Bi Yi Niao, also known as Jian Jian (鹣鹣 jiān jiān) and Man Man (蛮蛮 mán mán), are one of the most popular and well known birds in Chinese mythology. They represent love, the union of two halves to form a whole. 

On Chongwu Mountain (崇吾山 chóng wú shān) there lives a bird called Bi Yi Niao. They are shapped like a pheasant, have cyan feathers with a touch of red, and each has only one eye and one wing. They have to join together with a mate in order to "become one" and fly.

I Will Not Die Until You Reach the Yellow River

A long time ago there was a small village near the Yellow River (黄河 huáng hé). And in that village there lived a little boy called, Liu Sheng (柳生 liǔ shēng), his family was very poor. Every day, after finishing his chores, he would go to the forest behind their house to listen to the birds chirping and singing. After a while, he was able to differentiate the sounds made by each type of bird, and after a while still, he was able to mimic their sounds, too. In the end, he got so good at mimicking their sounds that not even the birds could tell the difference anymore. He would call and they would come, and they would play happily together in the forest for hours on end.

With time, Liu Sheng grew up and before he knew it he was about to turn 16. That year, his mother fell seriously ill due to years of hard labour and was bedridden. Since he was all she had, he had no choice but to sell himself to the Huang household (黄家 huáng jiā) in a nearby village to work their land in return for money to pay for his mother’s medicine.

Bi Yi Niao 比翼鸟 (bǐ yì niǎo)
Status: Rare Beast
Gender: Male and Female
Pronunciation: (audio file coming soon)
Best known for: Having only one wing

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After entering the Huang household, Liu Sheng noticed that his new master had a beautiful young daughter, her name was Huang Ying (黄莺 huáng yīng). Huang Ying reared all kinds of birds, and it became clear rather quickly that she favoured one particular bird over all the others - a golden canary. 

Whenever the golden canary sung, Huang Ying would be completely captivated by it. Liu Sheng watched her from afar as she cared for her birds and soon realised that he had fallen deeply in love with her. Sadly, Liu Sheng was more than aware of his role in the Huang household, he knew in his heart that Huang Ying would never have eyes for him, so he pushed his feelings for her deep down into his heart, and told himself not to have such dreams.  

2 years later, Liu Sheng's mother passed away. He grieved for her as he continued to tend the land at the Huang household, and was absolutely inconsolable. Or so he thought. One day, in the distance, he heard Huang Ying laugh. The sound soothed his heart through and through, and the feelings he had for her, that he tried so hard to surpress, came rushing out. He imagined this is how Huang Ying must feel when she listened to her golden canary sing. 

But in the last 2 years, Huang Ying had never even looked at Liu Sheng, nor did she seem to care for how well he took care of their crops and flowers. It was clear to him that in her heart, she only cared for her golden canary. 

But all canaries, despite how well they are taken care of, have a limited life span. In time, the golden canary passed away, and now it was Huang Ying who was inconsolable. She cried for days on end. Her father bought her a new canary but it didn't work. It seemed like nothing would ever make her smile or laugh again. 

Seeing how much pain she was going through broke Liu Sheng's heart. He decided to learn the golden canary's song to try and cheer her up. Once he mastered it, he stood beneath her chamber window and began to sing. 

Huang Ying sat in silence and listened intently for a while before rushing to the window hoping to see her beloved golden canary again. Had it come back to her through reincarnation? Did it miss her as much as she did it? When she reached the window and realised that the sound was coming from Liu Sheng's mouth she was greatly disappointed. And curious.

She asked Liu Sheng to teach her and he naturally agreed. He told her this wasn't something you could simply learn over night, that it would take time for her to master, and then began to sing for her the songs of a thousand birds that he had learnt since he was a child. As he sung, hundreds of birds flew to him and joined in. In that moment, she fell for him as he had already fallen for her. 

For a long time they hid their relationship from her parents. However, once her parents found out, Liu Sheng was beaten to within an inch of his life and dragged away to be thrown in the Yellow River.

When she heard what her father was doing, Huang Ying’s blood boiled and her heart pounded with rage, a pool of blood spewed from her mouth and she dropped down dead. In that moment, a beautiful bird with only one wing emerged from her heart and without making a sound made its way toward the Yellow River. Since it only had one wing, it could not fly, onlookers followed as this curious and beautiful bird made its way through the village. Despite not being able to fly, the bird moved fast and reached the Yellow River just in time to see Liu Sheng about to be thrown in. As he looked over and saw the bird he took his final breath and closed his eyes.

As his lifeless body hit the water and began to sink, a beautiful bird with only one wing emerged from his heart and leapt over to the other. The two birds merged together and now, with two wings, they flew up into the sky and sang such a beautiful song that all watching were completely mesmerised by it.

It is said that the bird that made no sound was borne of Huang Ying’s love for Liu Sheng, and that the bird that could sing was borne of Liu Sheng’s love for Huang Ying. Their love for one another was so powerful that in death they transformed into birds that are now known as Bi Yi Niao, so that they could be together once more.

The title of this story, “[I] Will Not Die Until [You] Reach the Yellow River” (不到黄河心不死 bù dào huáng hé xīn bù sǐ) is now used as a metaphor for when you have your mind set on doing something, especially when you are adamant your mind cannot be changed.