The myth of Chang’e


L. is a 19-year-old Chinese-American college student currently studying in Los Angeles, California. He grew up his whole life in the D.C., Maryland, Virginia Area, colloquially known as the DMV Area, and as such, feels connected to the local east coast culture. He attributes his connection to his Chinese culture through his family, not so much Chinese media.


This myth in Chinese folklore and culture serves to explain why the moon exists and why specifically it floats above us all. It involves human conflict and celestial powers with a recurring but never fully complete end to the story.

Main piece: 

Q: “Can you tell me again about Chang’e?”

A: “Chang’e is the moon goddess of China, but once upon a time, she was a commoner married to Hou Yi the legendary archer. When Hou Yi leaves home, he leaves his magic immortality pills at home with her. People got wind of it, and everyone wanted to become immortal, so they went after Chang’e and the immortality pills. In order to protect the immortality pills and keep them safe, she took them and started running. She kept on running and running and running. But one day, they finally caught up to her at a mountain’s edge, and she couldn’t run or escape. She was like ‘you’ll never catch me alive or these pills’ so she took the pills. She took one, but of course there was still one left, so she took it too. And then she started floating, higher and higher and higher, out of reach of the bad guys. She floated all the way to the moon where she became the moon goddess. Up in the moon, she made a jade palace and found the white rabbit to keep her company. Every so often based on the lunar calendar, she meets her husband Hou Yi again and they reunite before they are separated again.”


Using Levi Strauss’s theory of paradigmatic structuralism, the creation myth of Chang’e can be analyzed according to his framework. In his framework, like language, myth is a semiotic system, a system of signs, a series of symbols, able to be decoded. Furthermore, all humans think in binaries and key binary oppositions where in these common patterns of human thought, we can find shared meaning across myth. The binary oppositions in the myth of Chang’e include human versus celestial, day versus night, and greed versus selflessness. Chang’e who was once just a normal commoner ascended to celestial status after taking both magic immortality pills, crossing the border between human and celestial. Furthermore, as the moon goddess, she represents the antithesis of the sentient sun that Hou Yi mercifully spared in his quest to save the people of China. Lastly, the greed she was forced to commit by taking both immortality pills forever separated her from the human world—an everlasting consequence of the people’s treacherous lack of selflessness toward her and Hou Yi. These binary oppositions contribute to how the myth is understood today by in-group identifiers like L. and how it presents similar parallels in shared meaning to other creation myths like it.