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The myth of the original star-crossed lovers - Shannon Zhao

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In the court of the Jade Emperor, a young princess had a special skill: she could pluck clouds from the sky and spin them into the softest robes. But her craft was the same day after day, and she longed for new inspiration. So the Queen Mother granted her permission to visit Earth. The weaver soon fell in love with the land— and a cowherd. Shannon Zhao details the myth of the star-crossed lovers.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Shannon Zhao
  • Director brume, Benoit Drigny, Valentin Nouvel
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Storyboard Artist Benoit Drigny, Valentin Nouvel
  • Animator Valentin Nouvel, Basile Krasnopolsky, Sebastien Vincent, Florent Tailhades, Marine Hennes
  • Compositor Valentin Nouvel
  • Art Director Benoit Drigny
  • Music Alexis Dehimi
  • Sound Designer Mars Octobre Music
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The story of the weaver and the cowherd originated in ancient China and has existed for over a thousand years among many East and Southeast Asian nations. There have been different versions: in one, the emperor of heaven marries the weaver to the cowherd, but separates them when they neglect their work; in another, the cowherd tries to chase the weaver when she escapes from him, and her family creates the Milky way to save her. The most enduring version of the story is of lovers whose initiative, love, and persistence win over her family and nature itself. As a result, the seventh of July in the lunar calendar, called Qixi, is considered by some Chinese people to be their own version of Valentine’s Day. In Japan, the Tanabata Festival is also inspired by this tale. Some Asian communities say that if it rains on this day, it is the weaver and cowherd shedding tears of joy at their reunion.

Like mythical Greek heroes who have been immortalized as constellations, the story of the weaver and the cowherd is also reflected in the stars. In western constellations, the weaver star is Vega (part of the Lyra constellation), and the cowherd star is Altair (part of the Aquila constellation). However, ancient Chinese had very different concepts of the night sky, which you can see in the Suzhou star chart. The weaver and cowherd stars sit on either side of the Milky Way, and are likely the inspiration for this tale.

According to ancient Chinese belief, the weaver may have been one deity who taught the art of weaving to us on earth. Historically, young women would visit temples on this day to make offerings to the weaver, since they believed that she could bless them with her own cleverness and skill (See the encyclopedia Religions of the World). Numerous ancient Chinese poets have also written poems based on the story of the weaver and cowherd, or referenced the stars they represent, such as the Tang Dynasty poet Du Mu. You can read a translation of his poem here. This story is also the basis of a traditional Chinese opera, which has seen numerous different productions, include this performance.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Shannon Zhao
  • Director brume, Benoit Drigny, Valentin Nouvel
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Storyboard Artist Benoit Drigny, Valentin Nouvel
  • Animator Valentin Nouvel, Basile Krasnopolsky, Sebastien Vincent, Florent Tailhades, Marine Hennes
  • Compositor Valentin Nouvel
  • Art Director Benoit Drigny
  • Music Alexis Dehimi
  • Sound Designer Mars Octobre Music
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam