The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
|The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl|
|Literal meaning||Cowherd [and] Weaver Girl|
|Vietnamese||Ngưu Lang Chức Nữ|
The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is a Chinese folk tale. The tale of the cowherd and the weaver girl is a love story between Zhinü (織女; the weaver girl, symbolizing the star Vega) and Niulang (牛郎; the cowherd, symbolizing the star Altair). Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the heavenly river (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. There are many variations of the story.
The earliest-known reference to this famous myth dates back to over 2600 years ago, which was told in a poem from the Classic of Poetry. The tale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival in China since the Han dynasty. It has also been celebrated in the Tanabata festival in Japan, and in the Chilseok festival in Korea.
The story was selected as one of China's Four Great Folktales by the "Folklore Movement" in the 1920s—the others being the Legend of the White Snake, Lady Meng Jiang, and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai—but Idema (2012) also notes that this term neglects the variations and therefore diversity of the tales, as only a single version was taken as the true version.
Meeting across the Milky way
The Heavenly River
Influence and variations
The story with differing variations is also popular in other parts of Asia. In Southeast Asia, the story has been conflated into a Jataka tale detailing the story of Manohara, the youngest of seven daughters of the Kinnara King who lives on Mount Kailash and falls in love with Prince Sudhana.
In Korea, it revolves around the story of Jingnyeo, the weaver girl who falls in love with Gyeonu, the herder. In Japan, the story revolves around the romance between the deities, Orihime and Hikoboshi. In Vietnam, the story is known as Ngưu Lang Chức Nữ and revolves around the story of Chức Nữ and Ngưu Lang.[context?]
Reference to the story is also made by Carl Sagan in his book Contact. The tale and the Tanabata festival are also the basis of the Sailor Moon side story entitled Chibiusa's Picture Diary-Beware the Tanabata!, where both Vega and Altair make an appearance. The Post-Hardcore band La Dispute named and partially based their first album, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, after the tale. The JRPG Bravely Second: End Layer also uses the names Vega and Altair for a pair of story-important characters who shared a love interest in each other years before the game's story began, Deneb being their common friend. South Korean girl group Red Velvet's song "One of These Nights" from their 2016 EP, The Velvet, also references the legend of the two lovers. J-pop band Supercell also references the story on its song "Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari". The novel Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is centered around the tale, but incorporates many more Chinese folk stories while retelling the tale.
Similar to the Chang'e space program being named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, the Queqiao relay satellite of Chang'e 4 is named after the "bridge of magpies" from the Chinese tale of the cowherd and weaver girl. The Chang'e 4 landing site is known as Statio Tianhe, which refers to the heavenly river in the tale. The nearby far-side lunar craters Zhinyu and Hegu are named after Chinese constellations associated with the weaver girl and the cowherd.
Zhinü crossing the River of Heaven, as painted by Gai Qi, 1799
Zhinü and Niulang, by the Japanese painter Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
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