Raise your head on August 4 and gaze
at the stars, you will find something romantic going on in the sky.
VALENTINE'S Day in China, the seventh day of
the seventh lunar month, falls on August 4 this year.
That is, on Monday evening, Niu Lang and Zhi
Nu will meet on a bridge of magpies（鹊桥） across the Milky Way（银河）.
Chinese grannies will remind children that they would not be able to
see any magpies on that evening because all the magpies have left to
form a bridge in the heavens with their wings.
The legend has been handed down for nearly 2
millennia. The story has been recorded as far back as the Jin
Dynasty (256-420 AD). Poets composed hundreds of verses on the love
story and many types of Chinese opera tell the story.
The Chinese people believe that the star
Vega（织女星）, east of the Milky Way, is Zhi Nu and, at the
constellation of Aquila（天鹰座）, on the western side of the Milky Way,
Niu Lang waits for his wife.
Zhi Nu was said to be the youngest of seven
daughters of the Queen of Heaven. With her sisters, she worked hard
to weave beautiful clouds in the sky, while Niu Lang was a poor
orphan cowherd, driven out of his home by his elder brother and his
Niu Lang lamented over his lonely and poor
life with an old cow, his only friend and companion. The magical cow
kindly told him of a way to find a beautiful and nice woman as his
Under the direction of the cow, Niu Lang
went to the riverside on an evening, where the seven fairies slipped
out of their heavenly palace to bathe.
He took one of the beautiful silk dresses
the fairies had left on the bank. When the fairies left the water,
the youngest couldn't find her clothes and had to see her sisters
fly back to heaven without her.
Then Niu Lang came out with the dress and
asked the youngest fairy, Zhi Nu, to stay with him.
Several years passed on Earth, which were
only a few days in heaven. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu lived happily
together and had two children before the Queen of Heaven discovered
Zhi Nu's absence.
She was so annoyed she had Zhi Nu brought
back to heaven. Seeing his beloved wife flying in the sky, Niu Lang
was terrified. He caught sight of the cowhide hanging on a wall. The
magical cow had told him before dying of old age: "Keep the
cowhide（牛皮） for emergency use."
Putting the cowhide on, he went after his
wife with his two children.
With the help of the cowhide, Niu Lang was
able to follow Zhi Nu into heaven. He was about to reach his wife
when the Queen showed up and pulled off her hairpin to draw a line
between the two. The line became the Silver River in heaven, or the
Zhi Nu went back to the heavenly workshop,
going on weaving the clouds. But she was so sad, and missed her
husband across the Silver River so much that the clouds she weaved
seemed sad. Finally, the Queen showed a little mercy, allowing the
couple to meet once every year on the Silver River.
One of the most famous poems about the
legend was written by Qin Guan of in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Fairy Of The Magpie Bridge
Among the beautiful clouds,
the heavenly river,
Crosses the weaving maiden.
A night of rendezvous,
Surpasses joy on earth.
tender love and dream,
So sad to leave the magpie bridge.
Eternal love between us two,
withstand the time apart.
(Translated by Kylie Hsu)
Compared with love
stories in Western legends, the story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu
seems not as intense or passionate. Love doesn't kill or break up
the barrier between them. They just wait patiently on the riverbank,
believing that their love can withstand their time apart.
It is faith and emotional liaison instead of
physical attraction and desire that is emphasized in the story as
well as in many other Chinese folktales（民间故事） about love.
In only a few Chinese folk love stories can
be found a description of the physical appearances of the hero and
In the "Butterfly Lovers", the heroine,
dressed as a boy to attend school, falls in love with a classmate.
After they have lived together as classmates for years, the hero did
not have the slightest clue that his best friend is actually a girl!
The seventh day of the seventh lunar month
is the only Chinese festival devoted to love in the Lunar calendar.
Unlike St. Valentine's Day in Western
countries there is not so much emphasis on giving chocolates,
flowers and kisses. Instead, Chinese girls prepare fruits, melons
and incense（熏香） as offerings to Zhi Nu, the weaving maiden, praying
to acquire high skills in needlecraft（裁缝）, as well as hoping to find
In the evening, people sit outdoors to
observe the stars. Chinese grannies would say that, if you stand
under a grapevine, you can probably overhear what Zhi Nu and Niu
Lang are talking about.