Y is my other parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California.
This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China.
Y: Chang’e is the one we see the shadow in the moon, and the shadow looks like a lady there.
Me: Oh yeah.
Y: But the story goes that there’s a beautiful woman who’s married to a famous archer, and his name is Hou Yi. The guy is the one who, when in Ancient Times, they had 10 suns. The sun in the sky, not the kids. The sun in the sky, when there was 10 of them, the sky was so hot that the earth, the crops couldn’t grow because of the squelching from the sun, and the soil is cracked and everyone was dying from the heat. So Hou Yi, the husband, because he’s a famous archer, he decided to shoot the nine suns down and just leave one of them left.
Y: So he pulled his legendary, he had this bow that was a legendary sun and succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns. So the earth was back to normal.
Because of what he did, he met the like, goddess, the goddess decided to reward him with some kind of medicine that will make him live forever. The goddess name is… the jade- no, the Wángmǔ Niángniáng, yeah. Hou Yi felt very, unsure about whether he should take the elixir or the medicine because he didn’t want to live forever after his wife dies. Wife is mortal so if he becomes immortal he’s going to be living alone without his wife. So he just put the medicine underneath the bed or in a closet, wherever, but the wife found out about it and she decided to steal it. And after the husband fell asleep, she took the medicine and drank the medicine, all of it. And after, she felt her body get light and she started to float in the air. Then the husband woke up and saw the wife floating away. He saw her floating away and tried to grab onto her but couldn’t because she was already in the sky. He tried to call her to stop but she couldn’t really stop it. When she saw the moon, she tried to land on the moon and she stayed there forever. Because she couldn’t move after and the husband really missed her so he put out her favorite food, dessert like the mooncake, out every night to hope she will see it and return. But she couldn’t return.
After that, on the moon festival, everyone would eat moon cakes and look at the moon where Chang’e lives. And the moon shadow suggests there’s a rabbit called the jade rabbit to keep her company on the moon. So poor Hou Yi put out the food until he died, basically, but she couldn’t return. She became immortal but he was mortal so he died, eventually.
This is another story that I was told when I was a kid. I remember distinctly looking up at the moon and imagining the lady on the moon and her rabbit. This origin story is interesting because Chang’e is seen as the moon goddess yet the reason why she is up on the moon is for selfish reasons. Additionally, this plays into the traditional view of the moon as a feminine symbol while the sun is a masculine symbol. While the sun is not her husband, her husband was the one who shot down the other suns in order to restore peace to Earth. I think it is also interesting how the tale affects the food that we consume during the festival as the egg yolks in the mooncakes are meant to represent the moon in the sky. Some versions of the story also explain her reasoning for taking the medicine because they portray her as someone who previously worked in heaven in the Jade Emperor’s palace before she was sentenced to earth for breaking a vase.
“The Legend of Chang E.” The Legend of Chang E, http://www.moonfestival.org/the-legend-of-chang-e.html.