Tag Archives: immortality

Taiwanese story: Chang E and the Elixirs of Immortality

Nationality: Taiwanese
Primary Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin
Age: 76
Occupation: Retired, former teacher
Residence: Taipei, Taiwan
Performance Date: 24 March 2024

Tags: Taiwan, story, chang e, immortality, moon, mid autumn festival


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman named Chang E. She was the wife of Hou Yi, a legendary warrior and archer who had shot down 9 suns in another story beforehand. As a reward for shooting down the suns and ridding the world of eternal heat, the gods gave him 2 elixirs of immortality. Hou Yi wanted to take the elixirs together with his wife so both of them could become immortal, so he put the two elixirs at his house and entrusted them to his wife. As Hou Yi left to deal with other business one night, one of his apprentices heard of the elixirs, and, out of jealousy and anger, snuck into his house to steal them for himself. Chang e was inside the house and saw what the apprentice was trying to do, so after a bit of a scuffle, Chang e, in a last ditch effort fueled by fear and adrenaline, drank both of the elixirs at the same time. Hou Yi returned to his house just as this happened, and ran to see his wife float up towards the moon. Unable to reach his wife in time, Hou Yi mourned the loss of his wife on the moon, and later made a habit of bringing out moon cakes and other food that she loved, in remembrance of Chang e and to let her know that he was still looking out for her.


C. is a born and raised Taiwanese citizen, and has told her fair share of stories to her children and grandchildren alike. This story is one of the most famous and commonly known stories in Taiwan and most other East Asian countries, and told me this story alongside the story of Hou Yi due to their interconnection.


Along with the story of Hou Yi, this is one of the oldest stories in Chinese (and thus Asian) folklore, so a couple of details are changed depending on the version. Details like the type of food/drink the immortality elixirs were, Chang e’s motivation, the aftermath of Chang e going to the moon, whether a rabbit was involved, and more all vary with different retellings. Overall, this is a good example of a common story with various differences being made by various different storytellers over time, and how a story becomes a festival/tradition due to the eating of moon cakes and such during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Woman and Rabbit: A folk tale


“One folk tale I know is a Chinese one– about the lady and rabbit on the moon. I don’t remember it that well.” The informant racked their brain for the information. “There was an immortal lady who was in love with a human man. Because of this, they weren’t meant to be together, though. So she was banished to live on the moon with the rabbit to keep her company. There, she waits for the man to come to her, but since he’s mortal, he died on earth. This is why you’re able to see a woman and a rabbit on the moon.”


“I don’t have much of a relationship with these pieces. It’s cool, but it was something I had to study. Everyone I knew, knew the story. It’s very much a Chinese folk tale that a lot of people here [in the U.S.] don’t tend to know or study.”

“I had to study a lot of folk tales in Chinese school. They teach it everywhere. I had to read it a bunch then.”

“It’s just a cute fairy tale that people tell children. I don’t really think there’s a lesson, or says much about morals. It’s just an origin story explaining a part of the world people back then weren’t able to explain. Worldbuilding.”


This folk tale seems very similar to one that I know about a woman named Chang’e and the love of her life named Houyi; and I think that they either are the same story, but my informant didn’t remember all the details, or they are different stories that derive from one another. While this story seems to serve primarily as the reasoning for why people can “see” the image of a woman and rabbit on the moon, it also works as a lesson. I think that an important part of this story is the fact that the woman stays, waiting on the moon for the man even though he has died long ago. She seems to be trapped in a denial stage of grief, refusing to move on. Because of this, she’s perpetually stuck, waiting both physically and emotionally.

Eli Broad and Living Forever


Informant (L) is a neuroscience major at USC double-majoring in art history.

L: This is a folk tale that’s very important to me, um, that I am convinced of is a fact. So, let me set the scene. I used to volunteer at a neuroscience research laboratory that was in one of the two newest buildings at the USC Health Science Campus. Um, and those two buildings are: the Zilka Neurogenic Institute and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine. Now, Eli Broad, for the unfamiliar, large, like real estate insurance magnate in California, billionaire billionaire, who just passed away in like, April of last year, I think. And so, is there like any more stereotypical, like on his deathbed, billionaire thing, to like write a giant grant for, then for like a fucking STEM cell research, like make-me-live-forever research institute, right? So I’m convinced that when like Broad wrote that grant, there were strings attached. It was not just to build the building. Like there is definitely a couple of USC doctors that are taking care of the body. And here’s the scene: If you go to Grand Ave., to downtown LA, which is like, Broad’s whole mission, was to like make that area upscale, which it is now, you can go to the Broad Museum, which is where his whole collection is. And part of the appeal of it is that you take this miniscule elevator that goes up from the ground floor to the top floor, and you can see through this little window, the large middle one, the large middle floor, which is where they keep all the art that’s in storage, under temperature and humidity control. Now how convenient to have all that temperature and humidity control technology laying around with a reason for it to be there? Is it possible that maybe hidden between all the sculptures, there’s a little case with the cryogenically-frozen head of Eli Broad? Is it possible that this museum is actually a pyramid to this dead man where they keep his corpse and there’s a little live-feed at the end? A video camera or two, sensors, and you got people in the regenerative center that are monitoring that feed and doing their research and just waiting for the day where they can bring the man back?

I: So like the Walt Disney thing?

L: Completely!


Informant was discussing a tale that he claims is true and intends to spread it to as many people as he can.


Fascinations with the mystery surrounding the elite upper echelons of society have been deeply embedded into our culture thanks to media and entertainment news. My informant tells a story about Eli Broad and his supposedly cryogenically-frozen state (which I relate back to Walt Disney). This conspiracy theory is somewhat similar to a memorate, taking observed experiences (the Regenerative Medicine Center, the Broad Museum, and the fact that Broad was extremely rich) and relating it to a traditional narrative belief system (cryogenic state and moderation of Broad). While this tale may be utterly false, my informant’s delivery of the story is particularly interesting—it first uses personal relation to the topic as ethos, then pieces together information in such a way to prove his point, then ends on rhetorical questions to his audience. Such a performance moves the audience emotionally to potentially believe in this theory. In general, the concept of living forever is also a point of fascination to humans, with objects like the Philosopher’s Stone supposedly being able to bring about eternal life. Such a fantastical element is also a compelling point of the narrative.

Koshei the Deathless


The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Dark wizard who was able to separate his mortality from himself and hide it away. Usually it is hidden in a needle, which is located in an egg, which is hidden in a duck, the duck was hidden somewhere else, and so on and so forth. Similar to the Matreshka system. When you wanted to defeat Koshei, you had to find his mortality – his death.


The description of Koshei the Deathless separating his mortality, is one that is very reminiscent of the horcruxes from Harry Potter. I do not know if folklore in other cultures has a similar motif of hiding your mortality in physical objects, but given how prominent a theme death is in all walks of life, it is very likely. 

I do not know if JK Rowling intentionally drew from Russian folklore for her books, but I doubt that it was a coincidence. This brings up themes of copyrighted work drawing from folklore, and due to the uncopyrighted nature of folklore, not feeling the need to give credit to or acknowledge what the ideas were inspired by

For another version, read: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/slavic-legend-immortality-koschei-deathless-002717

Chinese tale: Chang E

“Chang E originally lived in the Sky Temple. Her husband, his name was Hou Yi, he was a very famous and strong archer. They fall in love. But you know, the Chinese gods who live in the Sky Temple, they’re not allowed to fall in love—with each other, with human beings. But they do. Their punishment was banishment to Earth. So they have to live on Earth as normal human beings. They want to go back, but you know, when they are thrown out of the Sky Temple, they lose their powers and they can’t fly anymore. So Hou Yi, he goes to someone called Xi Wang Mu, a very famous Chinese god, I can’t remember if it’s a she or he, she/he’s kind of mysterious. So Hou Yi, he runs across the whole land, the land is called Sheng Zhou, it refers to China. And there is a kind of water called ruo shui, weak water. And this water is called weak because any boat that tries to go across sinks because its density is very low so nothing can go across it. I don’t know how he gets across, I don’t think he swims, but he gets across somehow. So he gets to Zhi Wang Mu, and in the beginning Zhi Wang Mu doesn’t want to see him, but he begs again and again, “my wife is beautiful and staying on earth will make her old, and she’s sad and I’m sad,.” So Zhi Wang Mu gives him two pills. Zhi Wang Mu says, these two pills can’t get both of you back to the Sky Temple, and this is what Qin Shi Huang was searching for, because if you eat one of them, you live forever, but if you eat both of them, then you can fly back to the Sky Temple. So Hou Yi is very happy and he brings the pills back to Chang E and he says, I am going to go somewhere, to work I guess, and when I get back we will eat these together. But you know, when he goes out. After he goes out, Chang E eats both of them because she wants to go back to Sky Temple. So she eats two pills, both of them. And you know what happens? She starts rising, but this rising is different from the normal flying ability of Chinese gods—you cannot return. Gods, they can fly up and fly down. But after eating these two pills, you can only fly up, you can’t go back. So Chang E flies up to the Sky Temple, but the Sky Temple refuses to accept her back, because one thing, you’re being punished, and the second thing, you betrayed your husband. So the only place she can go is the moon, because there’s nobody living on the moon.

Oh, the husband. After Chang E leaves, he lives on Earth and becomes a normal human being. But he still has his archer skills. And in that time, there were nine suns. And every sun had his own mind. These suns are the sons of some god, I don’t know, he fathered these nine suns. And the suns walk over the sky every day, they take turns walking over the sky. But one day, the nine suns all came out at the same time. It’s really hot, and lots of people and trees and animals dies, and all the water evaporated. And everyone is very angry, Hou Yi is very angry too, his wife just betrayed him and went to live on the moon! And then this happened, and he cannot live forever, and he’s mad, yo guys are making trouble for me. So he gets mad, and pulls out his arrows, and shoots the first sun. and the first sun dies. And he shoots, shoots, shoots, and eight suns died. But when he was going to kill the last sun, someone stopped him, because we need a sun to live, so this one sun now has to walk every day because his brothers are all dead. Then there is peace and Hou Yi dies, because he’s human.”

My informant says that this is such a popular story that he can’t remember where he first heard it. The story is strongly associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Moon Festival, since Chang E is the goddess of the moon and immortality.

I actually learned a variation of this myth from my grandmother when I was much younger. In my grandma’s version, Hou Yi and Chang E were banished to Earth as punishment after Hou Yi shot down the eight suns, who were the sons of the king of the Sky Temple. I also heard a different version in my Saturday Chinese School class in elementary school—Chang E ate both pills because one of Hou Yi’s assistants was trying to steal them for himself.

For my informant, the most compelling part of the story is Chang E’s betrayal of her husband after all of the effort he spent getting the pills at her request. I agree that this tale could be interpreted as a condemnation of female fickleness. It could also be a warning that betrayal or disobedience could lead to Chang E’s fate—being eternally lonely, banished from both the heavens and Earth.

Annotation: China launched its first lunar probe in 2007. It was called 嫦娥一號 (Chang E Yi Hao), Chang E Number 1, in honor of the moon goddess.