To be honest, we’re quite unlikely and reluctant to admit to “love". Chinese people seldom say the 4-letter word that Westerners seem to sign every card with and sometimes every text. Love tends to be a private conversation in China, but it’s never a secret. Chinese people celebrate love many times in a year. In fact, we have so many festivals for couples that many foreigners are often left wondering “how many Valentine’s Days have there been this year?” Today, on Qixi (one of the most important love festivals in China), I’ll introduce you to 3 widely celebrated Chinese “Valentine’s Days”.
However, first let’s dive into our love culture, heavily influenced by Confucianism.
Chinese people are conventional and introverted. Fervent love, an utter contrary to the doctrine of Confucianism, is expressed in subtle and carful ways. Courtesy is the priority of speaking love: you can never be too impatient or too rude. Love regarding courtesy is the graceful love, the kind of love that can make one proud. Polite love is the basis for a satisfying marriage and provides healthy family structures in a society. Poets in Chinese history always suggest that love is like a thin stream of water slowly flowing into time. As you can tell, love in China is peaceful and tranquil. Of course, this is not the only kind of love in China. Love can be swift and violent, but most people (especially the elders) disapprove of this kind of love. As more and more young people accept the Western concept of love, love itself is gradually turning into an inclusive word in China. The young never avoid saying “love”; they grow to be brave about it. Their bold expressions even earned them a new celebration for couples on May the 20th.
May the 20th
It is rather a new fashion, which is officially called as “the Cyber Valentine’s Day”. Cyber Valentine's Day is the love festival of the millennium generation. The festival comes from singer Fan Xiaoxuan's Digital Love, in which the number “520” is interpreted as “I love you”, since the “I love you” in Mandarin (“我爱你”) greatly resembles the pronunciation of 520. Later, “521”, which also has a similar pronunciation of “我爱你”, is also accepted as a special code for couples. Pop songs sing out a code for love : 520 (or 521) 1314, which sounds like “我爱你一生一世” in Mandarin, meaning I’ll always love you in this life. People start to say, “I love you” on May the 20th; May the 21st naturally becomes the answering day, which is given the meaning of “I do”. This is not the conventional way to speak of love, and it was a breaking trend at the time, which flooded the internet with thousands of people saying 520 to their loved ones. People boldly say love, give gifts and date. Countless couples go out for marriage registration on these two days. Many love-crazy couples cause spikes in certain businesses. E-businesses take advantage of the celebration, giving out discounts and promotion activities. The internet is always buzzing with love each May 20th.
Qixi (also known as the Qiqiao Festival)
This is the traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day. It is the celebration of the annual meeting of the cowherd boy (also known as Niulang “牛郎”) and the weaver girl (also known as Zhinv “织女”) in Chinese mythology. According to the tale, their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the galaxy, 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 couples for one day.
Actually, Niulang, Zhinv and magpies are stars in the sky. In the evening of Qixi, people gaze to the sky to look for Vega and Altair; they are Niuland and Zhinv. A third star would form a symbolic bridge between the two stars, which represent magpies bridge. The reunion of Niulang and Zhinv at night proves the loyal and steadfast love between them.
The moving story is alluded in many traditional literatures. For hundreds of years, people commemorate their love on Qixi (“七夕” in Chinese). Conventionally, girls go to temples to worship the celestials and to pray to Zhinv for wisdom. On this day, unlike on typical days, love is talked about freely. You’ll tend to see couples with flaming roses on the streets. People also accept the Western way of celebrating love. Going to fancy restaurants and watching a romantic movie are popular choices for Chinese couples. Of course, you’ll need a reservation!
Funnily enough, while this festival is mainly for family reunion, it is still a big celebration of love because in ancient times, this was the only day an unmarried woman was allowed to go out and meet new people. Traditionally, people go out at night carrying paper lanterns to solve riddles on each other’s lantern… however it became a bit of a secret meeting of new couples.
Now, Lantern festival no longer serves as a secret reunion day, we have Momo or Bumble for that.
Though we have many ways and many days to celebrate love, the hidden message is always the same: we refuse to keep love as a secret. From ancient mythology to modern couples, slowly the Chinese are growing to be more and more brave to speak out about love.
How will you spend Qixi? Whether you’re in a couple or single, Qixi is for everyone. Buy yourself some flowers and wish a “happy Qixi” to friends, colleagues and even strangers you see on your travels.
About the blogger:
Sharon Wang is attending Reed college in Portland, OR. Shanghainese born and raised, she’s returned home for the summer to blog, take over our Instagram and to learn about running a Mandarin school. She’s passionate about math and marketing and is exploring ways to improve our marketing activities with math. If you see her around Mandarin Inn, ask where to eat nearby - she’s a total foodie.