Girl in the Moon / Mid-Autumn Festival

“The earth was once surrounded by ten suns, and the earth was scorching hot, so people cannot survive—almost dying.  So this guy—he’s really good at archery—his name is Hao Ye, successfully shot down nine suns, so he becomes the king to rule China.  However, he grew to be a very bad, uh, dictator, so people hated him, but they could not do anything about it.  And then, he somehow also found the elixir of life, so he wants to become immortal.  But he has a very beautiful wife—her name is, uh, Chang Er—and she thinks that that will be disastrous for the Chinese people if he becomes, uh, immortal.  So she stole the elixir of life, and she drank it herself.  And then after she drank it, she found herself floating—started getting really, really light—and she float, and float, and float to the moon.  So if there’s a really full moon during autumn, actually you see a woman on the moon.  That’s the story.”

The story of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a well-known Chinese tale that is taught in Chinese schools around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  My informant is my mother who had heard this story as a little girl growing up in Hong Kong.  She says that it was told to explain the origins of not only the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, but also to explain to children why an image of a woman seems to appear on the surface of the moon.  When I asked my mother why there is a festival at all, she told me that it was to celebrate the fall harvest which happens to occur around when the moon is closest to the earth.  My mother feels that this story is important in explaining why the moon looks the way it does, but also because it teaches valuable lessons in standing up for what is right.  Chang Er is the heroine and should be a model for selflessness because she sacrifices herself for the good of all of China.  Though the story is not necessarily encouraging everyone to be a martyr, it does encourage that people not only understand the difference between right and wrong, but also care about that distinction enough to always fight for what is right.

On this, I do agree with my mother.  However, there is also another moral issue in consideration that takes place in the story: humility.  The story, in fact, contrasts the two main characters: the archer Hao Ye and the heroine Chang Er.  Hao Ye had also acted on his moral instincts to save the people of China from burning up from the heat of the ten suns by shooting down nine of them.  But rather than becoming a humble servant of the people, he raised himself to a position of ultimate power out of pride.  Chang Er, on the other hand, made the greatest sacrifice for her people which landed her on the moon.  The lesson is that it is not enough to be a hero if you are prideful; the best kinds of heroes are those who will do anything for the good of others with humility.  I think that there is some significance in the fact that the collective “damsel in distress” is the people of China.  This story represents the mindset of a country that is concerned primarily with the welfare of its people—the story probably originated from a commoner who felt the oppression of a large dictatorship and longed for a hero or heroine to swoop in and save the day.