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Qi Xi: Chinese Valentine's Day
by Jaclyn Sung

February 14th in America constitutes for an extremely special day in which lovers are able to express their love for each other because it is Valentine's Day. On that day, shopping malls and store windows are decorated with crimson heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates and romantic greeting cards, flower shops busily advertise for their special-priced bouquets of roses, and jewelers give undivided attention to those searching for the priceless, sparkling earrings, necklace or ring. While Chinese people celebrate the Western Valentine's Day, every year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, they also celebrate Chinese Valentine's Day (Qi Xi), which translated literally, means The Night of Sevens.

Qi Xi originates from the famous, romantic Chinese legend, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden." According to the legend, the Cowherd one day hears his old ox speaking to him, saying that he should go to a nearby brook. There, the Cowherd spies a group of seven fairies descended from the Heavens bathing and playing in the water, and amidst them he glimpses the beautiful Weaving Maiden. He decides to steal the Weaving Maiden's clothes so when the rest of the fairies dress and fly back up, the Weaving Maiden is unable to. The Cowherd appears in front of the Weaving Maiden to propose marriage to her, and she accepts. They marry, have two children and live a happy, fulfilling life, until one day when the Jade Emperor of the Heavens discovers that the Weaving Maiden has been living in the mortal world. He sends the heavenly troops and generals down to earth to bring the Weaving Maiden back to the Heavens. When the Cowherd discovers that his wife has been taken away, he follows in pursuit all the way up to the Heavens. The heavenly Queen Mother of the West is furious when she spots the Cowherd, and using her silver hairpin, she draws a silver river between the two lovers, eternally separating them. This silver river became what is known today as the Milky Way. However, the magpies were moved by the Cowherd and Weaving Maiden's love, and from that day on, once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, all the magpies flock together to form a magpie bridge for the two lovers to cross and meet.

The story of, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden," as well as the celebration of Qi Xi, date back to the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and is one of the first legends in Chinese history to incorporate astrology. During the Han Dynasty, the astronomer, Zhang Heng, invented the water-powered armillary sphere, an instrument representing the celestial sphere that showed the motion of the stars around Earth. His further discoveries in the astrological field gradually gave the Chinese people of that time a better understanding of the heavens. Chinese astrologers named the two stars separated by the Milky Way, scientifically known as Altair and Vega, the "Cowherd Star" and the "Weaving Maiden Star," respectively. It is said that on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, magpies are especially rare to sight because they are all busy building the magpie bridge for the Cowherd and Weaving Maiden; it is also believed that the rain that falls on that day are the tears from the two lovers' meeting and separation for another year.

Personally, I have heard of the renowned folktale of, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden," from both dancing Chinese Folk Dance and attending Chinese School. My dance troupe once even performed the legend, and although it was several years ago, I will always remember the final dance of that show—"The Bridge of the Magpies." The two dancers of this number not only performed gracefully, filled with emotions, but they also allowed the entire audience to witness a somber, though nonetheless beautiful, true love. Although the celebration of Qi Xi is slowly being forgotten by today's Chinese generation, the moving story of, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden," brings proof to not only the Chinese, but also people around the world, that thousands of years ago, when elders and matchmakers arranged marriages, true love was still possible.

Teacher Sunny Lee talks about Qingming Festival (view PDF of Chinese Version)
by Sunny C. Lee

Have you seen a famous Chinese Ancient painting in handscroll format called "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" ( Qingmíng Shànghé Tú)? In this 208.1-inch long picture, there are 814 humans, 20 vehicles, 28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, and 170 trees, drawn by the Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan. It captures the daily life of people at the capital Bianjing (today's Kaifeng ) celebrating the festive spirit of Qingming. This national treasure is kept at the Palace Museum. You can see it via the following link:

When is Qingming? The traditional East Asian calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms. The 1st day of the 5th solar term, the 15th day from the Spring Equinox, is the Qingming. It is for people to go outside and enjoy the springtime.

How did Qingming change from a solar term to a festival? During a former holiday, Hanshi (the Cold Food Festival), people swept tombs and were not allowed to use fires to heat up food. Because Hanshi was very close to Qingming, people gradually incorporated traditions of the Hanshi Festival into the Qingming Festival and combined them into a one-day festival. Qingming Festival, also called "Clear Brightness Festival" or "Tomb Sweeping Day", is celebrated around April 4 or April 5 of the Gregorian calendar.

The concept of filial piety or obedience to one's elderly or ancestors is a very important concept in Chinese culture. Traditionally, the Chinese believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors will look after the family even after they are gone. Hence, honoring the ancestors at temples, grave sites, or crematoriums is the most important activity of the Qingming Festival.

Qingming was frequently mentioned in Chinese literature. Among these, the most famous one is probably from a leading poet of the late Tang Dynasty, Du Mu. The poem is simply titled "Qingming":

« qing míng shí jié yu fen fen,lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún.
jiè wèn jiu jia hé chù you? mù tóng yáo zhi xìng hua cun.

A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day;
The mourner's heart is breaking on his way.
Where can a hostel be found to drown his sadness?
An oxherd points to Almond Flower village in the distance. »