Legend – Chinese

Chang Er & Hou Yi

Chang Er was an immortal girl living in heaven; the emperor banished her to live on Earth because she accidentally broke one of his belongings. The emperor told her that she must stay there until she proved she was worthy of returning the heaven. Chang Er was placed into a small village; one day, a handsome young hunter named Hou Yi saw her, and thought she was incredibly beautiful. One day, ten suns rose in the morning instead of one, scorching all the crops in the village. Hou Yi became a hero when he shot down nine of the suns with his bow and arrow. The people chose him to be their king, and he married Chang Er. However, he became a vicious tyrant and wanted to find an elixir that would make him immortal. Chang Er found it before him and swallowed the pill before Hou Yi could. After she did, she floated to the moon where she is still there today.

There are many variations to the story of Chang Er and Hou Yi. This is the version of the story that I was told by my father. Other variations include situations in which Chang Er became jealous of Hou Yi, thus she swallowed the elixir of life to spite him. However, because she used the elixir in the wrong way, she was banished to the moon. In another variation, it is said that the elixir was actually poisoned to stop Hou Yi’s evil actions. Chang Er did not know this, so she was actually the one who was poisoned. This story is often used to explain why there are several shadows in the moon. It is quite like the story of the man on the moon in Western culture. Another “shadow” that is on the moon is the figure of a woodcutter. This woodcutter is actually a man who tried becoming immortal. This angered the gods in heaven severely, so he was given the “chance” to redeem himself. The gods told him that if he could successfully chop down a tree on the moon, they would allow him to return to heaven. However, this was a trick—once he reached the moon, he realized that the tree grew back immediately each time he cut it down. All of these stories are also told to teach children moral listens. Another figure that exists on the moon is the rabbit. This legend is also existent in Western culture. In Chinese culture, however, the rabbit is a symbol of luck and fortune. Rabbits are seen as quick witted, fast, and lucky. While all of these legends are entertaining bedtime stories, they are also stories to teach children not to be greedy. My father told me this story when I was young to tell me to be grateful for what I have, and not to long for more, especially if it is obvious that there will be consequences.