BEIJING - Qixi, called the Chinese Valentine's Day by some, falls on Thursday, one day before the big show -- the Beijing Olympics.
For visitors traveling to China for the Games, their trip and feelings about this country would, on one hand, help them draw the seeing-is-believing conclusion of what it is with this ancient civilization's modernization and economic boom. On the other hand, it's a fine chance they are likely to discover other aspects of the country that is about tradition.
The forward and courageous dragon-shape design of the new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport, the costly Bird's Nest to be used as the main stadium for the Olympic, and the National Center for the Performing Arts all make a loud statement that this country is rapidly catching up; but deep inside, its people still hang on fast to what their ancestry has handed down.
Newcomers will find contemporary China a seamless integration of modernity and traditions, and the coexistence of East and West, which could be easily observed in the actions of a young man a day before Qixi.
This was at a flower shop in Meishan City in the southwestern Sichuan Province, which had suffered heavily from a calamitous earthquake on May 12. Now this young man surnamed Wang was ordering 11 roses from the florist. This bit-shy, bit-smiling man probably had learned roses symbolized love and passion in the West; he intended to express his affection for his mate by sending flowers.
Yet, odd number 11, hid in its profoundness, had come from a widely used four-character Chinese idiom "yi xin yi yi," literally meaning "my one heart only for you; my one mind only of you." It is sweet, thoughtful, not without being romantically Chinese.
Qixi had derived from an ancient romantic tragedy of two cruelly-separated lovers, Niulang, the mortal orphan cowherder, and Zhinu, the weaving maid, a heavenly being; they were only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, on a bridge formed by magpies.
In old days, Qixi was more of a festival for girls. It was also known as the "Begging for Skills Festival" or "Daughters' Festival." Girls would conduct a ceremony to beg Zhinu for wisdom, dexterity and a happy marriage in future by offering the goddess fruit and pastries; in southern China, young women used to hold weaving and needlework competitions.
As modern China has put more emphasis on the Valentine's Day function of Qixi, critics are scolding such a trend; they called it ignorance and abuse of history and ancient heritage.
Liu Zongdi, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher, said in ancient times, Qixi had forbidden marriages at this time as it was in autumn, when trees started shedding leaves and flowers withered; it wasn't the time for romance.
He said all the hype from opportunists had pushed this ancient heritage far from its original meaning. Today, it is used for profit by a range of businesses, far beyond the ordinary florist.
Meanwhile, there were rival groups who either approved or opposed the profit-driven notion of the so-called Qixi China's Valentine's Day.
"Even though the Niulang Zhinu legend has with it a tragic color, it otherwise represents the ultimate devotion and pursuit of love, " said Cao Baoming, the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society vice chairman. "It should be celebrated among Chinese lovers."
A survey on the website People's Net recently showed 74.2 percent of those polled approved making Qixi China's Valentine's Day.
"More people have shown the enthusiasm for Qixi, and are willing to know about it, to celebrate it. It indicates the revival of Chinese traditions and customs," said Yu Xianyan, a Renmin University of China sociology professor.
In recent years, the Internet has been developing fast in China. Online media had played a significant role in making more people know about Qixi. "How to spend the Qixi night" was the hot topic on online forums, and in online chat-rooms. The prevalent text messages of cell phones are another way to publicize the Qixi night among friends, colleagues and students.
As China has 253 million Internet users, according to a July 24 report by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), and more than one-third of Chinese had cell phones, it was fair to expect only more people would be exposed to the publicity of China's traditional heritages.
In Beijing, Li Na sends her boyfriend text messages that say "Eternal love between us two, shall withstand the time apart," a famous quote from a classic Chinese poem on Qixi. Such action is a modern-day version of delivering affection, albeit high-tech, traditionally romantic and deeply Chinese