七夕節快樂! (Qīxì jié kuàilè) Happy Qixi Festival!

We hope you all have a lovely 七夕節 (Qīxì jié)!

七夕節 (Qīxì jié), also known as 乞巧節 (Qǐqiǎo jié), falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The festival celebrates the love story of the cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) and the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ). The myth of the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid 牛郎與織女 (niú láng yú zhī nǚ) is considered one of the Four Classic Chinese Folktales.  

The story begins in heaven where the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) (also known as the star Vega) and the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) (also known as the star Altair) were both heavenly stars. They fell deeply in love with each other. However, this love was forbidden and when the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) found out she was furious, banishing the Cowherd star down to earth as an immortal. The Weaving Maid, her granddaughter, was made to weave continuously with celestial silk to form the clouds in the sky. 

On earth, the Cowherd star was reborn into a farming family. However, his parents died when he was still young, leaving him to his older brother and brother's wife who sent him away with only an old ox. The Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) and his ox thus made their own way in the world with just each other for company.

One day a group of celestial maidens asked the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) permission to visit a lake in the mortal realm called Bilian Lake 碧蓮池 (bìlián chí). Being in a good mood, the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) granted them permission to go. Feeling sorry for the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ), they beseeched the Queen Mother to allow the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) to go as well. The Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) reluctantly agreed.

On the same day, the old ox, who was actually the Golden Ox Star 金牛星 (Jīn niú xīng), suddenly spoke, shocking the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) who had never previously heard him speak before. The old ox told the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng), "You must go to Bilian Lake 碧蓮池 (bìlián chí) today. There you will find the clothes of some celestial maidens by the rocks. As they are swimming in the lake you must take the red one and hide it somewhere. The owner of the clothes will agree to become your wife."

Once the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) got over his shock, he did as the ox ordered and nabbed the red garment from the pile of clothes by the rocks. The celestial maidens, seeing the human, hastily threw on their clothes and fled in fright back to their celestial home. Only one celestial maiden was left, the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ). The Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) approached the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) and asked her to be his wife in exchange for her dress. Upon seeing the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng), she recognized him as the Cowherd Star whom she was still deeply in love with. Thus, she happily agreed to marry him.

The Celestial Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) and the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) were thus happily married for quite some time. In time they had two children, one son and one daughter. 

Alas, their happiness did not last forever. The old ox passed away one day. Before it died the ox told the Cowherd to keep his hide, that it would allow the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) to fly into the sky. Sadly they buried the ox and did as the ox said. 

In the meantime, the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) discovered that the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) had married the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) and remained on earth. She immediately ordered the celestial guards to to bring the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) back from the mortal world. The celestial guards stormed in and grabbed the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ). She could do nothing but go with them. The Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) remembering the Ox's words immediately grabbed their two children and followed them. As he began to catch up with the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ), the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) appeared and with a wave of her hairpin created an impenetrable river (the Milky Way) between the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) and the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) and their children. They were forced to gaze helplessly across the Milky Way 銀河 (yínhé) at each other. Stricken with grief, they cried without abate. Eventually the gods were touched by their sorrow and finally even the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) felt for the lovers. 

Moved by their love, the Queen Mother of the West 王母 (Wáng Mǔ) consented to allow them to reunite once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. On this day magpies would fly to form a bridge across the Milky Way 銀河 (yínhé) to allow the Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) and the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) (and the two children) to reunite for the day.

To this day we can see the river as the Milky Way and Weaving Maid 織女 (zhīnǚ) as Vega and the Cowherd 牛郎 (niúláng) as Altair in the sky. 

Niulang and Zhinv (Long Corridor).JPG
"Niulang and Zhinv (Long Corridor)" by shizhao (talk)拍摄,画者不明 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The tale has be referred to in many literary works across time for example:

杜牧 (Dù Mù):

秋夕

銀燭秋光冷畫屏,

輕羅小扇撲流螢。

天階夜色涼如水,

臥看牛郎織女星。

秦觀 (Qín Guān):

鵲橋仙

纖雲弄巧,飛星傳恨。銀漢迢迢暗度。金風玉露一相逢,便勝卻、人間無數。柔情似水,佳期如夢,忍顧鵲橋歸路。兩情若是久長時,又豈在、朝朝暮暮。