Hou Yi and Chang’e Legend

Context: The informant is a 21 year old USC student and the daughter of two Taiwanese immigrants. She told me that she was definitely missing some details, but this is the story she learned growing up about the origins of the Mid-Autumn festival. The following are her exact words.

“So, there’s a couple, right, and the guy has like superhero strength – warrior vibes. At the time, there were 10 suns in the sky, and they were so hot that they were burning everything up, so he shot 9 of them out of the sky, leaving only one behind. As a reward, some higher power gave him this magic potion to make him stronger, but in the middle of the night, the day before he was meant to take it, his enemy poisoned it. For some reason, he still wanted to take it, so before he could, his wife drank the whole thing to save him. She ended up floating up into the moon, and so during the Mid-Autumn festival, because the moon is full, people say you can still see her silhouette up there.”

After doing some research, I found out that this is known as the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e, an immortal archer and his wife, the moon goddess before the latter becomes the moon goddess; this seems as if it would count as a mythic narrative. Not only is this the origin story of the sun, but it’s also the origin of the designs present on the moon. There’s a pretty common history of humans seeing faces where there are none (tree trunks) and looking at the moon would reasonably yield the same result. It’s not a story that anyone thinks could have happened, but also not a story that one would disagree with, considering the nature of it. Interestingly, there’s multiple different versions of this story online, including ones where Hou Yi goes mad with power rather than having his elixir poisoned and instead Chang’e must protect others by acting against him. It would be interesting to see if these differences revealed anything about typical historical conflicts that a certain region might have faced or a regional variation in values that might have caused this oicotypical difference.