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Double 7th Festival

The Double 7th Festival is on the seventh day of the seventh moon of the Chinese lunar year. Nowadays, it is not widely celebrated, but there is such a touching romance story behind the festival that every Chinese, young or aged, knows it to its smallest triviality.

Long long ago, there was a poor cowherd called Niulang, whose ­parents died when he was very young. He had to live with his brother and ­sister-in-law, but they regarded him as a burden and always treated him poorly. They gave him a smattering of food but ordered him to work too much. However, they still regarded him as a burden to their family. So one day they dispelled him and his senile ox out of their inhabitance.

Niulang went to the other side of a mountain and built a small thatched hut there. He was happy that he could stay with the senile ox, which had become his best friend all through the years. He always talked to the ox when he wanted to say something. One day, to his great astonishment, the ox began to talk like a person. The ox said that formerly he was the spirit of Taurus. He had violated the heavenly rules and been sent to the human world as punishment. He also told Niulang that there would be a group of goddesses coming down from heaven and bathing in a pond not far from their dwelling place. One of the goddesses called Zhinu, the Girl Weaver, was the granddaughter of the Jade Emperor. She had the most beautiful look and kindest heart in the whole universe. She will marry Niulang if he could take away her dress while they were bathing.

So they marched out to the pond and waited in a secret place for the coming of those goddesses. Soon they came down from heaven and jumped down into the pond happily. Following the oxs instruction, Niulang took away Zhinus pink robe. Because she had no robe, Zhinu had to be left alone in the pond when the others returned to heaven. Niulang sent back the robe to her and they fell in love with each other at first sight.

Zhinu Illustration

They got married afterwards and had their own children, a boy and a girl. Niulang run his farm successfully and Zhinu could raise silkworms and weave the most beautiful silks and satins in the world. They treated the old ox like their parents and friend. It was such a sweet family that they swore to spend all their lives together.

One day, the old ox died. Right before he closed his eyes, he told Niulang to keep his hide, which could help him fly to the heaven in the future. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Heaven found out that Zhinu had stayed in the human world and married an ordinary man. The queen became furious and took a heavenly army in person to bring back her granddaughter. When Niulang returned home, he found his son and daughter were crying for their mother. He remembered what the old ox said and put on the ox hide. By placing his children in two baskets, he shouldered them on a pole and flew up into the sky to look for his beloved wife.

Seeing that Niulang was approaching, the queen waved her arm, and suddenly a raging river immediately separated Niulang from Zhinu. ­Niulang couldnt go across the wide roaring river, so he had to stay on the other side. His children were crying heartbrokenly. Finally, the Queen of the Heaven was moved by the crying of the children and allowed the family to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar year.

Nowadays when you look into the sky at night, you can still find Niulang and Zhinu. They have each become a star, Niulang the Altair star and Zhinu the Vega star. The wide river that keeps them apart is known as the Milky Way. Every year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, it is said that you can hear their whispers by hiding under a grape tree.

This sad love story has passed down from generation to generation. It is well known that very few magpies are seen on the Double-Seventh Day. This is because most of them fly to the Milky Way, where they form a bridge so that the two lovers might meet together.

In ancient China, Niulang and Zhinu are the incarnation of diligence, ingenuity and allegiance, especially for girls. Families would burn incense and place fruits for sacrifice on that day, in a bid to pray for those virtues for their daughters. Since the virtues have changed their meanings in todays society, the ceremony seems somewhat outmoded.

Published in Qi Journal, Summer 2002 issue. Reprinted with permission from Chinesecultureinfo.com

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