Tag Archives: moon

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

Text:

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.

Context:

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.

Analysis:

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.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Myth

Nationality: Chinese-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Barista/Student
Residence: Mercer Island, WA

Text

A very long time ago, there were 10 suns in the sky. Crops and people were dying because of the excess heat from too many suns. One day, a really good archer named Houyi decided he’d solve the problem by shooting down the suns. He succeeded, shooting down nine out of ten of them. The people were happy, and afterwards, Houyi married a girl name Chang’e. He was rewarded for his feat with a special medicine ball, but told only to eat it when he was about to die. Later, Houyi went hunting, leaving his wife at home. Thieves broke into their house and demanded that Chang’e give them the medicine ball. Chang’e refused, but when the thieves insisted, she ate it rather than risk it falling into their hands. As a result, she floated all the way up to the moon. Houyi was extremely sad. Chang’e is said to still be there today. There are other versions of this story where Chang’e chooses to eat the ball without the intervention of thieves or where Houyi grows evil and Chang’e eats the ball to prevent Houyi from using it.

Context

AZ was between 4 and 5 when she first heard this legend. She can’t remember where she first first it, but recalls that it’s generally told during the Mid-Autumn Festival or in school. This celebration is all about the moon at its brightest and roundest, and the legend is shared to honor Chang’e for eating the ball to protect it from being used for bad things. AZ says this story is the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The story is very nostalgic for her. AZ told me that she prefers the version she told over the alternate versions. She doesn’t know what the story might mean or represent.

Analysis

There’s a lot to this myth, which seems to have many variations and hold lots of value in Chinese culture. I designate this as a myth because it is not only a creation story, but also appears to be sacred. It’s the origin of a large, annual celebration, denoting its importance in China. I think that this myth expresses the importance of the Sun and moon in Chinese culture, as well as their intrinsic connection to human beings. This is because both bodies have major importance in the story: Houyi is reason there’s only one sun, and his shooting down of the other nine leads to his to his ownership of the ball; and Chang’e’s choice to eat the ball takes her to the moon, where she remains to this day. Chang’e’s and Houyi’s decisions to take action in order to protect the world around them highlights the importance of strength, virtue, and courage in Chinese culture. This is further emphasized by alternate versions of the tale mentioned by AZ. In the one in which Houyi turns evil, Chang’e’s choice to eat the ball is still courageous, strong, and virtuous. In the one in which Chang’e chooses to eat the ball, being stranded on the moon is her punishment, warning others to choose virtue over desire. Since this myth still shapes an important celebration in China and continues to be told, I believe that these values are still important to the culture in the modern day.

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.

Celestial Myth- Why Does The Moon Have A Crater?

Story:

Ganesha is a god in Hindu mythology who has the head of an elephant. So one day, Ganesha was riding on the mouse in the forest. The mouse saw a snake – it got scared and ran away. Ganesha fell down. The moon saw this and started laughing at Ganesha. Ganesha got angry and threw his tusk at the moon. The point where the tusk hit the moon is where the moon has a crater. This is also why he has one broken tusk.

Context:

JG is 59 years old and my mother. She grew up in India with a very religious Hindu family, before immigrating to the USA. She still practices Hinduism to this day, and follows all of the religion’s traditions, observes the festivals, and believes in its myths to this day. She tried to pass this on to me as a child, but her religious beliefs never really connected with me. She agreed to retell this celestial myth to me for this assignment.

Analysis:

Ganesha is one of the most prominent and common figures in Hindu mythology. He is mostly known as the remover of obstacles, which is why Hindus like to worship him first before worshipping other gods or starting big tasks/activities. This myth shows Ganesha’s impulsiveness and short temper, which follows as his father is said to be the Destroyer. The origins of this myth probably come from the Indus River civilization, as its inhabitants tried to explain natural phenomenon in the sky with stories about the gods. Now, we know the factual, scientific reason why the moon has craters. However, this story remains as something that’s told to children, to entertain them and to familiarize them with the basics of Hinduism from a young age.

Woman and Rabbit: A folk tale

Text

“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.”

Context

RELATIONSHIP –
“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.”

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

INTERPRETATION –
“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.”

Analysis

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.