14 9 / 2011

Mid-Autumn Festival just passed recently, and as it is one of China’s oldest traditions this festival has many myths and fables attached to it.  The story of “Chang ‘E Flying to the Moon” (嫦娥奔月, pinyin Cháng’é bēn yuè) is probably the one myth that is most associated with Mid-Autumn Festival.

While Westerners have long held that there is a “man on the moon” (as best exemplified by the R.E.M. song), in China the face that is looking back from the moon and down upon Earth is male, but female.  It is Chang ‘E (嫦娥; pinyin Cháng’é), the goddess of the moon; she lives on the moon along with her white rabbit (giving the moon its color), and while the moon may seem to be a desolate place for a lady, there is a reason why Chang ‘E wound up there.

Chang ‘E is married to Houyi (后羿; pinyin Hòuyì), the famous archer (who has his own famous origin story).  As part of his service to the Emperor, Houyi was ultimately rewarded with a magical pill of immortality which he brought home to his wife, Chang ‘E.  This strange pill provoked the curiosity of Chang ‘E to no end, and so like Pandora of the Greek myth of old, she eventually was compelled to try the pill.

After ingesting the pill of immortality, Chang ‘E found that her body became lighter and lighter until she started to fly in the air under her own volition.  Houyi managed to come home in time to see his wife flying in the air, but could only shout at her as she floated higher and higher into the sky.  Soon, Chang ‘E found that she had floated so high that she had made her way to the moon, where she became a goddess there.

"Chang ‘E Flying to the Moon" has become a favorite subject for Chinese artisans, poets and musicians.

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