Romance, Chinese style

Updated: 2012-08-20 17:42

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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Romance, Chinese style

Young women place heart-shaped lanterns on the water on Qixi, floating their dreams and wishes. Provided to China Daily

The ancient legend of Qixi is all about romance and lovers, and Tiffany Tan finds out more about this Chinese 'Valentine's Day'.

Thursday, Aug 23, will be a red-letter date for Zhao Xiaoqian and her boyfriend. In the morning, the couple is heading to a scenic part of the Beijing outskirts to shoot photos. Then they're going out for dinner and a movie, they might decide to sing their hearts out at a karaoke lounge.

"He made all the plans. I'm really excited, because some things are supposed to be a surprise," says Zhao, 22, who is currently preparing for an accounting examination. "It's similar to how I felt when I was a girl waiting for Spring Festival to come."

What's so special about Thursday? Well, you might say it's the second Valentine's Day in the year.

The seventh day of the seventh lunar month, or Qixi, which falls on Aug 23 this year, has come to be known as "Chinese Valentine's Day".

On this day, legend says, the tragic lovers Zhinu, the youngest daughter of the celestial Jade Emperor, and her cowherd husband Niulang hold their annual reunion across the heavens. (Marriage between heavenly beings and mortals was forbidden.)

Zhao and her sweetheart celebrate Qixi much like they do Valentine's Day. But it turns out they're quite an unusual couple to be celebrating Qixi at all.

According to a survey on digital media portal Sina, 65 percent of respondents don't have plans for Qixi, while 21 percent don't even mark the date.

When asked which occasion they prefer, 30 percent said they like Qixi better than Valentine's Day while 21 percent said the opposite.

These results won't surprise some social scientists.

"Chinese people don't have a Valentine's Day," says Chen Xiaomin, a sociology professor in Shanghai and director of the Chinese Research Society on Marriage and Family. "Qixi is a beautiful, ancient legend that's been passed on from generation to generation, but it has not become a Chinese festival.

"Qixi becoming China's Valentine's Day happened largely from the localization of Western Valentine's Day," she says, adding that commercialization has also played a role.

Businesses like flower shops, restaurants and hotels around the country are definitely banking on Aug 23 to bump up their sales. A number of travel agencies are even offering package tours overseas for the occasion.

Some customers, like Beijing PR consultant Terence Hew, might make big plans for the day without even realizing its significance. Last year, Hew and his Chinese wife booked their Malaysian wedding ceremony in his hometown of Kuala Lumpur for Aug 6.

But it wasn't until two months after the date was set that the couple found out the big day would fall on Chinese Valentine's Day.