The traditional China's Valentine's Day which falls on July 7th on the lunar calendar, also known as Qixi festival or Double Seventh Festival, originated from a beautiful and one of the the most popular romantic legends in China - Cowherd and Weaving Maid or The Legend Of Love.
Cowherd and Weaving Maid
Long, long time ago, there was an honest, diligent and kind-hearted Chinese boy named Cowherd (niu lang, 牛郎). He lost his parents at an early age. Later he was driven out of his home by his brother and sister-in-law. The mean couple took everything that Cowherd's parents left to him except for an old ox and a broken cart.
Cowherd had to live with the old ox. They built a small shed and opened up wasteland. Poor as he was, the boy did his best to take care of his animal friend, and the latter was very loyal to him and relieved the boy of hard labor in the fields. The two were inseparable and had a very good relationship. After two years hard work, their life started changing for the better.
One thing the boy did not know was that the old ox used to be the Ox Star, sent to earth as a punishment. but it still had the power to know things in the heavenly kingdom. One evening, as the two friends were sitting on the grassy bank of a beautiful creek, the ox suddenly talked.
Master, I know you are lonely. You need to take a wife. the buffalo said.
Surprised and a little scared, Cowherd stared at the old ox who continued his talking. Master, I can help you find a loving and beautiful wife.
What the ox said stirred the heart of the boy who was really lonely. He could not help asking: How?
Tomorrow night, the ox said, seven Weaving Maids from the heavenly Kingdom will swim in this creek. They are the daughters of the Jade Emperor and the empress of Heavenly Kingdom. Everyday they use magic looms to weave beautiful clouds and rainbows. Neither their beauty nor their weaving skills has match. When they swim, their robe will be left on the bank. You hide in a bush and steal the red robe. Without robe, these fairies are unable to fly. You can ask the one who remains on Earth to be your wife.
So, the next evening, Cowherd hid in a bush as was told. After a while, he heard laughter and splashing. He sneaked out, stole the red robe and hid again. When it was time to leave, all the Weaving Maids but the youngest and also the fairest one put on their robes and flew back to the heavenly kingdom.
The Weaving Maid, deprived of her robe, stood on the riverbank and tried to cover herself with her hair as best as possible. Cowherd stepped out, returned her robe and apologized for his abruptness, and then the boy sincerely asked her to be his wife. This unexpected propose made the fairy very embarrassed, but looking at the boy's kind and handsome face, the fairy, the princess of Heavenly Kingdom, tired of the privileged but boring and secluded life at the palace, longed for love and her own happiness, agreed to his request and married this mortal boy.
Cowherd and the Weaving Maid lived happily together. Cowherd farmed in the field and the Weaving Maid wove at home. Their life was busy but full of happiness. Three years later, they had a boy and a girl.
But one day, the old ox was sick and refused to take any medicine. It said to his old friend: I am dying. After I die, you must keep my hide. Something bad will happen in the future. You need to use it. Then it died. Reluctantly, the sad couple did what was told though, and began to worry about their future.
Cowboy Weaver meet Bridge
In the Heavenly Kingdom, the other Weaving Maids exert themselves to conceal their little sister's secret, however, none of them had the weaving gift like her. Three days later (according to Chinese myth, the Heavenly Kingdom has different time from Earth. One Heavenly day is equal to a year on Earth), their mother, the empress of Heavenly Kingdom, noticed that the clouds, once shades of golden pink and silver blue, now were dull and gray, while the colorful rainbows lost their shine. She flew into a rage, not because the Weaving Maid abandoned her duty, but because her daughter married a mortal man.
She flew into the Weaving Maid's house with soldiers. Mad with fury, the Celestial Empress gave her daughter two choices: return to the palace or witness the destruction of her husband and offspring. The Weaving Maid had no choice but to return. The soldiers took her away, leaving her children crying on the ground.
When Cowherd was back from his work, seeing his beloved wife flying back to the heaven, he realized that his animal friend's prophecy fulfilled again. He placed his young son and daughter in two baskets carried by a yolk and grabbed the ox-hide hanging on the wall which turned into clouds and sailed them off to key.
At the time when Cowherd was about to catch up with his wife, the Celestial Empress saw him. She cried out angrily: How dare you chase us! A mortal must not enter the Heavenly Kingdom!. But she did not want to hurt her grant children. So she did not kill them, which was very easy for her, instead, she took off one of her gold hairpins and made a stroke which instantly turned into a heavenly river, known to the Chinese as the Silvery River (the Milky Way in the West), and it flowed forth between the Weaving Maid and the pursuing Cowherd.
The Legend Of Love on Stage
Looking at each others, the Weaving Maid, Cowherd and their children cried piteously on the opposite banks. Their tears, which fell down to Earth, created heavy rain. The children's cries Mom! Mom... shook the Heavenly Palace and every gods' hearts, including their grandmother's. But this stubborn old fairy still insisted on the Heavenly Law - a fairy must not marry a mortal. Neglecting the plea of her daughter and other gods, she ordered soldiers to force Cowherd and his children back to Earth. At the critical moment, a flock of magpies, deeply moved by this tragedy, flew together to build a magic bridge with their bodies over the Heavenly river. The family got reunited.
The touching scene became the last straw. The celestial empress relented. She ascended Cowherd and his children to heaven as stars and allowed them to meet the Weaving Maid for one night every year, on the 7th night of the 7th lunar month. On that day each year, magpies voluntarily build the magic bridge over the Milky Way, and the Weaving Maid and Cowherd reunite in the middle.
On Earth, moved by the loyalty to love of Cowherd and the Weaving Maid, people began to celebrate love on that day. They believed that every year, on the 7th night of the 7th lunar month, sitting under grape trellis, if you listened carefully, you would hear Cowherd and the Weaving Maid pouring out their love.
The festival celebrated on this day is also one where young girls pray to the Weaving Maid to give them skills in embroidery and spinning.
As one of the most famous love stories, Cowherd and Weaving Maid moved numberless Chinese from generation to generation.
Scholars have shown the Double Seventh Festival originated from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220). Historical documents from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD371-420) mention the festival, while records from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) depict the grand evening banquet of Emperor Taizong and his concubines. By the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, special articles for the Qi Xi were seen being sold on markets in the capital.
Today some traditional customs are still observed in rural areas of China, but have been weakened or diluted in urban cities. However, the legend of the Cowherd and Weaving Maid has taken root in the hearts of Chinese. In recent years, in particular, urban youths have celebrated it as Valentine's Day in China.
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