New trends, activities keep traditional Qixi Festival alive and well
Dedicated to romance
Published: Aug 21, 2023 11:32 PM
Flower beds laid on open air staircases in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province  Photo: VCG

Flower beds laid on open air staircases in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province Photo: VCG

Editor's Note: 

How can art and culture from the past survive in a globalized world? Inheriting the treasure of art and culture from the past thousands of years, young Chinese have created a new trend - Guochao, or China chic. It refers to a movement started off by an increasing number of young people who are endeavoring to revive and reinvent China's traditional culture.

We can see fashion designers drawing inspiration from the precious murals inside the Yungang Grottoes, and traditional instrument players creating all new trendy music on the pipa. These young Guochao trendsetters have helped China's cultural legacies be passed down and preserved for future generations.

In this installment, the Global Times looks into the revitalization of tradition and brand new ways of celebrating Qixi Festival, a day of romance that has lasted for more than 2,000 years. 

People in traditional hanfu participate in a Qixi event at Yuanmingyuan Park on August 20 in Beijing. Photo: VCG

People in traditional hanfu participate in a Qixi event at Yuanmingyuan Park on August 20 in Beijing. Photo: VCG

Despite the fact that the Qixi Festival will fall on a weekday this year, the very special occasion of love and culture still intrigues many young Chinese, like 27-year-old Xiao Yuhang in Chengdu, who has prepared a "Qixi exclusive DIY gift" for his girlfriend. 

Every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, Qixi Festival, dubbed Chinese Valentine's Day, is widely celebrated in various ways. This year's Qixi falls on August 22. Xiao's gift for the festival is a pair of handmade jade butterfly earrings that were inspired by an ancient folk love story The Butterfly Lovers. 

Purchasing all the materials needed for his DIY gift on ecommerce platform Taobao, Xiao is just one of many young people who are jumping on the trend of "self-made Qixi gifts."

"Chocolate, flowers or going to the cinema are all too standard. I'd rather save that for February's Valentine's Day. Qixi is a very Chinese festival, so I want to make it classic but at the same time, creative," Xiao noted.

For China's young people, the Qixi Festival seems to have changed its way of celebrating. 

Instead of endless advertisements from merchants targeting young couples, the celebration of Qixi Festival has returned to the pursuit of the essence of it: filling the room with flowers like the ancients did, learning Qixi traditions and most importantly, enjoying and cherishing love and family.

Creative ways to celebrate

As the only traditional Chinese festival dedicated to romance, the Qixi Festival honors faith, devotion and unwavering true love.   

Rooted in a mythical, forbidden love between an immortal and a human, the festival celebrates the touching legend of two star-crossed lovers who only get to meet once a year. 

Being celebrated for thousands of years, today's Qixi still sees the warm welcome from the young people, who take the festival as a special occasion in life. In Nanning, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the appointments for the marriage registration at the local Civil Affairs Administration has been fully booked three days ahead of the special day. Similar situations appeared in cities across China.

Besides spending the romantic night together, an increasing number of young people are participating in activities featuring the traditional essence.

In Beijing, a group of 100 young people registered to participate in a special event: the Qixi limited "script kill" games. The activity will only be available for young single people to meet their potential loved ones, and has been again fully booked even five days before its launch.

Altering the tradition of giving jewelry inspired by Western culture, young Chinese people are also using Chinese designs to define their Qixi tastes. 

Cheng Yueyi, a jeweler, told the Global Times that she has customized several paired gemstone seals that are often used in Chinese calligraphy. Yet, the seals do not just contain mere Chinese characters but also animal images, numbers or the simple message "Happy Qixi."

"Stone seals symbolize 'commitment' in Chinese culture, and these accessories often come in pairs, this has an auspicious meaning for us Chinese." 

Cultural sociologist Chu Xin told the Global Times that the creative choices young people make when handcrafting these Qixi gifts are a "reconstruction of the Chinese cultural history intrinsic to the festival." And high demand for creative Qixi gifts has given a great boost to the cultural creative industry, as many institutes are selling their own Qix-inspired creative products to the costumers. 

Several museums across the country, like the Qiqiao Culture Museum in Guangzhou, have launched crossover products. In the Qiqiao museum's case, it has joined with a mobile gaming company to create a game that allows players to experience the Qixi festival in virtual reality. Players can explore different kinds of activities such as threading needles, the tradition once popular among the ancestors, on their mobile phones.

"These creative settings were all rooted in the Chinese traditional style of romance," Chu noted.

Joined by museums

"As our own 'Valentine's Day' in China, the Qixi Festival has become an annual celebration for us. We plan to visit the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum on the day of Qixi to admire the ancient buildings illuminated at night," a young Post-1990 couple living in Beijing told the Global Times, adding that "celebrating Qixi at a museum holds both significance and a sense of ritual."

In China's capital city, more than 30 Qixi activities will be held by local parks and museums to welcome the traditional festival, according to media reports.

On Sunday afternoon, a Qixi event took place at Yuanmingyuan Park, or the Old Summer Palace. 

Various lively activities such as classics recitals, ancient music performances, cultural lectures, painting on fans, embroidered sachets, donning traditional Chinese attire and releasing lotus lanterns were held at the park with the aim of showcasing the cultural essence of the traditional Qixi Festival.

As evening approached, visitors dressed in hanfu gathered on the banks of the lake, slowly releasing lotus lanterns onto the water. The lanterns drifted gently in the breeze, carrying with them wishes for a better life.

The Capital Museum is preparing a special event centered around the story of the Central Axis and various artifacts. 

Couples will be invited to partake in a distinctive museum date, delving into the stories behind the cultural relics and engaging in hands-on interactive experiences. 

Many museums are taking advantage of their unique collections to introduce captivating activities. The Xu Beihong Museum will host a lantern crafting event, during which visitors can unleash their creativity by using paper lanterns as their canvas, taking inspiration from the works of the art master Xu Beihong to create their own paintings through a combination of drawing and handcrafting.

Several museums will extend their opening hours into the night on day of Qixi. At 6:00 pm on Tuesday at the Beijing Stone Carving Art Museum, volunteer guides will lead visitors on an in-depth tour of Wuta Temple, immersing them in the allure of ancient temples and stone carving art through the stories told by various stone artifacts.

Starting from stargazing

There are various versions of the legend Cowherd and Weaver Girl, the origin of Qixi Festival. In one of the widely known versions, Zhinü (Weaver Girl), who is the seventh daughter of the Jade Emperor and Queen Mother of Heaven, falls in love with a human, Niulang (Cowherd). 

After the two get married on Earth against the rules of Heaven, Zhinü is summoned back to Heaven. 

A river up in the sky, the Milky Way, is created to separate the two and now they are only able to reunite once a year by walking on a bridge formed by a flock of magpies on the night of Qixi. 

The Chinese also named the two stars Niulang (the star Altair) and Zhinü (the star Vega) on the two sides of the Milky Way after the Cowherd and Weaver Girl.

Stargazing was one of most important traditional celebrations in the past. The festival can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). 

Hints of the Qixi Festival can also be found in relics. For example, a famille rose plate from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) at the Beijing Art Museum shows a young man riding on an ox. 

He is talking to a woman with stars, clouds and magpies between them. The rim is exquisitely painted in the color of gold. The bottom is covered in white enamel with the inscription reading "Meeting across the Magpie Bridge."

The plate, made by the then imperial kiln Jingdezhen, was used by royal on the day of Qixi. Yang Junyan, a researcher at the museum, noted that the plate provides valuable insight into royal traditions regarding Qixi.

Meanwhile, "The Song of Everlasting Regret" by Bai Juyi, is also a well-known reference to the festival. The masterpiece poem depicts the love story between Emperor Xuanzong and his beloved concubine Yang Guifei.

"On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, in the Hall of Longevity, at midnight, when nobody is around, this is when we will make our secret pact. In the Heavens, we vow to be as two birds flying wingtip to wingtip, on Earth, we vow to be as two intertwined branches of a tree."