In China, the Double Seventh Festival, also called Qiqiao Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. In ancient times, it was the most romantic occasion in the traditional Chinese festival calendar and an especially important day for girls. The festival originated from the romantic legend of two lovers, Niulang and Zhinv, and celebrates their meeting on this night . All girls pray to Zhinv for skillful hands and a perfect marriage.
Double Seventh Festival is closely related to the romantic tale about Niulang and Zhinv, which is one of the four great love legends in Chinese folklore.
Legend has it that an honest and loyal cowherd named Niulang had lost his parents and lived with his brother and sister-in-law. But the sister-in-law, Mrs. Ma, was a malevolent woman. One day, he was compelled to pasture oxen as Mrs. Ma demanded. He only had 9 oxen, but he could come back home when he had 10 oxen. He went to a lush green hill alone, sitting sadly under a tree without any ideas.
At this point, he was told by an old man, “There is an old and ill ox on Funiu Hill. You could take it home after feeding and caring for it.”
Niulang crossed the mountains and finally found the ill ox. He was an ox god, and his leg was broken when he was punished by being expelled from heaven. The ox recovered fast with Nulang’s great care, and he eventually took ten oxen back home.
Mrs. Ma was unhappy about it, and she continued to maltreat him and eventually got rid of him and the ox. After that, the old ox always accompanied him everywhere.
One day, Zhinv, a weaver fairy, and others came down to earth and bathed in a river. Niulang got to know Zhinv with the old ox’s help. They fell in love, married, and had two children and a happy life. It was a pity that good times didn’t last long. The king of the heaven knew about it and he was very angry. The Queen Mother of the West took Zhinv back to heaven, and so the faithful couple were separated.
Niulang was desolate when he found his wife had left. At the same time he was told by the ox god that it would die soon. The ox god advised Niulang to peel its skin and make a pair of shoes and a cloak after it died. Wearing the ox’s skin, he could fly to heaven. Niulang did it according to the ox’s will and brought their two children to look for Zhinv. Just at the moment before he reached Zhinv, the Queen Mother of the West took her hairpin to create the Milky Way, separating them forever. They wept bitter tears of disappointment. But their authentic love moved all magpies, and they flew up in to heaven to form a bridge over the Milky Way. Niulang and Zhinv could then walk across the bridge and have a family reunion. The Queen Mother of the West had to allow them to meet on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month every year.
This legend originated from astrolatry (the worship of heavenly bodies) which belongs to an ideology of worship of Nature and Wisdom. There are two bright stars, one on each side of the Milky River bank. One is named Niulang (the star Altair), and the other one is Zhinv (the star Vega). According to the thinking in ancient times, people imagined that they were this unfortunate couple.
Zhinv was compelled to return to heaven after she married. It is a classic example of marriage without freedom in Chinese feudal society. This story reflected that obedience to authority is one of the Chinese traditions formed in feudal society over several thousand years. But Niulang pursued his wife to heaven, and he was admired by people for his unswerving loyalty to love.