The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd
|The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd|
|Literal meaning||Cowherd and Weaver Girl|
|Vietnamese||Ngưu Lang Chức Nữ
Tảnān phra s̄u ṭhn mnorāh̄̒
The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd 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). Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way Galaxy). 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 Weaver Girl and the Cowherd has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival in China since the Han dynasty, 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 (Baishezhuan), Lady Meng Jiang, and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. 
The story with differing variations is also popular in other parts of Asia. In Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, it is 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 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. In Korea, it revolves around the story of Jiknyeo, the weaver girl who falls in love with Gyeonwu, 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.
Meeting across the Milky way
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.
Notes and references
- Brown & Brown 2006, 72.
- Lai 1999, 191.
- Schomp 2009, 89.
- Schomp 2009, 70.
- Idema (2012), p. 26.
- Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies
- Qiu 2003, 133.
- Brown, Ju; Brown, John (2006). China, Japan, Korea: Culture and customs. North Charleston: BookSurge. ISBN 1-4196-4893-4.
- Idema, Wilt L. (2012). "Old Tales for New Times: Some Comments on the Cultural Translation of China's Four Great Folktales in the Twentieth Century" (PDF). Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies. 9 (1): 25–46.
- Lai, Sufen Sophia (1999). "Father in Heaven, Mother in Hell: Gender politics in the creation and transformation of Mulian's mother". Presence and presentation: Women in the Chinese literati tradition. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 031221054X.
- Qiu, Xiaolong (2003). Treasury of Chinese love poems. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 9780781809689.
- Schomp, Virginia (2009). The ancient Chinese. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark. ISBN 0761442162.
- Mao, Xian (2013). Cowherd and Weaver and other most popular love legends in China. eBook: Kindle Direct Publishing.