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There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful
daughter, Koong-se. She was forbidden to leave
her father’s Pagoda garden as she had been
promised in marriage to Ta-jin ~ a noble warrior
duke ~ and no-one was allowed to see her face.

The birds became Koong-se’s friends, she would
feed and talk to them. The Manadarin employed a
secretary, Chang, who also fed and talked to the
birds. A pair of turtle doves began passing
messages between the two and they fell in love.

Chang sent Koong-se a love poem in a shell which
floated into the streams of the Pagoda garden. She
replied, adding sails to shell and sending back
down the stream.

They did not communicate again until the wedding
night on which was held a grand banquet. All the
guests became very drunk and Chang, borrowing the
robes of a servant, passed through the guests
unseen and came to Koong-se’s room. They embraced
and vowed to run away together.

They were spotted escaping and the Mandarin, the
Duke and the guests gave chase across the bridge.
The couple escaped on a little boat which was
carried by the tide.

They settled on a distant island and became
farmers. The Mandarin, in his anger, trapped all
the birds in the garden in cages. He then ordered
his men to find Koong-se and Chang. After many
years, the Mandarin had become very bitter in his
failure to capture the two lovers. He then had an
idea. He released the two turtle doves and they
headed straight for Koong-se and Chang.

They were found, captured and thrown into the maze
under the Pagoda garden. There they tried in vain
to escape and died in each others arms.

But the gods, touched by their love, at the very
instant they died, transformed them into
lovebirds ~ forever kissing each other in eternal

the story of blue willow by bev

my mother’s every day china pattern is blue willow. she collected these piece by piece at our local grocery store when i was 4 years old. it was a promotional thing–the grocery store brought in the dinner plates one week, and cereal bowls another–tea cups and saucers in yet another. hers were made by churchill in england–though many other manufacturers make willow patterned dinnerware (and everything else, for that matter). she used, and still uses, it every day for over 25 years. so…i couldn’t help myself when i saw blue willow plates at my local mega-grocery/housewares store. also churchill–made in stoke-on-trent, in england. i bought service for nine: dinner and salad plates, and soup bowls to replace my every day dishes that have been recently coming out of the dishwasher broken in two.

remembering that as a little girl was was enchanted by the story these plates told about koong-se at dinner each night, i decided to do a little research on the pattern. the willow pattern is referenced in everything from harry potter to a skin for your ipod and laptop computer. it is found on everything from dustpans to tea cups. it comes in beautiful vintage transfer-ware pieces–by spode, the johnson brothers, and churchill, to modern interpretations by jasper conran, and royal brierley.

the pattern was designed in stoke-on-trent, staffordshire in 1790, by thomas minton–where it is still produced today, 220 years later. it is still one of the most collected patterns of all times–a google search for the pattern will reveal the prolific nature of the pattern. and while it seems unknown if the story was designed around the patter, or whether the pattern was truly based on an old Chinese legend, the story has caught the imagination of film makers since 1914. the story of the willow pattern is a 1914, black and white, silent film produced by the edison company in the US.  more recently, New Zealand film maker, veialu aila-unsworth, produced an animated film, blue willow with amazing 2-d animation based on the china design. the director’s inspiration:

I have eaten many a hot meal off this plate design and it still makes me laugh to think that such an elegant plate, with such a beautiful story, would find itself being smothered by left over maccaroni-and-cheese or fish pie.  So for me, this plate carries more than just the Blue Willow legend; it may be Chinese in flavour, but the film actually says more about Kiwiana* culture.