People in Xihe County of Gansu Province are celebrating the Qiqiao Festival.
Qiqiao Festival, literally meaning “Skills Begging Festival,” is a time-honored traditional Chinese festival that originated from the ancient tradition of worshipping the Vega constellation of stars in the sky. In Chinese mythology, the Weaver Maid from the heavens, who is skillful at needlework, is the incarnation of Vega. At the romantic carnival, young girls pray for mastery of handicraft skills and express their best wishes. It is also one of the earliest festivals centered around women in human history.
Xihe County in northwest China’s Gansu Province observes the festival in a unique way. Celebrations last for seven days and eight nights every year, from the night before the first day of the seventh lunar month till the end of the night of the seventh day. Girls gather together to celebrate the festival with singing and dancing.
A major activity during the festivities is singing Qiqiao songs. Girls dress up in traditional costumes and gather at a designated site. From daytime to late night, they express their emotions and show their talents by singing and dancing. Some of the songs are about praying for intelligence, some express gratitude for blessings in life, and some describe a yearning for a promising future. The songs have been carried on orally generation after generation. Young girls usually ask the older women in the village to teach them how to sing the songs, and the elder women then teach them phrase by phrase, so that those old songs are able to survive for generations.
Another highlight during the celebration is meeting with girls from neighboring villages. Participating girls, wearing their traditional costumes, sit together and chat. It is an opportunity for them to foster friendship and learn from each other’s handicraft skills.
There is a special snack named “Qiaoguo” made for the festival. Main ingredients include edible oil, flour, and sugar. In making the snack, sugar syrup is poured onto the flour, and sesame seeds are mixed in. When the dough cools down, it is cut into rectangular pieces, and folded into a shape the cook desires before being fried in oil. It is said that girls who eat the crispy snack will become intelligent and adept at handicrafts.
In 2008, the Xihe Qiqiao Festival was included in the list of national intangible cultural heritage in China. The pursuit of intelligence and ingenuity represents the awakening of women’s self-consciousness, which is a remarkable indicator of social progress and resonates with the concept of gender equality in modern society.