Once upon a time, in the celestial realms above, there was a beautiful and talented weaver girl named Zhinü, who was the daughter of the Jade Emperor and the Heavenly Queen Mother. Zhinü was known for her extraordinary skills in weaving beautiful clouds and rainbows. Her work was so flawless that it was admired by both the immortals and mortals alike.

Down on Earth, a young orphaned cowherd named Niulang lived a simple life. He was a kind and honest young man, tending to his cattle and working diligently on his farm. Niulang had no family of his own, but he was not entirely alone; he was accompanied by his loyal old ox.

One sunny day, the old ox revealed an incredible secret to Niulang. It turned out that the ox was actually a celestial being who had been sent to Earth as punishment for a mistake he made in the heavens. He had served his sentence and was due to return to his celestial form. Before leaving, the ox wanted to help Niulang find true happiness.

The old ox told Niulang about a magical lake where heavenly maidens descended to bathe. Among them was the beautiful Zhinü, who was said to be the most breathtaking of all. With the ox’s guidance, Niulang set out to the lake in the hopes of catching a glimpse of these heavenly maidens.

Upon arrival, Niulang hid behind a large tree, awestruck by the sight of the ethereal beings. However, it was Zhinü who captivated him the most. Her beauty was unmatched, and her elegance seemed to surpass that of any mortal.

As the heavenly maidens prepared to return to the skies, Niulang made his move. He quickly rushed forward and stole Zhinü’s celestial robe, preventing her from returning to the heavens with her sisters. Desperate to return home, Zhinü pleaded with Niulang to give back her robe.

Despite his initial intentions, Niulang found himself unable to deny Zhinü’s desperate pleas. He returned the robe, but only under the condition that she would stay with him and teach him how to weave the beautiful clouds and rainbows that she was famous for. With no other choice, Zhinü agreed.

Over time, Zhinü grew fond of Niulang and the simple life they shared. They fell deeply in love, and before long, they were married. Together, they lived in harmony, and their love blossomed. Niulang learned the art of weaving from his celestial wife, while Zhinü experienced the joys of life on Earth.

Several years passed, and the couple had two beautiful children. However, their happiness was not meant to last. Zhinü’s absence had been noticed in the heavens, and the Queen Mother was furious that her daughter had married a mere mortal. She sent celestial soldiers to retrieve Zhinü and return her to her rightful place in the sky.

Heartbroken, Niulang was determined to reunite with his beloved wife. He carried his children in woven baskets and, with the help of the old ox who had returned in spirit form, he chased after Zhinü across the sky.

As the Queen Mother watched Niulang’s relentless pursuit, she became even more incensed. In a fit of rage, she took a hairpin and slashed it across the sky, creating a vast river of stars that separated the lovers. This river became known as the Milky Way, a seemingly insurmountable barrier that kept Niulang and Zhinü apart. Niulang, standing on one side of the river with their children, and Zhinü, on the other side, gazed at each other with tears in their eyes. Their love, however, remained unyielding.

Moved by the couple’s undying devotion and the sorrowful cries of their children, the magpies of the world came together in a remarkable act of compassion. They formed a living bridge across the Milky Way, allowing Niulang and Zhinü to reunite, if only for a brief moment.

Seeing the lengths that the lovers went to in order to be together and the support they received from the magpies, the Queen Mother finally relented. She allowed Niulang and Zhinü to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. On this day, the magpies would form their bridge once again, uniting the weaver girl and the cowherd in a fleeting, yet cherished, embrace.

And so, every year on this special day, the sky would be filled with a flurry of magpies, reuniting Niulang and Zhinü across the starry river. Their love, transcending both heaven and earth, became a symbol of everlasting devotion.

This tale of the weaver girl and the cowherd has been passed down through generations, and it is now celebrated as the Qixi Festival, or the Chinese Valentine’s Day. It is a reminder that even the seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome when love is strong enough, and that sometimes, even the gods must bow to the power of the human heart.

And so, the story of Niulang and Zhinü lives on, a testament to the enduring power of love and the celestial beauty of a love that spans both heaven and earth.

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