Willow Plate Story, 1

Two pigeons flying high,
Chinese vessels sailing by.
Weeping willow hanging o'er,
Bridge with three men - if not four.
Chinese temple, there it stands,
Seems to cover all the land.
Apple tree with apples on,
A pretty fence to end my song.

Willow Plate Story, 2


'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.


“The Story of the Common Willow-Pattern Plate"

The Family Friend, 1849


​So she tells me a legend centuries old

Of a Mandarin rich in lands and gold,

Of Koong-Shee fair and Chang the good,

Who loved each other as lovers should.

How they hid in the gardener's hut awhile,

Then fled away to the beautiful isle

Though a cruel father pursued them there,

And would have killed the hopeless pair,

But a kindly power, by pity stirred,

Changed each into a beautiful bird.

Here is the orange tree where they talked,

Here they are running away,

And over all at the top you see

The birds making love always.


Willow Legend


Far away within the East,

A monarch kept his state.

And near him, just across the bridge,

There lived a prince (see plate).

The monarch had a daughter fair.

The prince in love was he.

"No, no, good man," the monarch said,

"My daughter stays with me."

Across the bridge the lovers fled.

The king pursued irate.

They hied them to a little boat,

And sailed away (see plate).

Alas the stormy winds did blow

As cruel as cruel could be.

They dashed the boat upon the rocks,

and drowned them in the sea.

But changed to bird by fairies kind

Their spirits rose elate.

And even now about the king

They hover still (see plate).


The Legend of the Willow Plate 

My Willow ware plate has a story, 
Pictorial, painted in blue 
From the land of the tea and the tea plant 
And the little brown man with a queue. 

What ever the food you serve, daughter 
Romance enters into the feast, 
If you only pay heed to the legend, 
On the old china ware plate from the East. 

Koong Shee was a mandarin's daughter 
And Chang was her lover, ah me, 
For surely her father's accountant 
Might never wed pretty Koong Shee 

So Chang was expelled from the compound, 
The lovers' alliance to break, 
And pretty Koong Shee was imprisoned 
In a little blue house by the lake. 

The doughty old mandarin reasoned 
it was time that his daughter should wed, 
And the groom of his choosing should banish 
That silly romance from her head. 

For years had great artists been stitching 
In symbols the dress she should wear, 
Her headband of scarlet lay waiting, 
She should ride in a gold wedding chair. 

He was busily plotting and planning, 
When a message was brought him one day, 
Young Chang had invaded the palace, 
And taken his sweetheart away. 

They were over the bridge when he saw them, 
They were passing the big willow tree, 
And a boat at the edge of the water. 
Stood waiting for Chang and Koong Shee. 

The furious mandarin followed 
The groom with revenge in his eyes, 
But the little boat dance on the water 
And traveled away with the prize. 

But vengeance pursued to their shelter 
And burned the pagoda, they say 
From out of the flames rose the lovers 
A pair of doves winging away. 

They flew toward the western heaven 
The pretty Koong Shee and her Chang 
Or so says the famous old legend 
From the land of the Yangtse Kiang. 

I wouldn't be one to deny it, 
For the little blue dove and her mate 
Forever are flying together 
Across my Willow ware plate. 


The Willow Legend 

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang who, while he was attending to his master's accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.


The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin's estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water's edge. One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water's edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away. 


She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal. 


However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se's room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se's father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge. 


The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se's father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him. 


One night the Mandarin's spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin's guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned. Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se's maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety. 


They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside. 


Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky. 

The Willow Pattern

by B. L. Bowers

Whilst we sit around the table,
Please allow me to relate,
The entrancing ancient fable
Of "The Willow Pattern Plate."


Every picture tells a story,
Like the Willow Pattern Plate,
Where two lovers dwelt in glory,
And defied paternal hate.


By elopement from the castle
You observe upon the ridge,
Where the violent old rascal
Chases them across the bridge.


Tries to catch the rogue and whip him,
'Ere he steals the daughter fair;
But the loving pair outstrip him,
Let him languish in despair.


Thrown upon their own resources,
In a junk they emigrate,
To a splendid little oasis,
Near the margin of the plate.


Dwell in peace, whilst unmolested,
In most perfect harmony;
Till at length they are arrested,
by his Nibs' gendarmerie.


Then the tyrant lord appeals to
Law and lucre, with their pow'r;
Caught, confined, they have their meals too,
In that horrid little tow'r.


When the pair are executed,
To appease their lord irate,
To a pair of doves transmuted,
Still they fly upon the plate.


Every picture tells a story,
Like the Willow Pattern blue,
And true love will reign in glory,


To infinity! Adieu

Willow Pattern

by Amanda Benjamin Hill

The while we sip our jasmine tea,

we learn, and not without a pang,

how once the beautiful Koong-see

was loved by poor and lowly Chang.

Her father's scribe, The Mandarin

with other plans for her instead,

had pledged her to the rich Ta-jin,

Love laughs at locksmiths, it is said...

Across the humpbacked bridge they fly,

pursued by father threatening death!

A thousand years or more go by

and still they hasten, out of breath.

Koong-see casts one long look behind

at house, pagoda-roofed, and willow,

her childhood's home. Now they must find

in some far land a nest, a pillow...

The fierce Ta-jin, grown wild and rash,

curses the pair with dreadful words,

follows and burns their house to ash.

But wait — the two escape as birds!

The lovers' fate — what can it matter —

their lives and their ensuing lot?

On cup and saucer, plate and platter,

still thrives the charming, foolish plot,

the storyteller long forgot.

Blue Willow

by S. G. Thomas

"O' tell me, Blue Willow

That sweet legend of old.

Of Koong-Shee and Chang

And their love true as gold.

Her father vowed he'd slay them,

So they fled when they heard,

And Providence in its wisdom

Changed each into a beautiful bird.

See the willow where they met

And the bridge as they're running away,

And there, at the top, are the beautiful birds,

So in love — So in love — always."

The Blue Willow Legend


Once upon a time there lived a very wealthy mandarin who had a beautiful daughter named Hong Shee. There was also a boy named Chang who loved Hong Shee. To keep them apart, the mandarin imprisoned his daughter in the palace.


One day she escaped and the two lovers raced over the bridge to a waiting boat, her father in hot pursuit. They managed

to elude the mandarin, reach the boat and sail away. 


A storm developed, the boat founder and the couple were lost at sea. It is said two love birds appeared immediately thereafter -

the spirits of Hong Shee and Chang.

Grandma’s Willow Plate


On grandma's table is waiting for me 

A plate with gingerbread piled; 

Bread and milk, and berries and cream, 

And the mug marked – “For a good child.”

And I eat my supper and wonder where

That wonderful land may be,

Where the sky is white and the earth is blue 

That on my plate I see.


“Grandma, you know ‘most everything –

Tell me the story of it all;

Do the long-tailed birds know how to sing;

Did a princess live in that castle small?

The princess’ hair is a fairytale

Is generally gold, but this is blue!

How does the boat go without any sail?

Tell me the story, grandmother, do.”


So she tells me the legend, centuries old,

Of the Mandarin, rich in land and gold;

Of Li-Chi fair and Chang the good,

Who loved each other as lovers should;

How they hid in the gardener’s hut awhile,

Then flew away to the beautiful isle;

Though the cruel father pursued them there,

And would have killed the hapless pair

But a kindly power by pity stirred,

Changed each into a beautiful bird.


Grandmama puts her spectacles on,

And shows me on the plate

The Mandarin’s house, the island home,

The boat, the bridge, the gate;

“Here is the orange tree where they talked –

Here they are running away –

And over all, at the top to see

The birds making love always.”


And the little old figures seem to live –

Strange fancies fill my head

Till grandmama tells me, much too soon,

It's time to go to bed.


But I dream of a land all blue and white,

I see the lovers take their flight;

Over the arching bridge they go –

One of the lover birds flies below.

From the little house with the turned up edges

Come tiny lords and ladies and pages;

And the bed-post turns to a willow tree,

And at last I seen myself to be

an azure lassie wandering through

That beautiful queer little land of blue.


                                                          – Ludovicke

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