Episode 21: Chinese Valentine’s Day

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It’s around the Valentine’s Festival and I am in the mood of telling more love stories recently. I know Valentine’s Day is a western festival, however, there is Chinese Valentine’s Day too. It is on the 7th day of the seventh month in lunar calendar. We call it QiXi Festival七夕节 which means the seventh night festival or QiQiao Festival 乞巧节which means the begging for being clever festival. Being clever doesn’t mean having a high IQ here. This festival was actually a day for girls begging to be good at crafting like weaving. This tradition can be dated to Han Dynasty 汉代 , which was tween 206 BC to 220 AD. Traditionally, on this night, girls would get together at night like a girl’s night and do some DIY like weaving, threading and crafty and make food to show and worship to ZhiNv 织女, who is our main character in the love story. ZhiNv means the Weaver Girl. There are a lot of variations of the story. The earliest reference dated back to a poem in ShiJing 诗经,back to 2600 years ago.

In the book QiYueLing 七月令, it says ZhiNv lived in the east of the Heaven River and she was the daughter of the Emperor of the heaven. She was a master of weaving and worked really hard day and night. Her father the Emperor thought she had been alone for too long and married her to NiuNang 牛郎 in HeXi 河西. NiuNang was not a deity but a normal guy cause NiuNang basically means cowherd. Yes he was a cowherd and a farmer. However, since they really loved each other and had a lot of fun, both of them abandoned their work. The emperor got raged and separated them only allowing them to date once a year, which became the same day of QiXi Festival now. A Chinese Romeo and Juliet story.

In the folktale version, it was more dramatic and related with astrology. ZhiNv was the granddaughter of WangMuNiangNiang王母娘娘, which is the most powerful goddess in Chinese mythology and we will talk about her in our future episodes. It says ZhiNv and other young goddess liked to take showers in the river Beautiful young ladies taking showers is definitely what people like to add in a story right? NiuNang, the cowherd was a poor orphan who was mistreated by his brother and brother in law. One day he was kicked out of the house with only an old cow. As told by the cow, yes , the cow could talk for some reason, NiuNang should go to the river to steal ZhiNv’s clothes when she was showering. Since he stole the clothes, ZhiNv couldn’t go back and got to be his wife. I know this part sounds ridiculous today cause it is totally a sexual harassment like a lot Greek mythology too. But anyways, they turned to love each other really much and had a boy and a girl until the Heaven Emperor found out and brought ZhiNv back to the heaven leaving NiuNang and the kids on the earth. They were both so devastated. WangMuNiangNiang separated them with her head pin which became the Milky Way. Every year on the 7th day of 7th month, the family reunite on the bridge formed by the birds magpies.

鹊桥

ZhiNv symbolized the star Vega and NiuNang symbolized the star Altair. Vega is a blue super giant and Altair is a red super giant. Vega is also mentioned in Contact by Carl Sagan who was inspired this story. Today I don’t think young girls still worship ZhiNv cause weaving is not women’s main job now and instead they might go on dates like the Valentine’s Day in the west. People still talk about Vega and Altair and try to find the starts in the sky since they are super bright and close to each other on the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Mentioned:

织女 ZhiNv

牛郎 NiuNang

七夕节 QiXi Festival

乞巧节 QiQiao Festival

诗经 ShiJing

七月令 QiYueLing

王母娘娘 WangMuNiangNiang

Vega and Altair

Contact by Carl Sagan

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