September 20, 2018

Mid-Autumn Festival and the Legend of the Moon Goddess

Chang'e Moon Festival The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival celebrates and gives thanks for the fall harvest. It is also a time of family reunion and moon worshiping. Held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. This tradition is widely followed in East Asia and originates from Chinese mythology.

The Jade Emperor (also Celestial Emperor) who ruled the universe had ten sons. Each day, the Sun Princes would take turns brightening the sky and warming the earth. All was well until one day the eldest Sun Prince thought it would be fun to have all of the Sun brothers shine at once. And so all ten suns appeared at once in the sky and the heat became unbearable for the earth. The seas dried up, there was no water for farming and animals died of thirst. Terrified by the catastrophe, the people implored the Jade Emperor for help.

Upon learning of his sons' thoughtless actions, the Jade Emperor commanded Hou Yi (also Shen Yi) to punish them. Hou Yi, the Celestial Archer whose arrow is the most powerful in the universe, shot nine Sun Princes down. When he was about to shoot the last one, he was stopped by the Jade Emperor who merely wanted to scare his sons, not kill them. Full of rage, the Jade Emperor banished Hou Yi and his wife Chang'e (also Heng'e) from the heavens to live on earth as mortals.

The arrival of Hou Yi and Chang'e brought joy to the people on earth for they were so grateful to this saviour and crowned him their emperor. Hou Yi ruled with generosity and kindness at first but as the years passed, he became greedy and arrogant. He longed to return to the heavens among the other deities and thought of himself to be above mankind.

In his search for immortality, Hou Yi was instructed by a hermit to visit the ancient goddess Xiwangmu (also Queen Mother of the West) who lived at the top of Mount Kunlun. Xiwangmu knew of Hou Yi's past life and his divine powers. She felt he did not deserve to share the fate of all mortals and granted him the elixir of immortality.

Mooncakes Mid-Autumn Festival treatsWhen Hou Yi returned home and presented Chang'e with the elixir of immortality, she was horrified. She did not want this cruel and selfish man to live forever and bring continued suffering to the people. That night after celebrating his successful return, Hou Yi fell asleep; drunk with wine. Chang'e grasped her opportunity to rid of the elixir. She did not know how else to do it but drink it all. As soon as she finished the last drop of the elixir, she began to feel lighter and lighter. She floated up weightlessly into the sky and all the way up to the moon. There she remained and became the Goddess of the Moon.

There are many variations to the names of the characters and story arcs. Other stories about Chang'e include a rabbit, her companion on the moon and the elixir is sometimes written as a pill. Chang'e also appeared in Wu Cheng'en's novel Journey to the West. During the Moon Festival, sweet baked goods are usually gifted, especially mooncakes. Traditional mooncakes have lotus seed paste filling with a salted duck egg yolk in the center that when cut resembles a moon. These cakes usually come in tin boxes with the images of Chang'e decorating the exterior.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, Thank you for sharing the story. I did not know the complete tale as i left the country at a young age. I only remember celebrating it with my family and enjoying the moon cakes and the many treats.