Tag Archives: mid autumn festival

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.

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.