Happy Qixi Festival Everyone!
I wrote the following a couple of months ago but thought it was appropriate to share today, on Chinese Valentine’s Day!
The Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day is known as Qixi Festival, which is held of the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Qixi celebrates the story of the cowherd and the weaver girl. Here is my version of the story…
My mother was the Goddess of Heaven. I was her seventh daughter, called Zhīnǚ. My sisters and I all had special gifts. One sister was a healer, another was a carer of babies, another was a protector of the seas. I was a weaver. While many women prayed for my help with sewing their beautiful wedding clothes or cloths to swaddle their newborns, I was much more than that. While my sister was the protector of the seas, it was I that stitched then together. While my mother was the Goddess of Heaven, it was I who sewed diamonds into the blackness so that stars would shine down on the earth.
I loved the Earth and all its creatures. Another sister of mine painted all the beautiful rivers and mountains. Another created all the animals. But they let me sew them with exquisite embellishments. I sewed the spots on the leopards, the eyes on the peacocks, and the decorations on butterflies. But the most beautiful thing I ever saw was not an animal, but a cowheard. His name was Niúláng.
To most humans, he was nothing significant. He was poor, his clothes were plain, brown wool, his skin was dark from the sun. He would never be rich. He would never have a huge home. He would never be an important man. But I did not need those things. After living for millennia in the heavens, a simple life with a kind and good man seemed like a good life to me.
So I left my heavenly home. The first time I stepped onto the grass with mortal feet, it felt so soft. Even though I was now walking, as I crossed the field to my love, I felt like I was floating. From a faraway distance, Niúláng saw me. He knew what I was immediately. I could never keep a secret from him. He ran to me, swept me up in his arms, and vowed to never let me go. He was so grateful that out of all mortal men I would choose him, he promised to love me all his days.
Our life was sweet and simple. He continued to heard his cows and I worked as an embroidery girl. People from all over the country would flock to me to buy my beautiful silks. We had two daughters of our own. We were happy.
But it was not to last. My mother did not approve of what I had done. Even though my love for Niúláng had nothing to do with her, she felt that I had forsaken her, her gifts to me, and my heavenly life. She was enraged. She came to the earth like a fury. Thunder, rain, and tornadoes like dragon tails ravaged the land as she descended as she crossed the earth in search of me. To protect my lover, my children, and the world, I let her take me back to the sky. But, oh, how my lover wept.
One of my sisters took pity on him. Through one of Niúláng’s prized oxen, my sister of the animals spoke. She told him that if he slaughtered the ox and donned his skin, a great bridge of heaven would appear, which he could cross to find me. This he did without hesitation. He would do anything for me. He took our daughters up in his arms, and ran toward me. I saw them coming.
But so did my mother. As I ran to him and my children, my mother, in her anger, removed a pin from her hair and ripped a river through the sky. She ripped heaven itself asunder to keep me from my mortal family. But even her great rage could not stop true love.
I used my great skill as a weaver to create a new bridge. I called out to the magpies, those loyal birds, and weave them across the sky. Built of love and heavenly power, my mother could not destroy my bridge. I crossed over to the loving, waiting arms of my husband and children, never to be separated again.