Technicians brush dust from an ink slab depicting the ancient romantic tragedy of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. The slab was unveiled during China's Qixi Festival this month. Gao Xinsheng / China Daily
A famous Chinese folk tale was recently nominated for inclusion in the nation's intangible cultural heritage list.
The ancient myth is a love story between Niu Lang, a poor cattle herder, and Zhi Nu, granddaughter of the queen of heaven.
But although the pair got married, they were not destined to live happily ever after.
The queen was angry when she discovered her granddaughter had married a mortal. She ordered soldiers to drag Zhi Nu back to heaven.
With the help of his loyal cattle, the broken-hearted husband flew into the sky after his beloved wife.
But just as Niu Lang caught up with his bride, the powerful queen appeared. With a wave of her hairpin, she created the Milky Way. The river-like galaxy was too wide for the lovers to cross.
Grief stricken, Niu Lang and Zhi Nu cried for days. Unable to bear her granddaughter's tears, the queen allowed the husband and wife to reunite once a year.
Their meeting is now celebrated as the Qixi Festival, or Chinse Valentine's Day -the seventh day of the seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar.
On that night, the brightest stars in the constellation, believed to be incarnations of the story's hero and heroin, are closer than any other time of the year.
It is said that if one listens closely, he can hear the suffering lovers whispering to one another.
But in lieu of putting an ear to the sky, myth lovers can visit Xi'an in Shaanxi. Often regarded as the birthplace of folklore, the province is home to an ancient site depicting Zhi Nu's tale .
According to historical records, the site was built by an emperor in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). Two stone statues stand facing one another on opposite sides of a lake, believed to be the herder and his lost wife.
The myth was initially nominated for the intangible cultural heritage list in 2008. But because 11 cities all laid claim to the tale, it was not selected.
One of four ancient Chinese romantic tragedies, the story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu is the only one not to appear on the nation's heritage list.
(China Daily 08/25/2010 page17)