Chang’e and Houyi

The informant was told this as a bedtime story when she was little by her mother. She says it is of little personal significance, and obviously not true, but is a fun story nonetheless.

“There was a hero and his wife Chang’e and Houyi, I think Houyi was the hero. But a long time ago, there were 10 suns that burned the Earth, and Houyi was the one with his bow and arrow skills that shot down nine of the suns, leaving the one we have today and making the world liveable. Something like that. Anyways, because he did this service to humankind, some Empress or Goddess gave him a potion of immortality as a reward. However, he didn’t want to leave his wife Chang’e, so he kept the potion stored away where no one would use it. But one day, Chang’e became curious as to the effects of the potion, and when Houyi left on a hunting trip, she drank it. As a result, she became immortal and began flying towards the heavens. When Houyi came back, he saw what happened and immediately rushed outside and pleaded with Chang’e to stay with him. Chang’e wanted to be with Houyi, but couldn’t get back to Earth, and so she was stuck on the moon forever. I think she’s supposed to be the dark spot on the moon, but there’s also another legend about a rabbit flying to the moon and they might be related.”

This story tells how the Sun and the Moon came to be, making it an origin myth. The Sun was left to sustain life after Houyi shot down the other nine that were scorching the Earth. Chang’e’s curiosity and disobedience in turn, are the reason why there is a dark spot on the moon. Both are explanations for mysterious(at the time) natural phenomena.

It is interesting to see that this story matches the context of the Greek folklore, Pandora’s box, where the wife of a hero unleashes sin on the world when she becomes too curious, and even Adam and Eve, where Eve eats the fruit in the Garden of Eden. This perhaps hints at the patriarchal society China may have been when the story was imagined.