Fake Valen­tine’s Day?

Qixi Fes­ti­val, which fell on Mon­day, has pre­cious lit­tle to do with ro­mance

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Lan­lan

Mon­day, Au­gust 28 marked this year's Qixi Fes­ti­val, a tra­di­tional cel­e­bra­tion w tich has re­cently come to be known as "Chi­nese Valen­tine's Day". Un­sur­pris­ingly, in an in­creas­ingly com­mer­cial­ized me­trop­o­lis like Shang­hai, Qixi — which falls on the 7th day of the 7th month ac­cord­ing to the lu­nar cal­en­dar — is to­day lit­tle more than an ex­cuse to flog over-priced choco­lates, roses, jew­elry and other tra­di­tional. Sadly, many of our other tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals and cus­toms are slowly go­ing the same way.

For­tu­nately, there are still a num­ber of cul­tural en­thu­si­asts in the city who are fight­ing to pre­serve and pro­mote some of these lesser-known fes­ti­val cus­toms. Last Sunday evening, a group or­ga­nized a Qixi-themed event in a tea­house near Yuyuan Gar­den on the eve of the ac­tual fes­ti­val. There, they in­vited lo­cals and ex­pats alike to try on tra­di­tional Chi­nese cos­tumes and to ex­pe­ri­ence au­then­tic Qixi cel­e­bra­tory cus­toms.

Love is in the air? Not quite

If you were to ran­domly ask 10 lo­cal peo­ple in the street what they un­der­stood by Qixi Fes­ti­val, you can guar­an­tee at least nine would ex­plain it as the Chi­nese equiv­a­lent of Valen­tine’s Day.

How­ever, this idea of a “Chi­nese Valen­tine’s Day” is re­ally noth­ing more than a mar­ket­ing gim­mick that has been heav­ily pro­moted in re­cent years sim­ply to in­crease con­sumer spend­ing. “In fact, China has no tra­di­tional fes­ti­val sim­i­lar to the Western Valen­tine’s Day,” said Wu Juanya, co-or­ga­nizer of Sunday’s Qixi event and founder of a tra­di­tional cul­ture group called Han­fux­inzhi. “In an­cient times, Qixi was more like a party oc­ca­sion for women to get to­gether and have fun.”

To com­bat this mis­per­cep­tion, Wu de­cided to hold a “real” Qixi cel­e­bra­tion. Co­op­er­at­ing with a Chi­nese-style tea­house named Chat­ting, she ar­ranged a se­ries of folk cus­tom activities to be held in the tea­house and which were all pop­u­lar dur­ing fes­ti­vals in an­cient China.

Some 30 women par­tic­i­pated in the cel­e­bra­tion, in­clud­ing two for­eign­ers re­spec­tively from Thai­land and Mex­ico. Dressed in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cos­tume – hanfu – as well as au­then­tic his­tor­i­cal makeup and hair­styles, the women recre­ated a scene that re­sem­bled a trip back in time.

Douqiao and Vega Wor­ship­ping

The Douqiao match and the Vega wor­ship­ping cer­e­mony are the two main parts of Qixi cel­e­bra­tions.

Douqiao – lit­er­ally “skills com­pe­ti­tion” – fea­tures sev­eral needle­work games such as nee­dle thread­ing and fan paint­ing. “In an­cient times, women liked to show off their needle­work skills on this day by per­form­ing well in douqiao games,” Wu ex­plained. And since those with good needle­work skills were usu­ally thought to make bet­ter wives, many un­mar­ried girls re­garded douqiao as a good op­por­tu­nity to show them­selves off.

Nee­dle thread­ing, for ex­am­ple, is one of the most dif­fi­cult douqiao games. In­stead of sim­ply putting thread through the eye of a nee­dle, one has to win the game by putting the same thread con­sec­u­tively through seven nee­dles within three min­utes. This is no easy task for many con­tem­po­rary women un­fa­mil­iar with needle­work.

How­ever, the two over­seas par­tic­i­pants both man­aged the task. At Sunday’s

douqiao match, Mex­i­can-born Yo­nanetl Zavala Cadena suc­cess­fully threaded seven nee­dles in only two min­utes. “You must be very care­ful and pa­tient,” she said.

Cadena has been in China for eight years but Qixi Fes­ti­val was still new to her. “It’s the first time I’ve par­tic­i­pated in a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fes­ti­val event like this,” she told the Global Times. “Chat­ting and play­ing fem­i­nine games with other girls is quite re­lax­ing, and I en­joyed it very much.”

Thai na­tive Bud­saya­pan Ler­ta­nun­vo­rakul also said she had a won­der­ful time. Hav­ing worked in Shang­hai for four years, she had heard of Qixi Fes­ti­val be­fore but

knew lit­tle about it. “To­day I tried on tra­di­tional Chi­nese clothes and ex­pe­ri­enced many in­ter­est­ing games,” she said. “Now I have a clearer idea of what this fes­ti­val is all about.”

The Vega wor­ship­ping cer­e­mony also plays an im­por­tant role in Qixi cel­e­bra­tions. In the past, the fes­ti­val was a time for women to pray to the Vega star (the bright­est star in the con­stel­la­tion of Lyra) for in­tel­li­gence, good luck and bet­ter needle­work skills. Un­for­tu­nately, the wor­ship­ping cer­e­mony is rarely en­acted nowa­days as few peo­ple have lit­tle in­ter­est in such old cus­toms.

Re­gard­less, Wu was de­ter­mined to ar­range such an au­then­tic Vega wor­ship­ping event and after night­fall on Sunday, the women lined up in front of a wooden ta­ble on which they neatly placed cook­ies, jew­elry items and a paint­ing of a beau­ti­ful woman. “The woman is Zhinü, the goddess of the Vega star,” Wu added.

In turn, the par­tic­i­pants each saluted the im­age of Zhinü, prayed to the Vega star and se­lected a small piece of cookie to eat. “We are do­ing what our an­ces­tors liked to do dur­ing this fes­ti­val thou­sands of years ago,” said 18-year-old He Ji­ay­ing. “It’s re­ally fun.”

Zhang Lei, the event co-or­ga­nizer and Chat­ting tea­house man­ager, said that she hopes more peo­ple will par­tic­i­pate in tra­di­tional events like this in the fu­ture, es­pe­cially young­sters. “I believe that they will be­come in­ter­ested in and fond of our pre­cious cul­ture and folk cos­tumes by ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them in per­son,” she said.

Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Mex­i­can ex­pat Yo­naneti Zavala at­tends the Qixi cel­e­bra­tions near Yuyuan Gar­den.

Thai na­tive Bud­saya­pan Ler­ta­nun­vo­rakul attempts the nee­dle thread­ing game. A par­tic­i­pant draws on a fan.

Pho­tos: Yang Hui/GT

Some 30 women par­tic­i­pate in the cel­e­bra­tion. A par­tic­i­pant prays to the Vega star.

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