Niu Lang and Zhi Nu - Chinese Valentines

Niu Lang was a young farmer and an orphan. All he owned was an old bull and a plow. He worked hard in his field during the day and when he came home at night he had to cook for himself and wash his clothes. Day after day, he worked and struggled to survive.

One day, something miraculous happened. He came home in the evening to find that his house was cleaned, his clothes were washed, and his table was covered with steaming plates of food. Niu Lang was shocked. But he was hungry, so he decided not to think about it and started eating.

The same strange thing went on for several days. Finally, Niu Lang decided to find out exactly what was happening. He left for the field in the morning as usual, but turned around and hid himself behind his house. He didn't wait for long. A beautiful young woman entered his house and started cleaning. Niu Lang couldn't help but jump out of his hiding place. He grabbed the hand of the young woman. 'Who are you?' he asked, 'Why are you helping me?' The woman was surprised at Niu Lang's sudden appearance. She blushed and, in a shy voice, said, 'My name is Zhi Nu. I've seen you working very hard every day so I wanted to help you.' Niu Lang was very touched. 'Would you like to stay?' he proposed, 'We can stay together and work together to build a beautiful life.' Zhi Nu was shy, but she nodded in agreement. They got married soon after. Niu Lang kept on working in the field and Zhi Nu embroidered at home. Within a few years, they had a boy and a girl. Together the family lived a very happy life.

However, the happy days didn't last forever. One day when Niu Lang was working in the field, dark clouds suddenly covered the sky. The wind blew furiously, and lightning ripped the air. Niu Lang rushed home to find that Zhi Nu was gone. The two children wept in fear. Niu Lang held his children and didn't know what else to do. But then as quickly as they came, the dark clouds disappeared. Zhi Nu came back home, but she looked sad and worried. She sat down with Niu Lang and the children and slowly announced the truth. 'I'm not an earthly woman,' she confessed in a teary voice, 'I'm the granddaughter of the Empress of the Heavenly Court. I don't belong here. The Heavenly Court has sent for me. Please take good care of yourselves.' She kissed Niu Lang and her children many times and flew away on a cloud as tears streamed down her face.

Niu Lang stood still with the two children in his arms for a long time. Finally he looked at his young children and decided that he could not just let his wife leave: his children needed their mother and he needed his wife. He would look for her and find her. Suddenly, he heard a voice saying to him, 'Kill me, and make a cloak out of my skin. Carry your children in two baskets and then you can fly to the Heavenly Court to look for Zhi Nu.' Niu Lang looked around and realized that it was his old bull talking. The bull was a faithful friend of his for many years, so Niu Lang couldn't imagine killing him. But the bull was very stubborn and Niu Lang had no other ideas. Eventually he yielded and painfully did what the bull suggested.

With the bull's cloak, he was able to fly to the Heavenly Court. But the Empress refused to let Niu Lang see her granddaughter, Zhi Nu. Instead, she gave him a test. She presented seven women with their faces covered and challenged Niu Lang to determine which one was Zhi Niu. Niu Lang didn't know what to do, but his children naturally recognized their mother right away and jumped in joy towards her.

The Empress still didn't want Zhi Nu to go back to the earth. So she ordered the Heavenly Guards to take her away. Niu Lang took his children and followed as fast as he could. He ran and ran. When he fell, he got up right away and kept following. The Empress watched angrily. As Niu Lang drew closer, she took out a silver pin from her hair and threw it between Niu Lang and Zhi Nu.

The pin became the Silver River (Milky Way) and Niu Lang and Zhi Nu became constellations on opposite sides of the river. Every day they stood there and watched each other, until one day all the sparrows were moved by their love. They flew in from all directions and formed a bridge so that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu could walk across the Silver River and meet each other in the middle. At the end of the day, the sparrows flew away, and Niu Lang and Zhi Nu had to return to opposite sides.

Since then, each year on July 7th of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the sparrows form the bridge again, but only for a day. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu walk on the Sparrow Bridge and meet each other once a year. The rest of the year, they remain sadly separated from each other. That's why July 7th of Chinese Lunar Calendar is the Chinese Valentines' Day.


Reading Fun: Folk Stories

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