I'm following up on the promise I made in the my last Learning Mandarin post about the Qixi Festival. I said I'd talk about the legend behind it, and that's the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.
(Awesome main image from qixifestival.com)
Niulang was young and poor but he was kind-hearted. His biggest possession was an old ox. He's the one referred to as the cowherd. (I always hear them say cowherd but that sounds odd to me. I think they should say cowherder. He's not a herd !)
Zhinü was the seventh daughter of a union between a goddess and the emperor. She's even sometimes described as a fairy.
Curiously, the ox had a history. In some versions of the tale, it used to be the God of the cattle but broke the rules and lost the position.
Either way, Niulang saved the ox when it got sick, and in return, the ox helped Niulang to meet Zhinü who then fell in love with him.
They married and were really happy. Soon they had two children: a boy and a girl.
The problem is that they married in secret because they knew that Zhinü's mother wouldn't approve of her marrying a mere mortal. After all, her mum was the Goddess of Heaven.
Eventually of course, Zhinü's mum found out about the marriage and was really upset. Celestial soldiers turned up and took Zhinü back to heaven. Niulang and his children went off to heaven to find his wife. (In an odd twist to the tale, he'd killed the ox and wore his skin. Apparently that's what the ox wanted).
Just before Niulang found his wife, Zhinü's mum used her hairpin to make a river appear between them.
This story has a celestial story as well. The star Altair represents Niulang, and the star Vega represents Zhinü. The river between them is the Milky Way as shown here:
But where's the happy ending?
These stories usually have a happy ending, and this one's no different.
Niulang and his children were so sad that the magpies felt sorry for them, and flew up to Heaven to make a bridge between the two lovers. They could then meet on the bridge.
Apparently, the Goddess also felt sorry for them and allowed them to meet on the bridge on the 7th day of the 7th month each year.
OK, so not the happiest ending !