The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

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The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
Niulang and Zhinv (Long Corridor).JPG
The reunion of the couple on the bridge of magpies-artwork in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace, Beijing
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 牛郎織女
Simplified Chinese 牛郎织女
Literal meaning Cowherd [and] Weaver Girl
Korean name
Hangul 견우직녀
Hanja 牽牛織女
Japanese name
Kanji 牛郎織女
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Ngưu Lang Chức Nữ

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is a Chinese folk tale.

The general tale 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).[1] Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way Galaxy).[1][2] 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.[1] There are many variations of the story.[1] 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.[3]

The tale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival in China since the Han dynasty.[4] It has also been celebrated in the Tanabata festival in Japan, and in the Chilseok festival in Korea.

The story is now counted as one of China's Four Great Folktales, the others being the Legend of the White Snake, Lady Meng Jiang, and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai.[5]


The tale has been alluded to in many literary works. One of the most famous one was the poem by Qin Guan (1049-1100) during the Song dynasty:

Influence and variations[edit]

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,[7] the youngest of seven daughters of the Kinnara King who lives on Mount Kailash and falls in love with Prince Sudhana.[8][page needed] In Sri Lanka, another version of the Manohara legend is popular where Prince Sudhana is a kinnara who is shot before being revived by Śakra, the Buddhist equivalent of the Jade Emperor.[9][10][11]

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?]

Cultural references[edit]

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. The novel Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is centered around the tale, but incorporates many more Chinese folk stories while retelling the tale.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Brown & Brown 2006, 72.
  2. ^ Lai 1999, 191.
  3. ^ Schomp 2009, 89.
  4. ^ Schomp 2009, 70.
  5. ^ Idema (2012), p. 26.
  6. ^ Qiu 2003, 133.
  7. ^ Cornell University (2013). Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University: Fall Bulletin 2013. Page 9. "It is generally accepted that the tale of Manora (Manohara) told in Southeast Asia has become conflated with the story of the cowherd and the celestial Weaver girl, popular in China, Korea, and Japan. This conflation of tales, in which Indian and Chinese concepts of sky nymphs cohere, suggests a consummate example of what historian Oliver Wolters refers to as “localization” in Southeast Asia.
  8. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh S. (ed.) (2001). Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies ISBN 81-208-1776-1.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^