CHINESE Valentine’s Day, also Qixi Festival, falls on August 2 this year. It is a traditional festival to celebrate the annual meeting of a cowherd and a weaver girl in Chinese myth.
The story goes that the cowherd fell in love with the weaver girl who was the daughter of the Queen of Heaven. Against all odds, they got married on the sly without telling other gods.
However, their marriage was found out by the Queen of Heaven. She was so angry that she forced the weaver girl to return to heaven and forever banned the cowherd from seeing her daughter.
Nonetheless, the cowherd went to great effort to sneak into heaven to find his wife. The Queen of Heaven discovered this and was so furious that she created a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between the stars Altair and Vega.
Thereafter, the weaver girl had to sit on one side of the Milky River while the cowherd watched her from the other side. But on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar, numerous magpies flew to heaven and formed a bridge over the Milky River, through which the two could mingle for a single night.
Through dynasties, Chinese people considered the Altair and Vega were the incarnations of the cowherd and the weaver girl. It is said that if it rains on the Qixi Festival, the rain is the tears of the separated couple.
Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), Chinese people began to celebrate Qixi by holding a series of rituals. Although some of the customs have faded over the years, people still take Qixi as a key day to celebrate with their lovers.
Qixi reminds Hangzhou locals of other love stories that happened in the city and were noted through the ages. Beyond the famous legends “Madam White Snake” and “Butterfly Lovers,” Shanghai Daily recommends a couple of tourist spots where there once occurred real love stories.
Feng Yu Mao Lu
It is a Chinese bungalow located downtown. The house was designed by Yu Dafu (1896-1945), a modern Chinese short story writer who received a traditional Chinese education in Hangzhou.
One of Yu’s early works is “Chen Lun,” published in 1921, also his most famous. It gained immense popularity in China, shocking the world of Chinese literature with its frank dealing with sex, as well as grievances directed at the incompetence of the Chinese government at the time.
It is said that Yu spent a large amount of money on the house, which he built for his wife, Wang Yingxia. At one time, there were 9,000 books collected by Yu in the residence, but all were destroyed during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945).
The bungalow was regarded as the testimony to their love, although their marriage later broke up.
Address: No. 63, Guanchang Lane
Su Xiaoxiao Tomb
Su Xiaoxiao was a renowned poet and courtesan in the Southern Qi Dynasty (AD 479-502). For more than 1,500 years, her tomb has stood along Xiling Bridge, luring tourists who admire her intellectual talent and beauty.
There are many stories attached to Su, but the most famous was the love story between her and a young scholar named Ruan Yu.
Ruan was from Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. One day, he bumped into Su during his trip to Hangzhou. The young man was so infatuated with Su that the two soon fell in love. However, Ruan’s father was angry when he got to know that his son was involved with a courtesan.
In the then patriarchal society, sons had to obey fathers’ orders. Without choice, Yu was compelled to leave Su and return to Nanjing. Later, Su died due to lovesickness.
Her poem, known as “Song of Su Xiaoxiao,” reflected her love for Ruan — “I ride in a decorated carriage, my darling rides a blue-white horse. Where should we tie the knot for our heart? Under the Xiling pine and cypress.”
Address: At the intersection of Beishan and Gushan roads
Although today the villa is a popular backdrop for wedding photos for newlyweds, it actually carried a love tragedy between a journalist and a courtesan.
This villa was built by Shi Liangcai (1880-1934), a journalist best known for his ownership of Shen Bao — the most widely circulated newspaper in Shanghai — during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and Republic of China (1911-1949).
Shi’s career was supported by his second wife, Shen Qiushui, who was formerly a courtesan of a Manchu prince. After the death of the prince, Shen went to Shanghai and there met and quickly fell in love with Shi.
Shen gave him all her wealth, which she had accumulated from her relationship with the Manchu prince. The money turned out pivotal in the success of the newspaper.
But like other men in old China, where polygamy was legal, Shi later married a third wife, which left Shen devastated. Feeling guilty, Shi built the villa on Beishan Road to compensate and console Shen.
As time went by, Shen forgave Shi and lived in the villa peacefully. But good times didn't last; Shi was assassinated by Chiang Kai-shek’s henchmen in 1934 because of his newspaper’s editorials opposing the Kuomintang government.
Shen was heartbroken over her husband’s death and chose to leave Qiushui Villa and eventually converted to Buddhism.
Over the decades that followed, the villa was nationalized as a hospital. Today, it is a part of Xinxin Hotel.