One of the Greatest Love Stories Ever Told - Liu and Xu

by JoHarrington

One of the greatest love stories of all times talks about Liu, who spent 50 years hand-carving 6000 steps up a mountain for his wife. Liu & Xu had to hide their love from society.

People fall in love every day. There's nothing remarkable about that, except for the individuals involved.

But occasionally there comes a tale which really is extraordinary. I defy anyone to read that of Liu and Xu without a certain mistiness around the eyes.

They gave up everything to be together. Their love was stronger than anything society could throw at them.

Liu's determination that they should marry was matched by Xu's willingness to finally follow her heart. This must be one of the greatest love stories in history.

Love Against the Odds

Liu wasn't about to give up on winning Xu's hand, even if the whole world hated them for it.

Liu Guojiang was just nineteen, when he eloped with his wife. There was nothing legally stopping them being married, but society was against them.

His beloved Xu Chaoqin was a widow and she already had children from her previous marriage. He didn't care. He loved her.

But there was one more thing, which had earned the disapproval of the entire village. She was ten years older than him. Xu herself had turned him down several times, because of this very fact. Liu brushed that away. It was irrelevant. He loved her.

Wherever she went, Liu was there. He had flowers and romantic words. He wore her down. Eventually Xu had to admit that she loved him too and then there really was no stopping him. He wooed her until she finally agreed to marry him, though with caveats of worrying about what they would do and what people would think and if this was even immoral.

She was right to be concerned. All around them, people were gossiping about her as an opportunistic cougar. Xu was ruining a young man's life just to provide security for her children; or worse, out of a sense of inflated ego and immodesty. She couldn't walk down the street without comments being made. It seemed that she was universally hated.

It was breaking Xu's heart. Liu could not stand by and watch that happening. He loved her! Moreover, she loved him and they didn't need anyone else. They had to get out of there. They had to go somewhere safe, where they could live out their years in peace.

And Liu knew just the place.

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Escape to the Mountains

If society didn't want Liu and Xu, then they didn't want society. They had their love to start a home, the rest would just have to follow.

Jiangjin county in south-west China is known for its expansive forests and soaring mountains.

It is home to the Simian Mountain, which stands over 5608ft (1709m) above sea level. The stunning Wangxiangtai (Bridge of Nostalgia) Waterfall cascades down, rushing into the ferocious Chaba River.

Tourists come to revel in a landscape of outstanding natural beauty. Photographers make a living selling prints of images taken here. There is hardly anywhere to turn, which isn't intensely picturesque.

There are more prosaic industries making their livelihoods from this rich corner of the Chongqing province. Timber businesses thrive, as does agriculture of all kinds. The Jiangjin orange comes from here.

For Liu and Xu, the area held greater possibilities. Their village was nestled in its valleys, but the peaks above offered a wilderness in which they could get lost. The forest was so vast that people could wander the mountainside forever, without ever meeting another human being. This sounded perfect to the couple, as they desperately sought to escape the censure of all they knew.

Liu found a cave. It was far away from the trails and no-one ever went there. It had none of the conveniences of a home in the valley - no running water or wells, no proximity to the shops, no rooms or windows, no lights - but it was isolated. They could give their marriage a chance here. They would be left alone with their love.

The couple arrived with nothing but each other and their children. Their first priority was sheer survival. They had shelter, but no food. Xu searched the forest for wild fruit and roots, just to keep them alive. Liu cut down wood and fashioned it into furniture. At night, it was pitch black in their cave. Liu found an old ink bottle and turned it into a kerosene oil lamp.

Struggle by struggle, the couple created a virtue of necessity. As each challenge presented itself, they found solutions together. As the months passed, they forged a home from the stark cave and made it a comfortable place in which to raise their family.

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Liu's Love Equals 6000 Steps Carved into Granite

The path would have been a mammoth undertaking for a team of builders. Liu did it alone. He did it for Xu.

Photo: Liu's StaircaseAs much as the couple would have liked to be completely self-sufficient, it wasn't feasible. Their family was growing and the children needed more than basic provisions. If everyone was going to stay healthy, they required more food than Xu could scavenge from the forest. They had to have clothing.

Liu found work on a farm further along the mountain. They had an income, but if it was going to be spent, then they would have to go shopping.

Their isolation, so high above the markets and towns, didn't make this easy. With seven children in tow, Xu had to navigate all that the steep, forested mountainside could throw at her. It was a dangerous and arduous trek, with the return journey rendered worse by all she had to carry.

What she needed was a proper staircase, cut into the granite rock. It would still be a long walk, but without so much risk of injury. This is what Liu observed and with his infamous tenacity, he set out to build one for her.

He had no industrial digger. He had a chisel and a hammer. Each step had to be hand carved from the hard rock. Liu didn't falter. Every day, he returned from the fields and took out his tools. A block at a time, the staircase formed down the mountain. Another foot made safe for Xu.

Liu worked on his staircase for fifty years. That's how long it took to painstakingly chisel over 6,000 steps, leading from their cave to the valley below. He never complained. He was doing it for his beloved.

Photographs and Dramatisation of Liu and Xu

Watch from 2.29 for the images to begin. There are slides before them telling this story in Spanish.

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Discovery! From Isolation into the Spotlight of the Media

Elderly and still hiding, the couple eventually came to the attention of the rest of China.

For half a century, Liu and Xu remained hidden in their cave home. No-one even suspected they were there. The wilderness was so huge that even the staircase had existed unnoticed by those in the valley below.

There are conflicting stories about what happened next. Some say that it was a team of timber surveyors; others that it was adventurers, trekking across largely unexplored areas of the mountain. Either way, the result was the same. A group of men hiking through the forest came across the elderly couple and their now adult children.

Their story was out and it wasn't long before journalists were beating a path up the staircase to meet them. No-one was sneering at them now. Nobody was dismissing Liu's feelings as puppy love, nor Xu as someone after the easy life. She was now eighty years old and still holding the hand of her seventy year old husband. They were as deeply in love, as they had been when they'd defied social convention all those decades ago.

It was a romance which captured the hearts of the Chinese, as the tale spread throughout the media. They were offered a home back in the village below, but the couple refused. They wanted to remain in their cave, though they were relieved that the censure was over.

Officials bowed to public pressure and vowed to install electricity in their home. It was agreed that Liu would not get into trouble for carving his 'ladder of love' into the mountainside. The staircase and the cave would be preserved as a testimony to their struggles.

The readers of Chinese Women Weekly voted this into the top ten of the greatest love stories to come out of China. Liu and Xu had gone full circle. From village pariahs, fleeing from opposition to their marriage, they were now being held up as one of the greatest examples of love in the country.

Unfortunately, there was a sad coda. One day Xu was entertaining reporters in her home, when Liu returned from work. He told her that he didn't feel well, then collapsed into her arms. He was dead by the time he hit the floor. Xu clung to him, screaming, and held him for hours. Her Liu was gone.

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Updated: 04/16/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/16/2013

Part-timers. I've already done a day's work writing, and you're only just getting up with your good mornings. Tsh. Tsh. :p

I didn't post this to Reddit, but I certainly knew about it when somebody did. This is the one that got tens of thousands of hits overnight. I haven't seen the comments over there. I should go and check them out.

Nothing wrong with a bit of controversy, if it gets people thinking and debating. :D

(PS Thanks!)

cmoneyspinner on 11/16/2013

Hey Jo! Good morning! It's Saturday!

Found this link because you submitted it to Reddit a year ago. I'm a sucker for a love story. But I also enjoy being amused. Compared the comments to this article here at Wizzley to the comments at Reddit? The Wizzley-ites versus the Reddit-ians? The Reds would skin us alive!! The Wizzlers are way too meek and mild.

Don't get tangled up in commenting over at Reddit. It is not for the faint of heart. Funny thing is, I think the Reddit group was actually trying to be tame and civil, and restrain themselves from devouring. Rawwrrrr! (O.o)

It's so like you to go around the web stirring up controversy Jo! :)

(P.S. You'll notice I made my comments here and not at Reddit.)

JoHarrington on 09/19/2012

It's great, isn't it? Stuff like this makes me actually take an interest in romance!

Mira on 09/19/2012

What a story! It gave me chills.

JoHarrington on 09/17/2012

Dustytoes - You're welcome. Thank you for reading it! And I agree. It is a beautiful love story.

2uesday - I love how you put that. Yes, 6000 examples of his devotion indeed.

dustytoes on 09/17/2012

This really is an amazing love story. Thanks for providing the wonderful pictures to accompany it.

JoHarrington on 09/17/2012

It's my understanding that they did have some interaction with society while growing up. They'd come off the mountain for certain things, like Liu's job or market shopping.

As adults, the children each came down to take jobs themselves.

Sheri_Oz on 09/17/2012

This is a wonderfully told story. What I am wondering is: what happened to the kids? They grew up isolated from society.

JoHarrington on 09/16/2012

Ragtimelil - You and me both, but this one even cracked my hard-faced exterior!

JoHarrington on 09/16/2012

Thank you very much. The ending to this one did leave me with tears in my eyes.

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