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Cowherd and Weaving Girl

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rpfstoneman
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« on: July 07, 2012, 12:03:15 am »

Chinese Myths and Legends as Represent by Snuff Bottles - Cowherd and Weaving Girl


The fairy tale of Cowherd and Weaving Girl is one of the four most famous folktales of ancient China. It is a classic love story between a fairy and a human being and has a widespread influence. The Qixi Festival is said to have something to do with the fairy tale. Naturally, the seventh day of every seventh month of the lunar calendar has become Chinese Valentine's Day.

The tale of the Cowherd and Weaving Girl is a love story between Cowherd, a human being, and the Weaving Girl, a fairy. They fall in love with each other, get married, forced to separate and blocked by the Milky Way. Out of compassion for them, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year, flocks of magpies fly to form a bridge with their bodies over the Milky Way, allowing Cowherd and Weaving Girl to meet each other. This story, to some extent, reflects Chinese people's wishes to pursue the freedom of love and marriage. 

The fairy tale of Cowherd and Weaving Girl has made the Qixi Festival the most romantic traditional Chinese festival. Countless poems in Chinese history are in praise of the story, the most famous works being the ancient poem of the Han Dynasty Far in the Skies Is the Cowherd Star, Qixi by Du Mu of the Tang Dynasty and Fairy On the Magpie Bridge by the great ci writer Qin Guan of the Song Dynasty. In addition, traditional Chinese operas like Beijing Opera and Shaanxi opera have plays about Cowherd and Weaving Girl.

The fairy tale also contains Chinese people's understanding about star images. In the tale, the Weaver Girl Star (the Vega) is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, facing the Cowherd Star (the Altair), the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, across the Milky Way.

The Chinese fairy tale of Cowherd and Weaving Girl can be seen as a story enjoying equal importance as the Greek myths of Odyssey, Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece and the ancient European legend of The Ring of the Nibelung etc. On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar every year, Chinese women customarily look up into the night sky, searching for the Weaver Girl Star and the Cowherd Star on both sides of the Milky Way and hoping to see their annual gathering. Meanwhile, girls on the ground hope to have clever hands and good sense, just like the Weaving Girl. They also pray for a happy marriage of their own. Thus, the Qixi Festival has been entrenched in Chinese culture.

The Tale of Niu Lang (the Cowherder) and Zhi Nu (the Weaving Girl)

Collated and translated from the Chinese Tale

On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, what has been called the “Chinese Valentine’s Day”, the Chinese celebrate the love story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu"(. The story has two beginnings, one in heaven, and one on earth. In some versions of the story, Niu Lang was a star in heaven called Qian Niu, while Zhi Nu"(was another star – both stars transgress the boundary of heaven by falling in love with the other, and Niu Lang is thrown to earth to become a poor cowherder, while Zhi Nu"( is condemned to weave the cloth of the sky in sorrow. In other versions, their love first occurs on earth:

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young cowherd called Niu Lang. He lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law, who was jealous of him and treated him badly. Every day, he had to do hard work from morning to night, get up before daybreak, carry water, light fires, cook and wash, and every day he had to herd his brother’s water buffalos. He never had enough to eat, and his cruel sister-in-law set him off on many impossible tasks. One day, the sister-in-law called Niu Lang to her, and said, “Today, when you go out with the water buffalo, be sure to bring all ten of them home, or never come back again.” Since his brother only had nine water buffalo, Niu Lang realized he was being thrown out into the world. Steeped in sorrow, Niu Lang wandered the forests and mountains of the countryside, with only his water buffalo for company, looking in vain for a tenth water buffalo so he may return to the only home he has known. In despair, he collapsed under a tree, sick with hunger and homesickness. Just as he was about to give up hope, an old man with a flowing white beard came up to him, and asked him gently, “Young man, what are your sorrows?”

“My brother gave me nine water buffalo, and has told me not to come back until I have ten,” Niu Lang replied. The old man smiled, and said, “Don’t be sad, for I know that over the seventh mountain and in the seventh forest there is an old water buffalo who is wounded and sick, and if you feed him, tend him and cure him, he will come back with you.” So Niu Lang dried his tears, and set out to find the old water buffalo. He traveled far and wide through the thick forests and through the high mountains, and finally found the old water buffalo. The old water buffalo was wounded and very ill, and Niu Lang tended him, feeding him for three days with the freshest grass he could find. On the third day, the water buffalo opened his mouth and said, “I was once the water buffalo star, but because I offended the king of heaven, I was thrown down from heaven to earth. My wound can only be healed by the dewdrops on a hundred flowers for the time it takes for the moon to become round again.” Niu Lang was filled with compassion for the water buffalo, and did not mind hard work, and so he collected the dew from a hundred flowers for every day for a month, and slept by the water buffalo’s side every night for a month. At last, the water buffalo was nursed back to health, and Niu Lang joyfully herded all ten water buffalo home.

When Niu Lang reached home, his sister-in-law had no choice but to take him in again. Yet, she was even more cruel to him, making him do hard work from morning to night, get up before daybreak, carry water, light fires, cook and wash and herd the water buffalo every day. However, Niu Lang was happy, for he had the company of the old water buffalo, who told him marvelous stories. One day, the old water buffalo said, “Niu Lang, you are a good and virtuous young man, and I want to see you happy. The king of heaven has seven daughters, and the youngest is the most talented and beautiful. Go to the lake today, and take the fairy robe of brightest red, and she will be your wife.” Niu Lang followed the water buffalo’s instructions, and went down to the stream. There he saw seven beautiful fairies bathing and he saw the youngest fairy, and how beautiful she was, and he hid her fairy robe of brightest red. When the fairies saw Niu Lang and the old buffalo, they put on their fairy robes and flew away, but the youngest daughter of the king of heaven could not fly away. Niu Lang approached her and asked her kindly, “Here is your fairy robe – I will give it to you, but first, you must promise to be my wife.” The youngest daughter, Zhi Nu, whose name means Weaver Girl, for she wove the cloth of the sky, looked at the handsome young cowherder and agreed.

As time went on, Niu Lang and Zhi Nu fell in deeper and deeper love with each other. He tended the buffalo and plowed the fields, while she wove beautiful, luxurious cloths in their small thatched cottage. In some versions of the story, Zhi Nu taught the villagers the secret art of weaving silk. In the fullness of time, Zhi Nu gave birth to a son and a daughter, and the small family lived a blissful life together. However, the king of heaven realized that the colors of the sky were not as beautiful as before, and he asked his mother, Wang Mu Niang Niang, to look for his missing daughter. Wang Mu Niang Niang saw the happy family, and saw how Zhi Nu had taught the villagers the secret art of weaving, and flew into a rage. She was determined to gather the forces of heaven to snatch Zhi Nu away from Niu Lang, and to force her to weave the cloth of the sky again.

Just then, the old water buffalo said to the cowherd, “Niu Lang, you have treated me well in this life. Now, I must die, and you must take my skin and make a pair of shoes out of them, for with my skin you will be able to fly.” Niu Lang was overcome with sorrow, but agreed to take the water buffalo’s skin. With that, the water buffalo gave up his spirit, and the whole family mourned the loss of their kind friend. Zhi Nu knew that the water buffalo had foreseen something terrible, and waited in fear for Wang Mu Niang Niang to find her.

Wang Mu Niang Niang descended from the heavens in her rage, accompanied by the forces of heaven, and snatched Zhi Nu from her cottage home into the sky to the sounds of her weeping husband and children. Niu Lang cut the water buffalo’s skin into a pair of shoes, and, balancing two pails on a rod on his shoulders, he put one child in each pail and ran up into the clouds after her. Niu Lang ran as fast as the wind, and the shoes bore him up into the heavens. He got closer and closer to Zhi Nu, until they were merely a hand’s breadth apart, and Zhi Nu reached out her hand to them. At that moment, Wang Mu Niang Niang threw down her diadem, and it changed into a vast river of stars, forever separating the two lovers.  Niu Lang looked across the river at Zhi Nu"and  Zhi Nu looked across the river at Niu Lang – the river is what we call the Star River, or the Milky Way. If you look into the sky at night, you will see Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, two stars on opposite sides of the river, and if you look closely, you will see two smaller stars by Niu Lang’s star: they are their son and daughter.

Moved by the true love of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, the magpies of the world decided to form a bridge across the Star River once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, so that the two lovers and their children may meet again. Thus it is very difficult to find a magpie on the seventh day of the seventh month, for they have all flown into the heavens so Niu Lang and Zhi Nu may be borne on their wings. We on earth know that, if it rains on the seventh night of the seventh month, that rain is the tears of the happy lovers.

(Source: 牛郎织女:The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, By Judith Huang • In Criticism, Essays, Translation, http://judithhuang.com/words/niu-lang-and-zhi-n%C7%9A/#more-62)

Note: the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is considered one of the four greatest ancient love stories in China.

Modern Qi Xi Celebrations-

Below is the schedule of the 7th day of the 7th month over the present decade.
    2010: August 16
    2011: August 06
    2012: August 23
    2013: August 13
    2014: August 02
    2015: August 20
    2016: August 09
    2017: August 28
    2018: August 17
    2019: August 07
    2020: August 25


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« Last Edit: November 14, 2017, 10:52:27 pm by rpfstoneman » Report Spam   Logged

Charll K Stoneman, Eureka, California USA, Collector Since 1979.

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« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2012, 09:04:56 am »

What a wonderful story Charll..

Beautiful bottle too !

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« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2012, 12:50:56 pm »

This is wonderful bottle, and its the first time I have seen the scene painted on the snuff bottle.Well done!
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« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2012, 05:02:49 pm »

In Japan we also celebrate the meeting of Cowherd and Weaving Girl on 7th July every year. “Tanabata (七夕, meaning “Evening of the seventh”) is a Japanese star festival, originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). According to legend, the Milky Way, a river of stars that crosses the sky, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The celebration is held at night.

In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊), small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are often burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. Many areas in Japan have their own Tanabata customs, which are mostly related to local Obon traditions.

Thank you Charll, I have recalled my childhood, nearly fifty years ago !

Misu

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« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2012, 06:07:57 pm »

Misu,

In my research on this story (and bottle design) I did read a reference to July 7th as the celebration date, but the source gave no other information as to the origin of the July date.  All the Chinese sources indicated an August date; "on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year".  I now know where the July 7 date comes from.   Thanks for that bit of information.   

I had been trying to track down the origin of this bottle's design for over a year.  Had a number of non-Chinese collectors look at it and all I was getting was insight on the symbolism of the design components, but not the story.   Then Bob Lee, a collector/dealer in Southern California, looked at this last May and immediately told me the story line, and said it was an old and popular Chinese tale.  Once I had the story name, it was easy to fine the background story information of the bottle's design.  Learned a lot in the process and had a little fun with it.

Charll
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« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2012, 07:11:23 pm »

The date should be the 7th days of the 7th month of the Lunar year.  We call it 七夕 Qixi Festival ("The Night of Sevens")

One more little details, the saying actually goes: because the story was so moving, all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鹊桥, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) across the milky way so that they can meet in the middle.

Anyway, a beautiful story and strikes such a parallel to the Greek mythology - Hera, the main Goddess who is also jealous of the mortals and always tries to ruin their happiness.
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« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2012, 05:47:46 am »

Hi Walter

The Lunar year has not been used for many years in Japan. So we celebrate 七夕 on 7th July every year almost all over Japan. Especially Sendai, which is one of the major cities in north east Japan, is quite famous of its 七夕 festival.
Many retailers take advantage of 七夕 to gather a lot of people.
While, I did not realize any event related with 七夕 in August last year in Beijing. Are there any events related with 七夕 in China ?

Misu


 
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2012, 06:06:24 am »

Hi Charll

The bottle is quite interesting.
七夕 festival itself is quite popular in Japan, but most of Japanese do not have a clear image of Cowherd and Weaving Girl. They recall cheerful decorations and wishes on narrow strips of colored paper hung on bamboo leaves from the word of 七夕. The figures of Cowherd and Weaving Girl may have not been used for craft and art. That may be a reason why Japanese people do not have a clear image.

Misu
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« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2012, 12:29:16 pm »

Hi Misu,

七夕 festival  is also popular in China, its called chinese valentine day. I was heard that its more popular than before.I would think there should have lots of events related with 七夕 there.

I still can receive the greeting from China during the festival from my friends there.

Steven
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« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2012, 04:15:43 pm »

Steven, I beg to differ.  The general recognized Chinese Valentine Day is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year - the lantern festival, this is especially true for the Northern China.  七夕 festival is more popular in Southern China.  In a way, it also serves as a sort of Valentine because on this day women pray to the weaving girl, hoping to be as skillful as the goddess and also find as devoted a husband.  It never comes close to the lantern festival because traditionally that was the only day of the year female could freely go out and socialize.

I remembered when I was little my mom used to fold colored paper into little costume and burned them on that day.  There were even temples dedicated to the weaving girl.   Not sure if this tradition is still popular. 

Misu, I did a little research on wikipedia.  It mentioned that the Japanese changed to follow the western calendar for 七夕 festival after the Meiji Restoration.
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2012, 08:52:29 am »

Hi Steven and Walter,

I have talked with some of female stuff of our Beijing office, a lady originally from Jiangxi and some ladies from Beijing and found all the ladies told me that 七夕 is the day which is recognized as the Chinese Valentine Day both in South and North.
七夕 is rather commercialized recently in China probably more than Japan. Many restaurants and department stores are much busier during the period than usual. This situation is a little bit different from Japan, since 七夕 is not recognized as Valentine Day in Japan.

Cheers

Misu
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2012, 10:15:14 am »

Thanks Misu,

Walter was actually right, in Chinese tradition, the 15th of the Lunar is well known as a chinese Valentine. But its sad that not so many young generation celebrate it as the Valentine any more. And as you said that 七夕 is more and more comercialized as a Chinese Valentine Day only during the past 15 years.

Anyway, they both are traditions which have a long history. and I wish the tradition can last long..

Steven
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« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2012, 06:08:40 pm »

Charll et al,
   Very interesting. I will look to see if I have any bottles with this motif. I didn't know the story before.
Thank you, Joey
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« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2012, 10:40:35 pm »

Hi Steven,

China is changing so much and quicker than everybody imagines.
Not only tall buildings, large airports and 8 lanes of highways have been built in many cities in China, but also Chinese way of life has been drastically changed. I have stayed in Beijing only for 15 months. But even during the period I am aware of many changes including of driving manner !
So it may not be easy for traditions can last long... although I also wish such traditions last long not only in China, but also in Japan.

Cheers
Misu
 
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« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2012, 06:01:03 pm »

Kaz,
 I would have thought that traditions were better entrenched in Japan than in China.
Joey
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« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2012, 11:22:43 pm »

Sad to say, but I have to agree with you Joey!

-Misu,

I agree with you, and I can feel the changes in China right after I got off the airplane,  I even can't find my way back to home if my sister won't pick me up at airplane and I was there two years ago.

As you said there are constructions everywhere, and cities are becoming more modern and beautiful, and I was happy to find out the driving manner is get much better in Beijing and shanghai( not in other cities tho, I dare not to drive a car in china even I have been driving for almost 15 years:)).

Ofcoz those are all positive changes, I also noticed lots of changes on the back side of it, anyway, I really wish it can be all positive eventually.

Back to the traditions, I don't really like the tradition to be too commercialized, still missing the way how we celebrate the holiday, it all gone for the new generation, I guess nobody can stop the changes no matter its good or bad..

Steven 
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« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2012, 01:05:55 am »

Hi Joey,

Although even in Japan many old things have been changed, it may be true rather than China traditions better entrenched in Japan.

Steven, I have quite positive thinking about China. Doing business here in China is very interesting and challenging. All the people here, our counterparts, are excellent. They have been changed positively.

I am going back to Tokyo on business right now for 5 days where I will enjoy good sushi !

Cheers
Misu
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« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2012, 04:45:45 pm »

Misu, Enjoy!
   I envy you. There is very good sushi in Israel today, and in Hawaii it is acceptable, and in Toronto, very good, as well.
But in Ireland outside of Dublin city centre, good luck in finding sushi! Just not available! There is very good Indian, Thai, and Chinese food available 20 min. drive south, 30 min. northwest, or 30 min.northeast. In my village, there is good Chinese & Thai takeaway (takeout, in USA). But no Japanese. While in Toronto for a week, I went to a good Japanese restaurant twice for dinner.
   It is good to hear that Chinese businesspeople are getting better.
  Joey
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« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2012, 07:41:15 am »

Thanks Joey,

I went to a good sushi restaurant in Nishi-Azabu with my wife tonight. So nice !! Not possible to enjoy this type of sushi outside of Japan.

Joeys, please let me know if you have a chance to come to Tokyo. I will take you to the restaurant. Wonderful !

Misu
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« Reply #19 on: July 14, 2012, 11:05:15 am »

Misu,
   Happily! Thank you. But I don't eat any shellfish or fish without scales and fins.
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey
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