Chang’e and Hou Yi

My friend and I got to one of our classes early. While we waited I asked her if she knew any folklore. She happily gave me a  story:

“I can tell you why in China people place food beneath the moon during the Mid-Autumn festival.

Before our time, the sky held ten suns. The sun’s power was far too strong and the plants were all burnt away and people began to die.

Hou Yi, a famous archer, shot down nine of the suns. As a reward for his triumph, Hou Yi was gifted a vial of an elixir. The elixir made anyone who drank it immortal, but the vial allowed for only one drink. Hou Yi wanted to become immortal, but he loved his wife more. Hou Yi decided to give the elixir to his wife, Chang’e, for safe keeping. Hou Yi’s fame began to grow. His superb archer skills attracted many, and Hou Yi eventually garnered several students. One of his students, Pang Meng, had an evil heart. He wanted to steal the elixir from his master.

One day, Hou Yi and his students journeyed into the mountains to hunt but Pang Meng remained. He had fooled the other students into believing that he was ill. After ensuring Hou Yi’s departure, Pang Meng entered Hou Yi’s home and demanded the elixir. Chang’e knew she could not defeat Pang Meng in battle, so she drank the elixir. The elixir made her fly high into the sky. Chang’e ascended for several days, she felt no hunger and she felt no thirst. Finally, she reached the moon.

Hou Yi felt a great sorrow for the loss of Chang’e. He came back home, but felt lonely. Hou Yi placed a table beneath the moon and began to prepare food. Hou Yi hoped that offering would help his wife return.

That is why during the Mi-Autumn Festival, people place food beneath the moon.”

Collectors Analysis:

My friend’s mother grew up in China, so the Mid-Autumn festival was a huge part of her culture. My friend’s mother and grandmother soon moved to the United States. Her grandmother did not want to lose touch with China and so she began to retell stories daily and celebrate the festivals more rigorously. My friend first heard this story from her grandmother, but she does recall her mother telling a slightly different version. She remembers hearing the legend often during her childhood because it was told several times to the children of her family to remind them of tradition. To my friend, this legend is a reminder of her heritage. She enjoys being half Chinese and really embraces the culture.

I had several questions about the legend, many of which my friend was unable to answer. She did say that in one version Chang’e is actually the goddess of the moon. I wondered how Hou Yi shot down the nine suns and I wondered what happened to Chang’e on the moon. Still, I found the legend rather peaceful. It is a common told story with a hero and a tragic ending. I did enjoy learning about Chinese tradition. Many of the other legends I have collected help relay a hidden lesson but this legend actually introduces a tradition.