Lynn Wong first learnt about the Qixi Festival through a casual conversation with a senior clan association member in 2017.
"How can a festival even grander than Chinese New Year disappear?”
This was a question that perplexed her and got her started on this journey.
The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) organised the “Remembering Seven Sisters Festival” panel discussion at the Chinatown Heritage Centre situated in Ngau Ce Seoi, to relive and capture the social memories of those who celebrated the Qixi Festival. Lynn Wong played a key role in the SHS organising team alongside Victor Yue who mooted the idea.
Conducted almost completely in Cantonese, the session had a full house of over 40 audiences onsite and garnered over 970 views on the SHS Facebook Livestream - truly a rare occasion in Singapore.
With the support of the National Heritage Board Minor Grant, local heritage researchers Lynn Wong and Lee Kok Leong officially embarked on the Reviving Qixi publication project from March 2020.
Despite the pandemic, the authors were blessed to have interviewed diverse stakeholders whose first-hand accounts greatly complemented archival sources including newspapers, oral history recordings, and academic literature.
After a year of postponement due to the pandemic, the National Oral Archives of Singapore hosted the XXI International Oral History Association (IOHA) Conference virtually in 2021. The theme of the conference was "Harmony & Disharmony: Bringing Together Many Voices".
Lynn Wong's paper was shortlisted for the session "Folklore and the Forgotten" where she discussed how the multidimensionality of oral history is essential to piecing together a fragmented social history of the Qixi Festival in Singapore.
With the theme ‘Nian Hua: Changing Times, Unchanging Aspirations 春风年画总关情’, the River Hongbao special exhibition included a video feature of Lynn Wong introducing Nianhua related to the Cowherd and Weaver Fairy as well as customs related to the worship of the Seven Sisters at Wu Lui Sien Sze Temple at 6 Bukit Batok Street 21, Singapore 659630.
The River Hongbao is one of Singapore's largest annual Chinese New Year festivals at Gardens by the Bay, attracting over 1.4 million visitors.
Project interviewee Aw Yeong Peng Mun (欧阳炳文), also artistic director for Kong Chow Wui Koon’s 182nd anniversary-cum-Cantonese opera charity performance, specially staged the 23-actors “Celestial Fairy’s Grand Bestowal of a Son” (仙姬大送子) opera piece which is a story about the Weaver Fairy and Dong Yong. Lynn performed as one of the fairies.
One of the key drivers of the Qixi Festival in Singapore is the Majies, particularly those from the Shuntuk district in Guangdong, China. Qixi Festival is the most important festival for the Majies, and the Weaver Girl is a patron goddess they "beseech skills" from. The Majies not only introduced this beautiful festival to Singapore as early as the mid-19th century, but also brought along their superb culinary skills and sisterhood structures for mutual support.
In conjunction with the soft launch of the Reviving Qixi book on 30 July 2022, a Qixi-themed banquet in commemoration of the Majies was held, featuring traditional Shuntuk cuisine prepared by Red Star Restaurant.
With the tremendous help of the community (many of whom were interviewees in the publication), Lynn Wong spearheaded the Qixi Festival celebrations in Kong Chow Wui Koon. Besides an introduction of the festival, Qixi poetry recital in Cantonese, a small exhibition of miniature and crafts, appreciation of Qixi Festival traditional snacks and desserts, there were also “beseeching of skill” (乞巧) games such as a needle-threading competition which dates back to the Han dynasty.
Attended by over 100 participants from all walks of life (and over 100 on waitlist), this was a significant milestone event as it has been more than half a century since a mass Qixi Festival celebration was held in Ngau Ce Seoi - one of the important hotspots of the festival in Singapore.
Co-organised by the Singapore Heritage Society and Chinatown Business Association, and supported by the National Heritage Board and Singapore Tourism Board, the book launch on Smith Street (outside the iconic Lai Chun Yuen) was attended by over 120 stakeholders including:
92-year-old Fun Kwai Leng who was a patron of a Milky Way Association organised by Samsui women, allowing them to freely use the first floor of her shophouse on 30 Pagoda Street for the Qixi Festival.
88-year-old Tan Ah Ngan (邓亚银) who worked in a rubber factory and joined a Milky Way Association organised by her colleague’s mother on Banda Street.
67-year-old Cantonese Naam Mo Sifu Loke Weng Sun (陆荣新) who grew up on Tofu Street (Upper Chin Chew Street) and had performed Qixi Festival rituals in Ngau Ce Seoi.
Former veteran journalist Mdm Aue Yue Pak (区如柏) who had participated in the Qixi Festival celebrations at the Chew Ho Thong Hiong Wui (潮荷同乡会) in the 1950s and 1960s, where her father was a committee member at. Lynn also credits Mdm Aue as first introducing her to this festival.
The Hor family who has upheld the Qixi Festival traditional customs for four generations.
Chee Yoke Weng (朱煜荣) whose father ran the Gwan Coeng (均祥) grocery store on 8 Neil Road which supplied the huge Seven Sisters basin for the festival.
Richard Lee, whose mother and aunt used to participate in the Qixi Festival celebration held in the common corridor at the now defunct SIT flat on 54 Kreta Ayer Road. Today, he continues to observe the festival in remembrance of his mother.
Helen Tai who was around five years old when she lived at her aunt’s place in Sai Bak Mun and she attributes her keen interest in Cantonese opera to the frequent wayang performances during the Qixi Festival celebrations there.
Mrs Vivienne Tan, also the great grand daughter of Cantonese pioneer and philanthropist Wong Ah Fook, who shared how her Majie would pray on, her behalf during the Qixi Festival, for a blissful marriage which indeed came true for her.
Local craftsman Jimm Wong Pui Fatt, who helped recreated the Seven Sisters basin in 2019. Special thanks also goes out to Mun San Fook Tuck Chee for the generous sponsorship to make this happen.
Well-known Cantonese opera practitioner Mr Aw Yeong Peng Mun (欧阳炳文) who directed the “Celestial Fairy’s Grand Bestowal of a Son” 《仙姬大送子》performance by Kong Chow Wui Koon this year. Such a performance involving 23 actors is rare amongst amateur troupes in Singapore.
Amy Lam who lived on Temengong Road, where her grandmother would observe the Qixi Festival annually without fail in their household till the late 1960s.
The launch was also attended by representatives from government agencies, institutions and civic society including National Heritage Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore Heritage Society, Kong Chow Wui Koon, Shuntak Community Guild, Kwong Wai Shiu Lee Clan, Mun San Fook Tuck Chee, Kreta Ayer People's Theatre Foundation Management Committee, Tsao Foundation, Chung Cheng High School (Main) Heritage Museum, Drama Box, and Pek Sin Choon.
After years pouring through archival data and interviewing diverse community stakeholders, authors Lynn Wong and Lee Kok Leong present the first comprehensive book about the long-forgotten Qixi Festival which has disappeared in Singapore for over half a century.