Qixi – A Forbidden Love between Two Stars

The love story between stars of Altair and Vega located in the two sides of Milky Way is one of the oldest Chinese fairy tales.

A Forbidden Love between Two Stars

Altair and Vega fall in love with each other

As legend goes, in the beginning, there was no Milky Way in the sky and the stars could easily meet each other whenever they pleased.

Vega is said to be the 7th daughter of Celestial Mother Wang according to Chinese mythology and falls in love with Altair. The two began dating regularly.

When Celestial Mother noticed the love between the two stars, she was very upset because the cool immortals are not supposed to be romantically involved with each other like irrational mortals.

Altair was exiled to mortal world

The couple were disciplined for breaching celestial rules of non-emotional attachment. Yet the Altair refused to abandon his love for the 7th Fairy.

Consequently he was sentenced to a life in the mortal world.

Star Altair becomes a Chinese cowherd

Altair found himself incarnated as a cowherd to the land called China. However his memory about his past life in heaven was still vivid, so was his love for Vega.

One day, the cow started talking to him. “You know cowherd boy, the fairies will go to public bathroom in Yaochi tomorrow and if you can take 7th Fairy’s clothes away, she will remain on earth.”

Following cow's advice, cowherd stole Vega's clothes

Apparently, that heaven is still not a perfect paradise. For one thing, the sanitary facilities there do not seem to meet the demand, so from time to time the fairies had to go to a pond on earth for bath.

When next day 7th Fairy washed herself in Yaochi, cowherd successfully stole her clothes which resulted her unable to fly back to the sky.

A mortal and an immortal get married

Vega actually had been in lovesick ever since Altair left the heaven, so she readily agreed to stay in the mortal world.

That night they got married and the simple wedding was only attended and witnessed by the cow.

A fairy became a Chinese peasant's wife

The fairy quickly adapted a new life as the wife of a Chinese peasant.

While Cowherd laboured in the farmland with the cow, 7th Fairy worked on the weaving loom at home.

They had each other and had love. The life was good.

The mortal and immortal have raised two children

Soon they had two kids, one girl one boy. And the life couldn’t be better.

Cosmic police take the space traveller back to her own world

7th Fairy had spent seven years on earth, which is equvolent to seven days in the heaven she belongs, and that was a time long enough for her absence to be noticed by the celestial authority.

So after seven years, their marriage faced a big challenge. The cosmic police had tracked down the illegal space traveller and escorted her back to her own world.

Cowherd chases after his wife

When Cowherd returned home and discovered 7th Fairy had been kidnapped, he carried two kids on his shoulder with a bamboo pole and chased after his wife to the sky.

Celestial Mother drew a dividing line in sky which became Milky Way

Evidently the cowherd possessed the quality of a marathon champion and quickly narrowed the gap between himself and 7th Fairy.

Celestial Mother Wang had been waiting for her daughter at Gate of Southern Sky. Seeing Cowherd was about to catch up with his wife, she pulled a silver pin from her hair and drew a dividing line between the pair, immediately a Silver River, also known as Milky Way, materialised, that effectively separated 7th Fairy and her family.

Husband and wife view each other from two sides of Milky Way

Since then, the family has been torn apart by the giant Milky Way, Vega and Altair can only view each other from a far distance.

Chinese magpies bridge the Milky Way fro the couple to meet

The tragic love between a mortal and an immortal has moved heavens and earth and many beings in between. A public petition pleading to pardon the couple accused of violating the cosmic migration law and anti-interspecies-marriage regulation was submitted to celestial authority.

Under the public pressure, a family visit once a year on the 7th night of the 7th month was granted.

Since then Chinese magpies have formed the army of volunteers annually, using their body to bridge the Milky Way and allow the family to meet. Some people even claimed they eavesdropped the love exchanges between the couple, and the ear-witnesses include famous figures like Emperor Tang Minghuang (唐明皇) and Lady Yang (杨贵妃). Later Chinese poet Bai Juyi (白居易) wrote a poem “Song of Lasting Grief” (长恨歌), in which he described how on the 7th night in lunar July the royal couple followed the touching example of the pair on the magpie bridge above and made their very own love-vow.

Since the legend spread in the land of Middle Kingdom 2,000 years ago, magpies have been regarded in Chinese tradition as the messengers for the coming romance and marriage.

A family reunion over the Milky Way once a year

On the family reunion night, 7th Fairy would present a roll of silk fabric she produced for Cowherd to make clothes for himself and their kids.

She works everyday on her weaving loom as she needs to provide a roll of silk fabric to her family every night.

But wait, isn’t the family just allowed to meet once a year?

That’s right, but remember the relativity of time, a concept Chinese have entertained since thousands of years ago – ancient Chinese believed each world has its unique time dimension, and one year on Earth could be equivalent to just one day in a particular heaven where 7th Fairly dwells.

(Artists for the paintings: Yao Bai (姚柏), Mo Lang (墨浪 1910-1962))

Qixi, from Celebrating Female Talent to Honouring A Forbidden Love

Initially, Qixi (七夕), meaning the 7th night in 7th month, was a Maiden Festival (女儿节) and Lady’s Arts Day (乞巧节), when girls and young women would invite 7th Fairy to teach them skills in fashion design, dressmaking and gourmet cooking.

Later, the love story between Her Ladyship and her humble cowherd became the central theme of the night.

As tradition goes, on that night, young ladies would send off paper boats loaded with candle and wish notes in waterways, hoping the candles will bring their wishes to life.

Paper boats with candles and wish notes

A River Lantern Festival displaying colourful paper boats with candle lights on water is currently held in an ancient Three River Town in southern Anhui Province.

The sky 2,000 years ago depicted by ancient Chinese

The sky 2,000 years ago depicted by ancient Chinese: Altair and Vega at the two sides of the Milky Way. The stars above the legendary lovers include Mr Thunder, Madam Wind and Uncle Lightning.

A mural in a Han Dynasty (206BC-221 AD) tomb in Shaanxi Province, unearth in 2009

A crop art in China's rice field

A crop art in China’s rice field: Loving couple Cowherd and 7th Fairy

In the recent decades, Qixi has been promoted by Chinese media as China’s answer to St. Valentine’s Day, despite this is not a festival about romance but family, not about how to find a right person to marry (they didn’t obviously) but how to keep marriage work and be faithful to each other.

Here is a Chinese verse that praises the annual reunion between a mortal and an immortal:

七夕抬头望碧宵,
喜鹊双双拱鹊桥。

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

Here is another touching Chinese poem on the love tragedy of two stars:

迢迢牵牛星,皎皎河汉女。
纤纤擢素手,扎扎弄机杼。
终日不成章,泣涕零如雨。
河汉清且浅,相去复几许。
盈盈一水间,脉脉不得语。

Wish all who love each other can tie the marriage knot, and wish all married couple can keep their promise to each other, and wish those who want to become an immortal don’t tragically fall in love with a mortal.

7 comments

  • Hi CommunistLudicrum, thanks for your quite elaborated information about Samurai.

    Samurais were the true establishment that ruled the Japanese society. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Japan kept splitting and reuniting with emperors constantly changing, as the result of the fierce struggle between highly militant and extremely powerful Samurai factions.

    Samurais’ dominant status in Japan reflects a Japanese culture, which although was mainly borrowed from China but over the time becomes something that is only superficially similar to Chinese one but fundamentally different deep down.

    In China, especially since Song Dynasty, it was scholars not warriors being the noble class and running the country, and scholars’ noble status was not inherited through family line but earned by each individual via public scholarly examination.

    That not only ensured that the best educated and most intelligent had an opportunity to work for government but prevented any family or group from becoming permanent establishment dominating the Chinese society that would stop the new talents from the bottom levels to move up the social ladders.

    It is, in my view, one of the top secrets to the longevity of Chinese civilisation as it has an ability to reshuffle and renew.

    It also explains the difference in the foreign policies traditionally held by China and Japan.

    A scholarly China forever strives for social development within to the point that it sometimes becomes too timid when dealing with alien aggressions. A case in point, the most economically, technologically, culturally and militarily advanced North Song Dynasty would keep paying huge material tributes to greedy and aggressive early Manchus and Mongols in order to buy peace. (Such policy failed miserably and condemned China to great setbacks for centuries).

    On the other hand, a Samurai Japan resulted a violent school and office culture and constantly seeked a military adventure overseas.

    A middle way between scholar dominance and warrior dominance might be more sensible both for China and for Japan in today’s world that is still ruled by barbaric social Darwinism the Law of the Jungle with the brutal forces trying to wipe out the gentle ones.

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    • True. Though the Samurai weren’t just a Warrior class but, like I mentioned a Nobility class. Japan during the time period was an Isolated island, they only fought each other till the Mongols invaded.

      During that time the Japanese were confused on the Warfare culture of the Mongols, since being so isolated and only understanding their own Warfare culture.

      So in order to fight them, they had to evolve their strategies against the hordes, even though historically Japanese are Chinese that migrated thousands of years ago.

      A more recent migration of decendent of Chinese blood in Japan would be the Chōsokabe clan (長宗我部氏 Chōsokabe-shi), also known as Chōsokame (長曾我部、長宗我部), was a Japanese samurai kin group. Which the clan claims descent from Qin Shi Huangdi. Who I’m sure you know of.

      Qin Shi Huang was the founder of the Qin dynasty (秦朝) and was the first emperor of a unified China. He was born Ying Zheng (嬴政) or Zhao Zheng (趙政), a prince of the state of Qin. He became the King Zheng of Qin (秦王政) when he was thirteen, then China’s first emperor when he was 38 after the Qin had conquered all of the other Warring States and unified all of China in 221 BC.

      Rather than maintain the title of “king” borne by the previous Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Emperor (始皇帝) of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. His self-invented title “emperor”, as indicated by his use of the word “First”, would continue to be borne by Chinese rulers for the next two millennia.

      Korea and Japanese culture evolved from China and created it’s own over the years, and it’s quite fascinating.

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      • Awen

        That’s right. Japan’s first threat from external force was from the Mongols in the 13th century, but the Mongols were defeated by Japanese and never successfully invaded the island country as those horsemen were not accustomed to warfare on the sea (that was also a reason why Southern Song was able to resist the conquest from the Mongol army, the most powerful military force in the world at the time, for more than a century, all because of the Yangtze River).

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    • No, they don’t, Samurai (侍) were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.

      They are Embroidered Uniform Guard Simplified Chinese: 锦衣卫,
      Traditional Chinese: 錦衣衛
      Pinyin: Jǐnyīwèi

      They’re the imperial secret police that served the emperors of the Ming dynasty in China. The guard was founded by the Hongwu Emperor in 1368 to serve as his personal bodyguards. In 1369 it became an imperial military body. They were given the authority to overrule judicial proceedings in prosecutions with full autonomy in arresting, interrogating and punishing anyone, including nobles and the emperor’s relatives.

      The Embroidered Uniform Guard was tasked with collecting military intelligence on the enemy and participation in battles during planning. The guards donned a distinctive golden-yellow uniform, with a tablet worn on his torso, and carried a special blade weapon.

      Earliest Chinese armies consisted of conscripted peasants armed with simple bows, spears and stone maces. Eventually, a single family was able to dominate a portion of the Yellow River Valley. The history of the first of these dynasties, the Xia (2200 BCE-1600 BCE) is largely unknown and wrapped in mythology. In fact their existence is disputed by some, considered to be nothing more than a traditional legend. The regardless, the Chinese of the first steps of what would be a great civilization. Militarily they were the first in the Far East to use chariots and copper weapons, ideas brought by the steppe nomads from the Near East and Eurasian Steppes.

      The Xia, and the following Shang and Zhou dynasties ruled territories that were much smaller than China today, equivalent to the size of a state in modern China. The armies created by these dynasties were comparatively small and unprofessional. A core of warrior elites dominated battles from their Chariots; however, the early Chinese dynastic armies were poorly equipped and couldn’t manage long campaigns

      So no, they’re not like the Samurai, by the end of the 12th century, samurai became almost entirely synonymous with bushi, and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class.

      The samurai were usually associated with a clan and their lord, and were trained as officers in military tactics and grand strategy. While the samurai numbered less than 10% of then Japan’s population, their teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts.

      I know this stuff, my Girlfriend is Chinese and I’ve been to China..

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      • Thanks for your input :)), particularly with the comparison between samurai and Chinese royal guards, which is quite accurate.

        However, the task of Jinyiwei the royal guards were mainly for guarding the capital, the palace and the emperor.

        There were intelligence agencies collecting information like FBI and Asio, and they were called East Yard (dongchang) and West Yard (xichang) with all members being eunuchs.

        East Yard and West Yard chiefly existed in the early days of Ming Dynasty when political control was more strict as China was freshly liberated from Mongol occupation.

        As for the guards in the picture, they are celestial guards in Chinese mythology.

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        • Thanks… Well Samurai aren’t merely Royal Guards or just that, they’re like the Nobility class of Europe…

          Nobility is a social class, normally ranked immediately under royalty, that possesses more acknowledged privileges and higher social status than most other classes in a society, membership thereof typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be largely honorary (e.g., precedence), and vary from country to country and era to era.

          The Medieval chivalry motto noblesse oblige, which literally means “nobility obligates”, explains that privileges carry a life-long obligation of duty to uphold social responsibilities, be it of honorable behavior, customary service or leadership, that lives on by a familial or kinship bond.

          Historically, membership in the nobility and the prerogatives thereof have been regulated or acknowledged by the monarch or government, thereby distinguishing it from other sectors of a nation’s upper class wherein wealth, lifestyle or affiliation may be the salient markers of membership.

          Nonetheless, nobility per se has rarely constituted a closed caste; acquisition of sufficient power, wealth, military prowess or royal favour has, with varying frequency, enabled commoners to ascend into the nobility.

          In Japan case, Samurai functioned as the warrior class in Japan; they constituted about 7–8% of the population. The other classes were prohibited from possessing long swords such as the tachi or katana. Carrying both a long and a short sword became the symbol of the samurai class.

          During the feudal period, samurai were warriors that fought for a lord in a feudal relationship. Much the same in feudal Europe, the Edo period, however, was largely free from both external threats and internal conflicts. Instead, the samurai maintained their fighting skills more as an art than to fight.

          Samurai were paid a stipend from their lord, limiting their ties to the economic base. In addition, samurai could not own land, which would have given them income independent from their duty.

          Samurai generally lived around their daimyō’s castle, creating a thriving town or city environment around the middle of a domain.

          There were social stratifications within the samurai class. Upper-level samurai had direct access to their daimyō and could hold his most trusted positions. Some achieved a level of wealth that allowed them to retain their own samurai vassals. Mid-level samurai held military and bureaucratic positions and had some interactions with their daimyō if needed.

          Low-level samurai could be paid as little as a subsistence wage and worked as guards, messengers and clerks. Positions within the class were largely hereditary and talented samurai could not rise above a few social steps beyond their birth.

          Outside the traditional samurai–lord relationship were rōnin, or masterless samurai were generally afforded very low levels of respect, had no income, and often became gamblers, bandits, or other similar occupations.

          In short, Feudal Japan is more like Feudal Europe than China of the Time Period…

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