Opinion / Featured Contributors

History of Chinese Valentine's Day comes alive in Longnan

By Harvey Dzodin ( Updated: 2016-08-09 16:25

History of Chinese Valentine's Day comes alive in Longnan

Longnan girls perform spinning thread on the stage in Longnan city of Gansu province, August 3, 2016.[Photo provided to]

Most Chinese people, some foreigners and all Chinese retailers and restaurateurs know the 7th day of the 7th lunar month is Qixi or Qiqiao, Chinese Valentine’s Day, but few know its ancient romantic origins. Thanks to the Chinese NGO, Cultural Exchange Organization of Presenting China to the World, dedicated to spreading China’s rich heritage far and wide, diplomats and representatives from three continents were able to see history come alive in Gansu Province’s Longnan City to bear witness to a ceremony performed by talented amateur thespians.

The venerable holiday, which this year occurs on August 9th, has its origin in a time so distant that myth, legend and reality inextricably intertwine. One thing is certain, however: Qixi is the most romantic of all Chinese festivals.

As passed down by word-of-mouth from generation to generation the story has several variations but basically recalls the love between handsome Earthbound Cowhand, Niulang and beautiful heavenly fairy, Weaver Maid Zhinv, who excels in needlework. Being from different worlds they couldn’t marry and were separated by a river. Their devotion to love touched the magpies and thousands of them formed an avian bridge enabling the lovers to reunite. Even Heaven was moved, and the couple was permitted to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Hence “Qi Xi” or “Double Seventh”.

In ancient China, Qi Xi was adored by girls, especially those who were unmarried. They offered fruit, flowers, sewing kits and incense to the two lovers and begged the gods for a good marriage. Unlike today, when one can order everything online, sewing and needlework were critical domestic skills.

In feudal society, Qi Xi lasted 7 days and 8 nights. It was one of the only opportunities for girls to leave home and go out in groups to publically exhibit their talent and beauty.

History of Chinese Valentine's Day comes alive in Longnan

Girls perform sewing and needlework on the stage in Longnan city of Gansu province, August 3, 2016. [Photo provided to]

At the opening ceremony Provincial Vice-governor Xia Hongmin praised the festival for preserving and protecting this national intangible cultural heritage treasure. He said its continued performance and celebration will accelerate efforts to have UNESCO confer on it coveted world intangible cultural heritage status.

Newly-arrived Algerian Ambassador Ahcène Boukhelfa said he was deeply moved by the ceremony evoking in him “a great emotion”. His most important memory is “the hospitality and kindness of the people, and the efforts of local authorities to develop and promote Longnan.” He said that he was privileged “to witness an important aspect of Chinese popular culture which contributes to the magnificence of the diverse traditions of ancient China”.

Longnan is rich in history and resources. It has seen human activity for 7,000 years. It is the birthplace of Fu Xi, the first of the Three Sovereigns of ancient China who reigned during the 29th century BCE and to whom is attributed authorship of the I Ching. It is a virtual cornucopia of agricultural products, most recently, olives, but also a wide variety of ingredients integral to Traditional Chinese Medicine, so much so that it’s been called “nature’s medicine cabinet”. And it’s richly endowed with resources such as gold, copper and manganese.

Cui Jianghong, Secretary General of Cultural Exchange Organization of Presenting China to the World said the visit to Longnan is just one of many activities. All have a common thread: “carrying forward the excellent culture of the Chinese nation, promoting Sino-foreign cultural exchanges, facilitating international economic cooperation, enhancing friendship and exchanges with people from other countries, and serving as an important window for China and the world to know more about each other”.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.


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