Y is my other parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California.
This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China. This particular conversation followed a couple previous tellings of other stories from my other parent.
Y: The Cowherd and the weaver girl, you should know this one, it’s very famous-
Me: Wait what was it?
Y: The Cowherd and weaver girl, Zhong Guo Zen ( Chinese People) call it Niúláng Zhīnǚ. I’ll send you the spelling.
Me: Isn’t there another story about the crane and the weaver?
Y: There is another crane, but this one is about the stars. Remember, there’s – Cause chinese people watched the stars and they saw those stars separated from each other so they made up the story so that’s the Niúláng Zhīnǚ. Niúláng is the guy who herds the cows, that’s called cowherd and Weaver girl is the girl who weaves. The weaver girl is actually a goddess, she’s the daughter of the god, the god in charge in heaven, and she’s the seventh daughter. And her job was to weave the rainbows, and she had to weave the rainbows all the time.
One day she got tired of it and she decided to. This version is different from the one we heard. We heard that one day she and her sisters, seven of them, decided to come down to earth and swim in the river. And Niúláng actually saw them swimming and he was actually bad (laugh). He stole the seventh girl, the Zhīnǚ’s clothes so she couldn’t go back to heaven. So she stayed and married him. But this other version is a little nicer, Niúláng isn’t such a bad guy.
This one says that since Zhīnǚ’ was tired of weaving rainbows, she decided to come down to earth and she saw this Niúláng, the boy, and fell in love with him and decided to marry him. Okay? They lived happily together but when her dad found out about it, that she escaped, he actually sent people and his men to bring him- her back, to heaven. And he banned her from visiting Earth until like once a year. He only allows her to visit or see this Cowherd once a year.
And because the magpies, magpies are considered birds that bring good luck. Magpies heard about it and they felt sorry for the two and they decided to form a bridge to reunite them. So every year, during July 7. July 7 is called which festival? Zhong qiu jie? Is it Zhong qiu jie? July 7 is what jie? Which festival? (asking other informant).
H: Chinese Valentine!
Y: Chinese Valentine but I think there’s a special festival time. Anyways, on July 7th every year, they form – another story is that they reunited on the rainbow. Rainbow is like a bridge.
Y: They reunite on the bridge made by a rainbow, but anyways the magpies were the story here.
Me: I feel like I’ve heard this one before.
Y: yeah, it’s a very famous one.
I had heard this story when i was younger from my parents from a storybook and only recognized it when my mom told me the part about the magpie bridge! I think it’s also interesting because this directly demonstrates the multiplicity of folklore and how different versions of a story may interact with each other. I also think it is intriguing that in one version, it is more censored so that the story is more of a true love tale rather than the main love interest being creepy and being rewarded for his answer. This story reminds me of the Hades and Persephone Greek Myth with the trope of only being allowed to see your lover at a certain time of the year rather than all year. This story also directly ties into a festival that is celebrated in China as a representation of love: Chinese Valentine’s Day.