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Story of Chi-Si

Hsin I. Huang

The 7th day of the 7th month on the lunar calendar is called "Chi-Si." According to Chinese folklore, it's the birthday of "Chi-Neu," the goddess who is the guardian of the teenagers. Chi-Neu was believed to be a maiden of the Empress of the Heaven.

Once upon a time, the heaven and the earth were only separated by a shimmering, silvery river. In the heaven, there lived a maiden who was dearly loved by the Empress of the Heaven. Not only was she beautiful and warm-hearted, she also had the most skillful and graceful hands that ever touched a loom (a weaving machine). Her weaving skills were unmatched. She constantly wore beautiful clothing that the people living on earth saw as clouds. She and her six sisters wove, frolicked and lived a worry-free and happy life.

On the earth, the cowboy's life was just the opposite. His parents had died long time ago and his brothers were not treating him very well. They kicked him out of the house. His sole possession was an old and sick cow. Disregarding his misfortune, he patiently cared for the cow and nursed it back to health. Almost as if the cow had a conscience, it paid back its gratefulness by working hard. Both the cowboy and the cow labored arduously and as a result, the barren land they once lived on became fertile farmland. The cowboy then built a small house for himself and a corral for the cow.

Now that survival wasn't a problem, the cowboy settled down happily. However, he soon became lonely and longed for companionship. "If I had a wife, life would be cool!" he sighed to himself.

"That's not too difficult!" the cow suddenly spoke. "Right now, there are seven very beautiful maidens taking a bath at the river. If you manage to take a set of the clothes from them, the owner of the clothes will become your wife. Hurry. Get on my back. I'll take you there."

At the river, there were indeed seven beautiful maidens. The cowboy quickly looked at their robes lying on the riverbank. He was dazzled by the beauty of each robe. With many dazzling colors woven in, each robe was unique. He finally took the robe that seemed to be the most beautiful. Without hesitation, he turned and ran away.

As soon as the maidens saw that one set of clothes was stolen, the six sisters quickly put on their robes and flew back to heaven. That left the poor weaving girl alone and frightened.

"Please return my robe," she pleaded.

"If I give you the robe back, will you be my wife?" the cowboy asked. The weaving girl thought briefly, then nodded.

Ten years passed. The cowboy and the weaving girl were parents of a boy and a girl.

One day, the old cow spoke again. "Master, I'm very old now. I can't be with you any longer. Thank you for taking care of me for all these years." The cow sighed heavily and said, "When I die, please don't feel bad. Please keep my hide. It has magical power that will help you in the time of need." The cow soon passed away. The cowboy tearfully buried the cow, but kept the hide.

Meanwhile, in heaven, only 10 days, as opposed to 10 years on earth, had passed. The Heaven Empress was getting angry. In the absence of the weaving girl, the clouds and skies has lost their colors and beauty. The Empress angrily ordered the return of the weaving girl.

On earth, lightning suddenly flashed across the darkening sky. The children, terrified, started to cry. A magpie, the Empress's messenger, flew to the windowsill of the house. "Madame! Things do not bode well. The Empress has ordered me to tell you that because you missed ten days of work, she is going to punish you severely." The weaving girl heard the ominous message and her face turned ash white with fright. However, she resolved to stay with her family. "No, I'm not going back!"

"Please, Madame. If you don't return, the Empress will extend the punishment to your family." Another round of lightning flashed and more thunder resounded. A pair of guardsmen from Heaven, wielding swords and axes, materialized from out of nowhere and seized the weaving girl. They began to drag her back across the silvery river.

"Don't take my mother. Mom, don't go," the children wailed. They got their father in the field and pointed to the river and cried, "Mommy had been taken away to Heaven."

The cowboy frantically scooped up his children and placed them in a caddie, one on each side. He ran after the guardsmen and shouted, "Let my wife go!"

The Empress watched the cowboy run madly after his wife. She used her magic to lift the river higher and higher. Undaunted, the cowboy remembered the old cow's last words and draped the hide over his shoulders. They began to fly. The Empress, unimpressed, drew a gold hairpin from her hair and made a swirling motion in the river. Gigantic waves and breakers suddenly formed on the once calm silvery river.

"Dad, don't be discouraged. We can use the caddie to scoop out all the water in the river." The children suggested earnestly. The cowboy knew it was futile. But they tried anyway. When one got tired, the other took over. All the while, the weaving girl watching them helplessly from the other side of the river, hoping that they would somehow succeed.

Finally, the Empress was moved by the dedication and love the two showed for each other. She decreed that every year on the 7th day of the 7th month, the family could be reunited for one day. The magpie transformed itself into a bridge on that day so that they could cross the river.

Astronomical Note:

In the night sky, the weaving girl is represented by the zeroth-magnitude star Vega in the constellation Lyra. The cowboy is 1st magnitude Altair in the contellation Aquila. They are on the opposite sides of the silvery river, the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Together with Deneb of Cygnus Constellation, these three bright stars form what is called "the Summer Triangle".

If you look closely, you will see Altair has a 3rd magnitude star on each side, just like the cowboy was carrying his two children.

Vega is 25 light years from us while Altair is 16.5 light years away. With about a dozen light years between them, do you think they will ever meet in the middle of the Milky Way?

Mail to: Hsin I. Huang
Copyright © 2001 San Jose Astronomical Association
Last updated: July 19, 2007

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