The Love Story of Niu Lang and the Heavenly Weaver Maiden

Depiction of the creation of the River of Heaven (Milky Way), painted by Guo Xu, Ming Dynasty. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
Depiction of the creation of the River of Heaven (Milky Way), painted by Guo Xu, Ming Dynasty. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

A couple sends out lit candles on Houhai Lake to make wishes during the Double-Seven, or Qixi Festival, in Beijing, China. The Double-Seven Festival falls on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month.

The festival originates from a romantic legend of lovers, the cow herder Niu Lang and the Weaver Maiden (Zhinu), who were separated by the Heavenly King. The couple reunites across the Milky Way once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

On the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar, the cow herder Niu Lang and Heavenly Weaver Maiden will travel across the Milky Way over a bridge formed by magpies to their once-a-year meeting. The love story of Niu Lang and Weaver Maiden has long been told by the Chinese.

The Weaver Maiden is the youngest daughter of the Heavenly King, and she is skilled at weaving all types of beautiful patterns and colors. When you see brilliant skies and seven-colored rainbows, it must have come from the Weaver Maiden’s skillful hands.

The Weaver Maiden with a shuttle in her hand, painted by Zhang Ling, Ming dynasty. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Weaver Maiden with a shuttle in her hand, painted by Zhang Ling, Ming Dynasty. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Liu Lang was a cow herder who was born into a poor family in southern China. His parents died when he was young, and he grew up knowing many hardships. He lived alone and tended cows for a living. He was honest, kind and diligent, but being poor, he was not able to find a woman to marry.

One day, when tending cows on the grassland, Niu Lang saw nine heavenly maidens descending to the riverside. He hid behind the trees watching. The maidens took off their colorful dresses, left them at the riverbank, and started to play in the water. Niu Lang was stunned at their beauty, especially that of the youngest one, on whom his eyes were fixed.

A cow he had tended for many years suddenly started to speak to Niu Lang, “She is the Weaver Maiden in Heaven. If you hide away her dress, she will not be able to return — she will stay and marry you.” The cow told him what dress belonged to the Weaver Maiden.

Some moments later, when the maidens were ready to leave, the Weaver Maiden had to stay behind. Not being able to find her dress, she could not ascend to Heaven. Niu Lang came out from behind the trees. He handed the Weaver Maiden her dress. By now, the timing of her heavenly return had passed.

The Weave Maiden crossing the River of Heaven, as painted by Gai Qi, 1799. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Weave Maiden crossing the River of Heaven, as painted by Gai Qi, 1799. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Niu Lang asked the Weaver Maiden to marry him. While not happy that he had hidden her dress, she saw that Niu Lang was a kind man, so she agreed to marry him.

Niu Lang and the Weaver Maiden lived a happy life together. They loved and respected each other, and they both worked hard. The Weaver Maiden’s fine hands transformed Niu Lang’s simple hut into a beautiful and warm home.

Two years quickly lapsed, and the Weaver Maiden gave birth to two children, one boy and one girl.

Two years on Earth is just a fleeting moment in Heaven, and as soon as Weaver Maiden’s sisters returned to Heaven, the Heavenly King discovered that his youngest daughter was missing. He then saw that she had married a mortal on Earth. He became angry and asked the Heavenly Queen to lead an army of heavenly soldiers to bring the Weaver Maiden back.

On Earth, the sky suddenly became dark and the wind started to roar. A moment later, the heavenly soldiers came and took the Weaver Maiden away.

The reunion of the the cow herder Niu Lang and the Weaver Maiden on the Bridge of Magpies. Artwork in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The reunion of the cow herder Niu Lang and the Weaver Maiden on the Bridge of Magpies. Artwork in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Although suspecting this day may come, Niu Lang was still taken by surprise, and he became desperate. Putting each of his children in a basket and carrying two baskets with a long pole over his shoulder, Niu Lang started to run after those who had captured his wife. As the soldiers ascended to Heaven with the Weaver Maiden, Niu Lang found himself ascending with them. He hurried forward and the distance between him and his wife seemed to be narrowing.

At this moment, the Heavenly Queen threw her golden hairpin in front of Niu Lang. The hairpin turned into a river instantly, separating him from his wife. This river was later referred to as the Milky Way.

Niu Lang and Weaver Maiden looked at each other across the broad heavenly river; with tears in their eyes, they longed to be by each other’s side. Moved by their great love, magpies formed a bridge with their bodies over the heavenly river.

When the Heavenly Queen saw the Weaver Maiden and Niu Lang’s love for each other, she allowed them to meet once a year, on the evening of their forced separation, the seventh day of the seventh month.

On that night, you will find very few magpies, as most have gone up to form the heavenly bridge. If the wind is calm and you listen carefully, you may hear the murmuring of Niu Lang and the Weaver Maiden expressing their love and longing for each other.

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