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Old Man Under the Moon and finding love in China

In China, people celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14, but there are at least three holidays and cultural traditions centered on romantic love. A figure that ties together these other holidays is the Old Man Under the Moon – Yuexia Laoren in Mandarin, or Yuelao for short – who is believed to be a divine matchmaker.

In many cultures across the world, including China, parents traditionally arranged their children’s marriages, and love was not necessarily their main concern. In pre-modern China, daughters had little say over their marriage partners.

Moreover, they were seen as belonging more to their future husbands’ families than to their birth families. Under these conditions, unmarried girls would pray to the Old Man Under the Moon for a happy marriage.

Girls could either make offerings at home or visit a temple where an image of the Old Man Under the Moon was enshrined. There are other figures in Chinese mythology, such as the “Weaving Maiden” and “Moon Goddess,” who are worshiped for good luck in love. But the Old Man Under the Moon is the most popular god of love and marriage. These days, the name Yuelao has even become a general term for “matchmaker.”

As a scholar of Chinese religious history, I know that understandings of gods can change over time. These days, men and women pray to the Old Man Under the Moon to find their own love match, while the Rabbit God takes care of devotees looking for same-sex romance.

The Old Man Under the Moon

The Old Man Under the Moon was first mentioned in a ninth-century short story called “Engagement Inn,” where he arranged marriages as a divine official.

In the story, an unmarried man named Wei Gu set out before sunrise to meet a matchmaker. He saw an old man reading a document