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Man hand-carved 6,000 stairs up a mountain for beloved wife

269 views / published on 02 Nov 2012

56 years ago, a man fell in love with a widow 10 years his senior. So in love with her that he specially hand-carved some 6,000 steps to ensure she travel up and down the mountain safely. Today, the stairs are famously known as “the love ladder” to commemorate their legendary love.

Spending half a century with each other in deep mountain
Over half a century ago in Chongqing, China, Liu Guo-jiang fell in love with widow Xu Zhao-qing who was much older than him. To avoid gossips centred on their relationship, which was a taboo at that time, the couple eloped and lived in a mountain for several decades.

Liu died of an illness in 2007 and on October 30 this year, Xu passed away at the old age of 87. The couple was well-known across China because of their love story.

Even though their children had moved out from the mountain or started their families elsewhere, the couple chose to stay at the mountainous area. She would call him “young lad” while he addressed her as “mummy”.

Their incredible love story had since caused a stir in the society. It was picked in 2006 as one of the “Top 10 Love Stories from China” as the couple also made the list of “Top 10 persons who have touched Chongqing”.

Love story made into movie
A group of adventurers, at their surprise, found the elderly couple when they were exploring the forest in 2001. The couple was thought to be “cavemen” then.

In 2010 when the shooting of “Love Ladder” began, actress Xie Lan who carried the role of Xu visited the elderly woman in a remote area Jiangjin County, Chongqing. Xu was 85 years old then. “She is smart, pretty and alert. She even feeds the chicken on her own,” Xie said. Xu also invited Xie to sing along with her a folk song taught by the “young lad”. According to Xie, she learned what happiness was after knowing the couple’s story of love.

Vowing to marry a woman like Xu after growing up
One day in June 1942, six-year-old Liu were catching crickets outside his home when he was captivated by the loud sound of the horns. Apparently, a beautiful lady was to be married into the wealthy Wu family. Liu and his peers were following the bride to the Wu residence.

Just a few days back, Liu knocked off his front tooth. There was this custom in the village claiming that kids missing a front tooth could have one growing back if their mouths were touched by a bride. Therefore, Liu was even more eager to meet the bride.

When the bride gently put her finger into Liu’s mouth, a drop of saliva escaped from it. Worried that others might laugh at him, he nervously tried to suck in the saliva but he ended up biting her hand. The bride, as beautiful as a fairy, stared at him with a hint of anger in her eyes. Liu remained idle long after the bride had continued her journey.

When villagers jokingly asked what kind of girl he wanted to marry in future, he would answer in a serious tone: “Someone like Xu!”

The bride was none other than Xu. She had left a deep impression in the mind of Liu. Growing up, Liu would watch the loving Wu couple without being noticed. The couple was blessed with several children.

The courage to love
After a decade, Xu’s husband died of acute meningitis, making her a widow with four children in tow. The oldest was nine and the youngest was only one year old at that time.

“We plunged into hardship as nobody cared to extend help. When we were out of food, I would carry the baby on my back and look for food (edible mushrooms) in the mountain. We were so poor that we couldn’t afford to buy salt that cost only 3 cents for 600g. To make a living, I made straw sandals and sold each pair for 5 cent. I didn’t know how we manage to survive…… The young lad shouldered the entire burden afterwards,” Xu said.

16-year-old Liu was aware of her predicament. He was eager to help but feared being rejected by her and became a laughing stock to others. Moreover, he didn’t know how he should start helping her.

One day, Xu was carrying her youngest child on her back when she tried to collect water from a river. She accidentally fell into it and upon learning about the incident, Xu rushed to the river and successfully saved the mother and child. That was the first time he truly looked at Xu in the eyes.

Liu sent them home and thought of preparing dinner for the four children but there wasn’t any water left in the house. In the dark, he helped to collect water from the river and cooked porridge for the family. Seeing a very helpful Liu had deeply touched her heart.

Since that day, Liu would regularly take the initiative to help Xu with her chores. This went on for three years and their relationship started to draw gossips which eventually spread to the entire village.

In August 1956, Liu tried to talk to Xu on a street but she told him not to visit her home that often anymore because “widow can easily attract gossips”. Later that night, Liu expressed his intention to marry her. The decision brought her to tears. “I really mean what I say,” Liu told her. While hugging each other, they cried together.

The following day, Liu, along with Xu and her four children, seemed to vanish into thin air. They moved into the mountain.

Raising 7 kids in mountain
They soon ran out of food. Liu had to fish in the river while Xu looked for wild vegetables in the forest. They also collected wild walnuts and dates. One day, Liu stumbled upon a beehive on a tree and since then, he started to raise bees and produce honey for sale in much of his life.

They also grew potatoes, sweet potatoes and corns. Unfortunately, their crops nearing harvest were destroyed by a troop of monkeys one day.

In June 1957, a storm damaged the roof of their hut and the family moved to the highest cave in the mountain, which eventually became their temporary shelter. Six of them stayed in the cave for two days and nights.

Downpour and strong wind, however, were not something that they feared the most but wild beasts that roamed the mountain were. “We heard the roars of tigers at night on many occasions. They were loud and even sent the ground shaking,” she said. Crying, Xu told her husband that she wished to have one solid house with roof tiles.

The next morning, the entire family walked for 2km to collect the mud needed to make tiles. Liu himself would bake the tiles and the tasks turned into their routine for one year.

“My youngest child from previous marriage died at five. Liu and I had another four and all of them were delivered with him playing the role of a midwife,” she said, adding that they managed to raise all their children by feeding them wild vegetables and meat of wild animals.

For half a century, they were not totally disconnected from the world, thought. They would still visit the nearest market by making a four-hour journey down the mountain. They sent their children to school and witnessed their marriage too. After all of their children started their own families and moved away from the mountain, the elderly couple seldom traveled beyond the mountain. One of their sons would instead bring them all the things that they needed.

From young lad to old man
The young lad eventually became an old man. For half a century, he had been making hand-carved steps for his wife so that she wouldn’t take a tumble when making her way down the mountain. In the process, he used and damaged more than 20 chisels.

“He said the stairs would provide me with great convenience once completed but seeing him working hard to build them broke my heart. In fact, I only got down from the mountain a few times,” Xu said.

So, who would handle the household chores? “I won’t allow her to do heavy work because she is older than I am. I’m the one who collect water for foot-washing purpose,” Liu told reporter years ago.


Relatives of the couple mourn the death of Xu

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