Today is Valentine’s Day. But not the Western one, rather, it’s the Chinese Valentine’s Day, or qixi.
The Qixi Festival, sometimes called the Double Seventh Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month (it falls on August 28 this year). “Seven” is qi in Chinese, and xi means “night” in ancient Chinese, so qixi means the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month. It is a traditional Chinese festival full of romance.
But qixi wasn’t a festival for lovers from the very beginning. In old days, Qixi was more of a festival for girls, and it was also known as the Qiqiao Festival (“Begging for Skills Festival”) or “Daughters’ Festival”. At that time, girls always wanted to learn good domestic skills as it was essential for their future family. Zhinü, the Goddess’s seventh daughter, also known as the weaver maid, was very good at weaving. So, qixi was initially a time for unmarried girls to beg Zhinü for wisdom and dexterity in needlework. Not only hoping for these skills, they also pray for a good husband. Later, an old romantic legend emerged, concerning two lovers, Niulang (a cowherd) and Zhinü.
The story goes that Zhinü fell in love with Niulang, and ran away to live with him. After their marriage, they gave birth to a boy and a girl, and lived a happy life with Niulang working on the farmland while Zhinü looking after kids and making clothes at home. It was the ideal model family from the perspective of traditional Chinese people. However, Zhinü’s mother was furious about their marriage, as gods and humans were not allowed to live together. So she created the Milky Way to separate the couple. Fortunately, though, a flock of magpies was moved by the couple’s love and decided that they should form a bridge across the Milky Way to help them reunite every year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. So qixi is also the day when Niulang and Zhinü reunite. Sadly, they can only see each other once a year. The Chinese people believe that the star Vega, east of the Milky Way, is Zhinü and, at the constellation of Aquila, on the western side of the Milky Way, Niulang waits for his wife.
The legend of Niulang and Zhinü has been passed down from generation to generation. Nowadays, Qixi has been promoted as China’s answer to St. Valentine’s Day, though its original message has more to do with family values than love and passion. The story of the cowherd and the weaver maid is not about how to get married, but instead how to hold a family together. Even though the legend is colored with tragedy, it otherwise represents the ultimate devotion and pursuit of love. Recently many people have shown enthusiasm for Qixi, and are celebrating it anew, indicating the revival of Chinese traditions and customs.
Happy Chinese Valentine’s Day!