My mother had a few dinner plates and two or three large platters with the Blue Willow Pattern design. The plates were old, some were chipped and the same held true for the platters. But we used them all the time. The platters were used every Christmas, Easter and Saint Patrick’s day to serve our home-grown, and cooked turkeys.
The platter was so big you could easily see the design. My mother would tell us the story that went with the picture, and it all took place in China.
A Chinese princess fell in love with a servant, although her father had her betrothed to another prince. The servant, being beneath the social class of the princess, was seen as unsuitable as a spouse for the princess. The lovers met secretly in buildings within the kingdom and plotted their escape.
The night of their freedom arrived. As they attempted to escape by crossing a bridge and leaving the kingdom together on a boat, the king was alerted to their plan. He dispatched three of his most fearsome soldiers to capture the lovers, kill the servant and return and imprison his daughter in the castle.
The lovers learned of the soldiers’ approach and ran hastily toward the bridge, closely pursued by the soldiers. Their love, being pure, took flight and turned them into birds. They flew away, free at last.
On Wikipedia the legend is similar.
” Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father (it was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class). He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The Gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).“