Chinese Myth Tuesdays: Chinese Valentine's

Edited and with additions from Fuck Yeah Chinese Myths!


Chinese Valentine’s Day (七夕节, qīxījié) falls on the seventh day of the seventh month in the old Chinese lunar calendar, and has been celebrated since the Han dynasty. This year it was on Saturday 2nd August, so date night. Here’s the really awesome story behind it.

Once, there was a cowherd, Niulang (牛郎 Niúláng) who married a beautiful fairy girl, Zhinü (织女 Zhīnǚ, literally “weaver girl”). Zhinü was the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, but she got bored, came down to earth and fell in love with Niulang. In another version, Niulang’s cow talked to him one day, and told him to go to the lake where fairies were bathing, and take the red set of clothes as it belongs to the prettiest one. Niulang did that, and when the other fairies floated up into the sky, Zhinü didn’t, ‘cause she didn’t have her clothes.

Anyway, they married and even had two children. But when the Goddess of Heaven found out what had happened, she forced Zhinü to come back to heaven with her. The cowherd chased after his wife with the help of his magic, um, cow, who made a boat out of its horns (or in another telling is killed and Niulang goes up to Heaven by wearing its pelt).

When the Goddess of Heaven saw he was behind them, she used a hairpin to scratch a celestial river in the sky to separate them, which became the Milky Way (银河 yínhé). Zhinü was stuck on one side and became the star Vega (织女星, zhīnǚxīng). Niulang was on the other side as the star Altair (牵牛星, qiānniúxīng), accompanied by his children, β Aquilae and γ Aquilae, which form the Chinese constellation “River Drum” 河鼓 (Hé Gŭ) inside the Ox super-constellation.

But the story continues that all the magpies in the world saw what was going on, and took pity on the the parted lovers. So once a year, they fly up to heaven and form a bridge (鹊桥 quèqiáo, “the bridge of magpies”) so Niulang and Zhinü can be together for a single night. And so, on the seventh night of the seventh moon, the lovers unite again.

Fuck Yeah Chinese Myths! is a tumblr of Chinese myth, history and culture written by Min Xie.

This is the last post in our July mini-season of Chinese Myth Tuesdays (next month is Cantonese Tuesdays), but the myths will return ...