A Hong Niang is a generous person who sets up a romance between young man and young women. The role is similar with that of a traditional matchmaker since they both play an "in between role" in a love relationship, but they are not the same. Some may earn money as a matchmaker, while a Hong Niang generally makes the match with nonprofit purposes.
Historically, Hong Niang was a literary character who appeared in Romance of the Western Chamber by Wang Shifu during Yuan Dynasty. Although it is credited as Wang Shifu, the story was not only created by him, but is also a development from Ying Ying, a Tang dynasty novel in classical Chinese. It is in this version that the author created a vivid Hong Niang character.
It is a love story between a young scholar and the governor's daughter. Hong Niang was the servant girl of the governor's daughter, Cui Yingying. The young scholar, Zhang Sheng met Cui Yingying on his way to the highest imperial examination and they fell in love together. Zhang was from a poor family and failed to meet the standard of Cui's mother, hence she strongly objected to their love. In order to have a chance to see Cui, Zhang slept over at the western chamber where he was only separated from Cui's house by a wall. A traitorous general had been watching Cui and intended to force her to marry him. Cui's mother promised that she will let her daughter marry the man who can save them from this. Even though Zhang sought the aid of his friend, Cui's mother broke her promise after Zhang rescued them, which made the couple's lovesickness worse every day. Hong Niang sympathised with the couple and secretly arranged their meetings. Cui played in the backyard garden while Zhang listened on the other side of the wall. Zhang wanted to see Cui so badly that he jumped over the wall.
Despite his best attempts, this made Cui very angry since that this behaviour was considered as offensive public decency in accordance to traditional customs. She claimed that she would never see Zhang again. Zhang was greatly disappointed after hearing this, but Cui eventually forgave him. Still their love was forbidden by Cui's mother and Cui became sick due to the long time lovesickness. Cui's mother however suspected that her daughter had met Zhang secretly and questioned Hong Niang. Hong Niang told the truth, but also confronted Cui's mother about her stubborn nature. As a result, Cui's mother finally gave her consent, only if Zhang can succeed in the highest imperial examination. This story has a happy ending as Zhang won an official rank and married Cui.
From this story, those who are warmhearted and kind enough to help two people get together are regarded as Hong Niang. Both men and women can be Hong Niang.