Embrace Love the Chinese Way: Understanding Chinese Valentine’s Day

In the West, Valentine’s Day is considered a day of romance, when you express your love to that special someone through words, flowers, chocolates, cards and so forth. Do Chinese people celebrate Valentine’s Day? What is Qixi? How can you express your love in Chinese? Read on to find out!

Valentine’s Day情人节 (qíngrén jié)

Like in the US, February 14 in China is mainly a commercial holiday. Business booms for those who sell chocolate and flowers. Many people send each other messages on WeChat and go on dates at restaurants.


(Qíngrén jié nǐ yǒu shénme ānpái)

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?


(Wǒ zhège dānshēngǒu, néng yǒu shénme ānpái)

What plans could a “single dog” like me have?

Qixi 七夕(qīxī)

Qixi, sometimes called Double Seventh Festival, is a traditional Chinese holiday which falls on the seventh day of the seventh month (七月七, qīyuèqī) of the Chinese lunar calendar. (In 2022, Qixi falls on August 4; in 2023 it falls on August 22.) In olden days it was the practice for unmarried people to pray for a spouse, but today’s Qixi looks pretty similar to February 14, with romance and gift giving. This has sometimes earned Qixi the nickname “Chinese Valentine’s Day.” There’s also a legend about the origin of the festival.

The Legend of Cowherd and Weaver Girl 牛郎织女 (Niúláng Zhīnǚ)

As always with legends, there are different variations of this story, but here’s the basic version.

Once, there was a young boy who herded cattle. In Chinese he is called 牛郎 (Niúláng), rendered in English as Cowherd. Once when he was out herding, he came across a group of female immortals bathing in a river. He stole the clothes of one of these immortals and demanded that the owner marry him in exchange for her clothing. Somehow, that worked, and the two fell in love and got married. The immortal lived life on Earth with her husband and worked at a loom, becoming known as 织女 (Zhīnǚ) or Weaver Girl in English.

When the Queen Mother of the West (西王母, Xīwángmǔ) caught wind of this marriage between a human and an immortal, she personally came down to Earth to get Weaver Girl and take her back to Heaven. Cowherd gave chase with the help of a magic cowskin, pursuing them through the sky. But when the Queen Mother waved her hairpin like a magic wand, she created a huge river in the sky to block Cowherd’s way and keep him separated from Weaver Girl.

Suddenly, an enormous flock of magpies appeared, flying so densely that they made a bridge that Cowherd and Weaver Girl could walk across. The Queen Mother was so moved that she agreed to allow the two lovers meet on this magpie bridge once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.

In the night sky, Cowherd is the star Altair, Weaver Girl is the star Vega and the river is the Milky Way.

Expressing love in Chinese

Here are some of the most common ways to express your love, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or Qixi.

Confessing your love 表白 (biǎobái)

Got a crush? Confess your true feelings! In this word, 表 means “to express” and 白 means “clear.” That is, you express yourself clearly and make your feelings known.

  • 我昨天跟小满表白了。
  • (Wǒ zuótiān gēn Xiǎomǎn biǎobái le)
  • I confessed my feelings to Xiaoman yesterday.
  • 真的!?结果呢?
  • (Zhēnde!? Jiéguǒ ne?)
  • Really!? And?
  • 她同意做我女朋友了!
  • (Tā tóngyì zuò wǒ nǚpéngyǒu le!)
  • She agreed to be my girlfriend!

But it’s always hard to find the right words to 表白. Here are two ways.

  • 有一句话,我一直想跟你说。我喜欢你。
  • (Yǒu yījùhuà, wǒ yìzhí xiǎng gēn nǐ shuō. Wǒ xǐhuan nǐ.)
  • There’s a sentence I’ve been waiting to say to you. I like you.
  • 你要不要做我男/女朋友?
  • (Nǐ yàobuyào zuò wǒ nán/nǚpéngyǒu?)
  • Do you want to be my boy/girlfriend?

Flowers 花 (huā) and chocolate 巧克力 (qiaǒkèlì)

Obviously, gift giving is a must on holidays like these.

  • 宝贝,这是我给你买的巧克力。
  • (Bǎobèi, zhè shì wǒ gěi nǐ mǎi de qiǎokèlì.)
  • Baby, this is the chocolate I got for you.
  • 太棒了!我最爱吃巧克力。
  • (Tài bàng le! Wǒ zuì ài chī qiǎokèlì.)
  • Wonderful! I love chocolate.

Date 约会 (yuēhuì)

Nothing beats a fun date!

  • 我明天不跟你玩了,我有约会。
  • (Wǒ míngtiān bù gēn nǐ wán le, wǒ yǒu yuēhuì.)
  • I won’t hang out with you tomorrow, I have a date.
  • 啊?跟谁的约会?
  • (Ā? Gēn shéi de yuēhuì?)
  • What? With who?
  • 你不认识他。
  • (Nǐ bù rènshi tā.)
  • You don’t know him.

Saying “I love you” 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ)

Sometimes you just have to say it.

  • 我很爱你。
  • (Wǒ hěn ài nǐ)
  • I really love you.
  • 我也爱你!
  • (Wǒ yě ài nǐ)
  • I love you too!

Because the numbers 520 (五二零, wǔ èr líng) sound like 我爱你 (OK, vaguely), people use these numbers as another way to say “I love you.”

Proposing 求婚 (qiúhūn)

To take it up to the next level, you can always propose to the person you love! Here are two ways

  • 我们结婚吧!
  • (Wǒmen jiéhūn ba!)
  • Let’s get married!
  • 嫁给我吧!
  • (Jià gěi wǒ ba!)
  • Marry me! (Said by a man to a woman)

When love isn’t enough

Craving more content about holidays or legends? Check out these articles!