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Chinese Valentine's Day
Lunar July 7 - Qixi Festival

3 August 2006


-- 《古诗十九首》

On 31 August 2006, China marked festival of "Night of 7th day in 7th month" (Qixi 七夕), an event associated with the tragic story involving a mixed marriage. It is said that Fairy Seven (Qixiannu 七仙女) sneaked out of her heavenly home to the mortal world and took a low-paid weaver girl job in order to marry her humble lover Cowherd Boy. They subsequently had two children, with the husband working on the farmland and the wife looking after the kids and making clothes – the ideal family model from the perspective of traditional Chinese people.

But the good things never last long, a phenomenon that is so acutely observed in I Ching, so the cozy story has to take a sad turn to complete. As for who is that troublemaker, opinions are divided. Some blame on the fairy’s daddy, Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), who ordered the illegal immigrant to go back to where she belonged; others point their fingers squarely at her mom, Celestial Queen Mother Wang (Wangmu Niangniang 王母娘娘) who personally went to the earth to drag her runaway daughter back home. As it normally happens, the drama between daughter and mother are more theatrical. So as the story has it, the daughter resolutely refused to go with her mom, and the son-in-law carrying two kids determinedly pursued the pair. Evidently Cowherd Boy possessed the quality of a marathon champion and soon he was about to catch up with his celestial opponent. So the reluctant mother-in-law pulled a long silver pin from her hair and drew a line in the sky that immediately transformed into a great river – the Milky Way (Yinghe in Chinese, meaning Silver River 银河). And that is why, the story says, the Altair (Cowherd Boy Star) and the Vega (Weaver Girl Star) are settled on the two sides of the Heavenly gulf. The case in which a mother violently broke up her daughter’s de facto marriage was allegedly brought before the celestial court and eventually the entitlement to family visit once a year was granted.

Since then, on the night of the lunar July 7, compassionate and romantic Chinese magpies would all join the army of volunteers, using their body to bridge the Milky Way and allow the family to meet. Some people even claimed that they had eavesdropped the love exchanges, and the ear-witnesses include famous figures like Emperor Tang Minghuang (唐明皇) and his Imperial Concubine Yang Guifei (杨贵妃). Later celebrated Chinese poet Bai Juyi (白居易) wrote a well-known poem "Song of Lasting Grief" (长恨歌), in which he depicted how on the night of July 7 the royal couple followed the touching example of the pair on the magpie bridge above and made their very own love-vow.

Until about twenty years ago, on hot summer evenings, Chinese people would sit on the street in front of their home to catch cool breezes and to catch up on cool gossips. When it happened to be on the night of lunar July 7, mothers and grandmothers would point to the sky (instead of pointing at a TV screen) to show youngster the heavenly family reunion party.

Historically, Qixi was also dubbed Maiden Festival (Nuerjie 女儿节) and Lady’s Arts Day (Qiqiaojie 乞巧节), when young women would invite Fairy Seven to hold teaching workshops on fashion design, dress making and gourmet cooking. But nowadays, Qixi has been promoted as China’s answer to St. Valentine’s Day, despite its original message (if there is a message to be spread) has more to do with family values than love passions. Because it is not about how to get married but how to hold a family together.

Yet the promotions clearly have worked. And, as lunar July 7 will be marked twice this year - which happens only once in every 38 years and the next lunar July 7 is on 30 August - Qixi 2006 is seen by many Chinese as especially propitious to tie the knot. On July 31 (the first Qixi), the number of people getting married in Hangzhou is three-fold increase over normal summer days, and in Shanghai, long queues were lined up before the dawn waiting to register their marriage at district civil administration offices. Similar stories were reported about other cities in China.

Here is a Chinese verse that praises the Qixi festival:

Looking into the night sky on the seventh of July,
Where lovers unite on the bridge made of magpie.



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