On March 14th, it happens to be the Korean Valentine Day, and Korean boyfriends must offer chocolate truffes to their beloved (otherwise imminent break-up for the rule-breaker).
I just remembered a story I heard in Taiwan, when I was ranting against Valentine’s Day, like the true shrew spinster I am. It’s a sad yet beautiful one about star-crossed lovers, and it reminds me of the tale of Bata the Egyptian (one of my favourites!), or even the Puss in Boots (challenge! could you find the common features and tell which kind of archetype they belong to?) …
Ladies and gentlemen, the story of Niulang and Zhinu, aka the Cowboy and the Tailor, will begin soon. Please take a comfy seat and don’t forget to turn off your smartphones (don’t try to fool me, young man in the back! I can see the flashy blue reflection of the display on your glasses!). Usually, it is told to children at the Qixi celebration, or the Festival of the Seventh Night, at the beginning of August, when rain starts to fall.
Once upon a time, a young cowboy named Niulang lived with his elder brother and his wife, but the latter disliked him so much and was so cruel towards him that he had to eventually set off, with a lone cow for companion. Yet, this was no ordinary cow : it was formerly a god, but convicted of rebellion against the Emperor, he was thrown in the mortal world under a bovine shape.
One sunny day, the cow drove his young master to a sacred lake where few fairies were taking a bath. Among them was Zhinu, a heavenly skilled tailor, and beautiful beyond compare. As soon as their eyes met, both fell madly in love and they decided to get married on that very day. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and their happiness knew no cloud.
Nevertheless, such perfect happiness couldn’t last long : the Mighty Jade Emperor, supreme taoist divinity, considered such an uneven union between a mortal and a fairy as unlawful and thus sent the Emperess to recall to Heaven the gifted Zhinu.
Niulang was desperate. Touched by its master’s misfortune, the cow told him to make a pair of shoes out of its skin, once dead.
With these magic shoes, Niulang could chase the Emperess through the sky, crying to let Zhinu go back to him and his children. The Emperess thus threw her hairpin to make a barrier between the two lovers whose hands were almost touching, and the Milky Way was born to tear them apart. However, the divine magpies, deeply moved by such a strong love, decided to make a bridge over the Milky Way and Niulang and Zhinu could finally be together again, even if for an instant.
The Jade Emperor, whose heart was not made of stone, allowed the couple to meet once a year, the seventh day of the seventh month.
So remember to lift your eyes in the summersky and look for the brightest star in the constellation of the Eagle ; just on the other side of the Milky Way, the proud Vega shines flawlessly… these are Niulang and Zhinue waiting to meet again.