A man mistakes a woman for his wife during an activity that tests the tacit understanding between couples in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Sunday, two days before Chinese Valentine's Day. His wife (center) finds the error highly amusing. (China Daily/Yi Tian)
Flocks of colorful magpies tomorrow will form a bridge over the Milky Way, enabling the Cowherd and Weaving Maid to be reunited for one day each year.
The love story of the ordinary mortal, Cowherd (Niu Lang 牛郎), and the fairy Weaving Maid (Zhi Nu 织女) is one of the most popular legends in China and is cited on the Qixi Festival, or Double Seventh Festival, on the seventh day of the seventh month in Chinese lunar calendar.
This year it falls on August 13.
On this particular day, not only is there a celestial coupling, but also young women on Earth will pray for deft fingers, like those of the Weaving Maid, to help them win a husband with their domestic skills.
They pray in various ceremonies and activities, which is why it is also called the Qi Qiao Jie (乞巧节), literally Praying for Dexterity Festival.
The Cowherd was an orphan with only an old bull for company. He came upon a group of fairies bathing and splashing in a river. The bull told him to hide one fairy’s gown so that she could not fly away. The Weaving Maid could not find her gown and finally agreed to marry the Cowherd. They led a happy life with the Cowherd ploughing and the Weaving Maid weaving. They had a son and a daughter.
Their marriage of mortal and immortal violated the laws of Heaven and angered the Queen Mother of the West. She descended to Earth and seized the Weaving Maid when her husband was gone. The Cowherd and children chased in search of her.
Just when he was about to catch the Weaving Maid, the Queen Mother took her hairpin out and scratch it in the sky. That created a rushing river of stars immediately in front of the Cowherd, blocking his path. The river, Yin He (银河), literally silver river, is known as the Milky Way.
The Weaving Maid and the Cowherd are stars on opposite different sides of that impassable river. Vega is the Weaving Maid and Altair is the Cowherd.
Touched by their love, magpies once a year form a bridge across the river, allowing the couple to cross it and be reunited for a day.