Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Happy Qixi Festival! 七夕节愉快!


Today is the seventh day of the seventh moon of the Chinese lunar calendar. The evening of this day, 七夕, means ‘seventh evening’. There are many other names for this day, many ways to celebrate it, and many stories behind it, but the most famous story is ‘The Cowherd and The Weaver’, which is shown in the picture above (from www.zhymw.com.cn).

The Cowherd 牛郎 was a mortal human boy who, as his name suggests, herded bovines for a living. The Weaver 织女 was one of the daughters of The Emperor and Empress of Heaven. This being Chinese Heaven, The Weaver had to work for a living, too. Her job was to weave coloured clouds in the sky.  But she didn’t mind, because she was brilliant at it.

One day, The Weaver and her sisters went to bathe in a pool on Earth, and they flew there from Heaven after wearing feather dresses that turned them into birds.

The Cowherd turned Peeping Tom. Being a typical bloke of the times (this story is ancient), he watched the Heavenly Princesses as they bathed, and stole one of the feather dresses. All the Princesses grabbed their dresses and flew away, except for The Weaver, who couldn’t escape because The Cowherd had her dress. She and The Cowherd fell in love, married, and had children.

I was then told two versions of What Happened Next. In Version One, the Empress of Heaven wasn’t pleased that her new son-in-law was a cowherd, a mortal and a human. In Version Two, The Empress of  Heaven approved of her new son-in-law, but got upset that her daughter spent too much time on her husband and children. Either way, The Weaver wasn’t weaving anymore, and as a result of this, the Empress sent Heavenly Soldiers to take The Weaver back to Heaven.

The Cowherd happened to have an old water buffalo who knew how to get to Heaven (in Chinese myths, old animals are smarter than humans), and who, after taking The Cowherd and his children on his back, ran after the Heavenly Soldiers. But the Empress of Heaven was prepared; she took off a hairpin from her own hair, and drew it across the sky. A river was formed, and as the current was too strong for the old water buffalo to cross, the poor Cowherd and Weaver were left stranded on opposite sides. 

The Cowherd refused to leave, and he and his children sat on the riverbank, while The Weaver gazed at them from the other side. When the Empress of Heaven saw this, she melted slightly, and allowed The Cowherd and The Weaver to meet just once a year. She ordered a flock of magpies to form themselves into a bridge every seventh evening of the seventh moon, and told The Weaver, The Cowherd and their two children to meet on the bridge of magpies for a night.

The family is literally a family of stars. The river that separates them, 天河(’The Heavenly River’), is known as ‘The Milky Way’ in English. The Weaver is known as ‘Vega’, while The Cowherd and his children are known as ‘Alpha, Beta and Gamma Aquilae’.

This story was mentioned in ‘The Karate Kid’ starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, and nowadays, Qixi is known in English as ‘The Chinese Valentine’s Day’. I’m not too sure about that, but hey, the story of The Cowherd and The Weaver does involve a pair of star-crossed lovers, so in way, it is the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

To all the lovers out there, if your Valentine's Day sucked, here's a chance to make up for it, and if you had a great Valentine's Day, here's another one for you to enjoy! Have fun ;-)

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