Most fairy tales end when the hero and heroine marry and live happily ever after. This ancient Chinese myth does not stop on the wedding day. It tells the tale of a cowherd who looks after an old Ox. The Ox is semi-devine. He is a star who is spending some time of Earth. He decides to help the boy to marry one of the weaving maidens who blow the clouds through the sky – but the Queen of Heaven is not pleased by this plan.
The tale is recalled every year in August on the Chinese festival known as The Double Seventh. It is a holiday a little like Valentine’s day that celebrates romantic love.
Read by Natasha. Adapted for Storynory by Bertie.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
The cowherd and the weaving maid
Hello, this is Natasha, and this is an ancient fairy tale from China. In China it is the story behind a holiday called the Double Seventh. It is a festival that is a little like Valentine’s day, because it celebrates romantic love. As you will hear the story is very romantic.
A long time ago, there lived a poor cowherd. His parents had died and he lived with his brother and his sister-in-law. His only relatives were cruel to him and one day they drove him out of the house. A farmer took pity on the homeless boy, and offered him a daily meal and a bed of straw in the cowshed. In return, the boy would look after the farmer’s old ox. From then on, the boy spent his days and nights with the animal. In fact, the beast was his only companion. Despite his great age, the ox was a handsome creature. His golden hair shone in the moonlight. The boy knew in his heart that his friend had something heavenly about him.
One day, when they were out on the hills, the Ox turned his great head to the boy and spoke to him clearly in an almost human voice.
“Boy,” he lowed, “You are my friend and have looked after me faithfully. Now I am old, and soon I will die. My time on earth is done. I will return to my place in the heavens where I am the the chief star in the constellation of the Ox. Before I go, I wish to see you married.”
The poor lad did not know how to reply. He knew not a single girl, let alone one that would marry him. The Ox saw how perplexed he looked, and said, “Listen carefully to me, for this is what you must do. Today is is the seventh of the month. This very night, the seven weaving maidens of the skies will float down to the river to take a bath. You will see their clothes by the bank. The seventh daughter wears robes of red. Sneak down quietly to the bank and steal her clothes. In this way, you will get to know her, for she will call out and demand the return of the robes.”
The boy sighed, for the river was far away on the other side of the mountain. He would not be able to reach its banks before nightfall. The celestial Ox again saw that the boy was at a loss – but he had an answer for this problem too: He told the cowherd to climb on his back. Then off they flew through the skies to the river.
When they arrived, the boy stepped down from his friend’s back, and swiftly hid behind a jade tree. Towards midnight, he heard splashing and giggling. He peeped around the tree and saw the maidens swimming and playing in the water. While they were having fun, he crawled stealthily forward and pinched the red robe of the seventh daughter of the skies.
When the weaving maidens had finished washing and frolicking they came out onto the bank. But where were the red robes of the seventh daughter of the skies? They knew right away that somebody must have stolen them. The girl without clothes hid behind a bush to cover her modesty. Her sisters called, “Come out whoever you are. It is not wise to play pranks on the immortals. Our father is the Jade Emperor and the ruler of all Heaven. He knows how to punish naughty human folk.”
The boy saw the funny side of the situation and felt bold. He stepped forward holding the red robes before his eyes. He called out, “Lovely maiden, Seventh Daughter of the Skies, promise to be my wife and I will return these clothes to you.”
It was such a cheeky proposal that the weaving maidens could not help but laugh. The seventh daughter who was hiding behind the bush was furious – but in a way, she was impressed too by this brazen boy. She had to admit, he was not bad looking, for a human. There was something about him.
Her eldest sister said, “Listen to the lad. You are not able to fly away without your robes. If you do not agree to his demand, we must leave you here.”
“Throw the robes over here and I will think about it,” said the maiden from behind the bush.
The boy threw the robes. “Now will you marry me?” He demanded.
“I’ll let you know,” she replied.
Her sisters gasped and giggled. “Don’t miss your chance,” said the eldest. “I bet a good looking lad like him has plenty of offers. It’s not every day that a maiden of the skies gets a proposal. Think about it. How often does a man want to marry a cloud?”
So the maiden, now fully clothed in her red robes, stepped out from the bush. She held out her lovely hand. The boy knelt and kissed it. She agreed to be his wife.
Her sisters flew away to the skies where they continued as usual to flit across the heavens in the form of fluffy clouds. By contrast, the lovely the seventh maiden lived on earth with the cowherd. She took the shape of a most beautiful woman. From that day on, the boy’s fortunes prospered. The farmer adopted him as his son and gave him a wedding gift of land and live stock. His mean brother and sister-in-law could only look on enviously at his prosperity. The cowherd lived happily with his heavenly wife, and three years later they had twins – a beautiful boy and girl. The only sadness in their lives was that the dear old Ox had passed away. They had a comfort in that they could look up at the sky and see him twinkling in the sky at night.
Up in the heavens, the passing of three years is like three days to the gods. The heavenly mother began to notice that the dawn and the evening clouds had lost their rosy tint. She realised that the seventh weaving maiden, she of the red robes, had gone missing. She scanned the earth with her all-seeing eye, and spotted the happy couple living in a humble hovel.
“That is not fit for a divine maiden!” She shouted. The whole sky was then filled with a terrible thunder storm. Mad with fury, she sent her heavenly solders to the farmhouse. They delivered the queens’s message to her daughter. She must return to the skies, or face the destruction of her family and children. With great sadness, she had no choice. She had to go back to heaven. The soldiers escorted her, leaving her wailing children and husband behind.
For the first time since the night at the river, the cowherd was in despair and did not know what to do. He looked up into the heavens and saw the twinkling star of his friend the ox. Then he remembered that when the mortal form of the ox had died, he had kept his hide. He took the ox skin down from the wall, and spread it out on the floor like a carpet. When he sat down on it, the hide began to fly, and it lifted him up to the heavens and swept him away to the palace of the Jade Emperor who rules all heaven and earth. There he found himself in front of the throne of the heavenly mother.
The cowherd fell down on his knees and prayed, “Oh, Queen of heaven, I have come to reclaim my wife. I married her lawfully and she must live with me as long as she loves me as I love her.”
But the queen flew into a fury. “How dare you, a mere mortal, a cowherd to boot, marry my daughter through trickery, and then follow us up to heaven and make your insolent demand!”
The boy trembled, thinking that his last moment had come. The queen reached up to her headdress, and pulled out a silver hairpin. She cast it across the heavens. It scattered silver across the skies, spreading stardust in its wake.
In the West we know the result as the milky way. In China they call it the Silver River. Now the cowherd and the seventh weaving maiden stand on either side of the river and gaze all year long at each other. But on their anniversary, the festival of the seventh of the seventh, even the hard heart of the queen of heaven relents. A magical bridge appears across the silver river, and for one day and night, the cowherd and his heavenly wife can meet and embrace.
And that was the story of The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid. I do hope you enjoyed it. Bertie says that some of his favourite stories on Storynory can be found under in the section called World Fairy Tales. There you will find some of our most spiritual and romantic stories, such as the First Strawberries which is a touching and romantic tale from North America. You can might also enjoy some of my favourites, such as The Samurai and the Tea master, The Old Man and the Figs, The Blind Man’s Daughter, and The Desolate Island. In short, there are hundreds of wonderful and free audio stories which you can listen to on Storynory.com.
last time i wrote a comment about asking you to put new stories on storynory. you promise to put your own tales and wicked uncle.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE REPLY
January 9, 2013
Dear Natallie, I’m sorry we move a bit slowly. I have in fact been writing the plot of a new Wicked Uncle story just this morning. It’s going to be called something like “Dad’s Big Birthday Bash” and it will go a little like this… Dad is about to turn 50 years old. His rich brother (Uncle Jeff) wants to invite him and the family family and all his friends out to an enormous celebration at his villa on an exotic island. Dad does not like the idea (because it will show how much richer Jeff is than him), but the family persuade him. Then, just before the big party, Jeff gets into massive trouble (I don’t say what, because I don’t want to spoil it too much)….
That’s the plot … (I have an ending too, promise) and I will probably write the full story tomorrow. It will take a couple of weeks before we can book a recording for it. I’ll probably ask Richard to read it because Natasha is going to be doing lots of other things for us. Hope this keeps you satisfied for now !
Dear Jane, sometime I will have to go through the stories and find the ones with old advertisement in and take them out. You are right about that. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it. I completely agree with you that it is a bore to begin a story with a long talk about downloads – we just had to do it the past for our sponsors.
Dear Emily and Katherine, Thank you for your comments. It is interesting to know that this story is still often told in China. Is it told the same way that we told it? Or are there differences in the plot? Do you still celebrate the festival of the Double Seventh?
I’m typing this comment before I listen to it to tell you I have never heard this but in my Magic Tree House book Jack and Annie go back in time to when a powerful chinese king ruled. The king was afraid that the scolars stories might make the people rebel or something so he burned the books and Jack and Annie saved the book. The book is the same one as this one. Before that they met the cow herder and the silk maiden. I KNOW I’ll like this story.
January 10, 2013
I listened to it it is a little sad
January 11, 2013
January 11, 2013
hi i love this book its very cool i like every thing about it
January 11, 2013
I am so happy that you did another fairytale I love them so much. I woud really like it if you could do another.
January 13, 2013
I like it. If you want another story I would suggest “tale of o fourth grade nothing” it’s not really a classic but I have the book and I like it.
January 13, 2013
Natasha,Bertie you rock! well i would like to meet you guys & the crew of storynory.com
January 13, 2013
Dear Soukhya, Many thanks ! Maybe one day we will go on a world tour and meet listeners, but right now we just have to send our stories out by the internet.
I like this story.I want married one of rest six girl too.
January 16, 2013
Amazing! Please reply to my other coments 🙂
January 17, 2013
Dear Kathryn I looked up Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and found that it was written by Judy Blume in 1972. It’s probably in copyright which means we can’t do it. but we will do loads more fairytales for sure.
You can write Bertie so I was thinking you should write Princess Betrice a letter something like this:
Dear Princess Betrice,
This is Prince Bertie. I have been put under a spell by the Wicked Queen. I need you to send the Queen away before she finds out about this. She has turned me into a frog and I live by the pond now. You need to kiss me and I’ll change back. Yes the same frog who you almost kissed. I really need to be changed back now!
Price Bertie (the frog)
February 2, 2013
Dear Kara – thank you for the suggestion. Do you have a stamp?
Hey Bertie how can frogs type P.S.PLEASE REPLY!!!!!!!!!!
January 15, 2015
I really liked that story!But in that picture the robe was pink and in the story the robe was red. Why is that?
January 17, 2015
Liked it Bernie
Princess Lili —
April 30, 2015
Sorry for saying your name wrong, Bertie
Princess Lili —
April 30, 2015
I loved this story it was so nice!
August 14, 2015
February 12, 2016
I love it please please reaply
May 7, 2016
Bertie. Of course the story is told in China and we do celebrate the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month on Chinese lunar calender. This is actually one of the earliest stories almost every Chinese child is told since little. And you know what, the bridge connecting the two sides of the Silver River is made up by flocks of magpies, which are regarded auspicious birds in China. I remember reading a picture book about this story as a little girl. It made me rather sad, especially the death of the old ox.
Yaqun Li —
May 26, 2016
Wow… Nice Love Story
May 26, 2016
Cool story I love this story if only I could write like this.
October 14, 2016
[…] months – & is the traditional day for cultures in the Far East to celebrate the story of the Goddess of Weaving & the Handsome Farmer, more familiar to us as the Summer Triangle, directly overhead at 12 AM […]