Chang’e And Hou Yi Story: Moon Goddess Meaning In Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology is one of the richest representations of culture in the world today, and there are so many figures and legends that represent all these different elements, making Chinese culture one of the most intriguing cultures. Today, we focus on two names that are renowned in Chinese culture – Chang’e and Hou’Yi – who are they, and what do they represent?

Who Is Chang’e?

chang e picture

Chang’e, also known as the Ch’ang O, can be defined as the Chinese Moon Goddess who is known for her loveliness and the loveliness subsequently celebrated in novels and poems. It is said that this Chinese Moon goddess sought the moon for refuge after her consort called Hou Yi or the Lord Archer made the discovery that Chang’e had stolen the immortality drug which had been gifted to him by the gods. While Hou Yi was in pursuit of Chang’e and the immortality drug, he was impeded by the Hare, and the Hare argued that he wouldn’t let the irate husband pass the gates until Hou Yi promised reconciliation.

Today, on the 15th day of every 8th Lunar Month, the Chinese people hold celebrations in memory of Chang’e through the Zhongqiu Jie or the Mid-Autumn Festival. So, if you ever wondered why the Chinese hold a big mid-autumn celebration, you now know that it’s a celebration that commemorates the Chang’e. The celebration is held when with the full moon shining. To ensure the celebrations take place in the most befitting way, the celebrations feature moon cakes that are eaten the offered as gifts to neighbors and friends. Many people will also go outside to view what is believed to be the supposed outlines of a toad-shaped image on the moon’s surface. According to legend, the toad-shaped image is Chang’e.  

Also to note is the fact that at one point, Chang’e was referred to as Hong’e, but the name was changed, and it became taboo to call her that after two of the Chinese emperors took up this name as theirs.

So, in typical paintings, Chang’e is seen floating in the direction of the moon, while her palace is seen in the background. In some cases, there are sightings of the Hare, alongside Chang’e and her palace, and the Hare is often seen preparing the immortality drug. In statues, Chang’e is represented as a figure holding the moon disk raised in her right hand.

Who Is Hou Yi?

hou yi image

Hou yi and the ten suns story:In Chinese mythology, Hou Yi, also Hou I, is the Lord Archer. Hou Yi was known for his prowess with the bow, and this earned him the undying fame he is now well known for. Hou Yi’s bow and arrow is said to have had the power that allowed him to save the moon during an eclipse, saving the whole country from many plagues that had been predicted, including the wind monster that was, at the time, wreaking havoc across China. Besides preventing the eclipse, Hou Yi is also acclaimed for shooting down 9 out of 10 suns – other accounts note that he shot down 8 out of 9 suns. These are the suns that are believed to have been burning up the earth during prehistoric times.

That said, Chinese traditions also identify the suns’ marksman as one of the officers of the armed forces that protected China during the reign of emperor Ku, better known as Chang’e’s husband to the common people. So, after Chang’e stole the immortality drug from Hou Yi, she took refuge in the moon. Chang’e is the goddess of the moon. After Chang’e took the immortality elixir, Hou Yi went after her in hot pursuit but was intercepted by Hare, who wouldn’t let Hou Yi pass until he promised to reconcile with his wife. It was only after he agreed to the reconciliatory terms that he was let to pass. So, on the 15th day of every Lunar month, the spouses Chang’e and Hou Yi meet up. Hou Yi travels from his palace located in the sun to Chang’e in the moon palace, which he constructed for his wife.

Chang E Rabbit

jade rabbit moon

Also known as the Jade Rabbit, the Chang’e rabbit is one of the popular characters in the Mid-Autumn Festival and also the Moon.

The jade rabbit is considered the companion to Chang’e on the moon. The story of the jade rabbit notes that there are three animals that live in the forest – the fox, monkey, and rabbit.

One day, in a bid to test the animals’ virtues, the Emperor of Heaven descended to earth, taking on the appearance of an old man. He met the three animals, then after the introductions and mention of how far he’d traveled to meet the three animals, he mentioned that he was hungry and wondered what they would offer him. Naturally, the three animals promised to get him food and asked him to wait. The animals went their separate ways to get food. The fox caught fish from the river, the monkey went back with fruits from the forest, but the rabbit didn’t have any food on his return. The old man was disappointed, mentioning to the animals that they weren’t united. The rabbit felt sorry but asked the fox and monkey for help gathering firewood so that she would cook something. After the fire was lit, the rabbit apologized for not fulfilling his promise to bring food, and she jumped into the fire instead, asking the old man to eat him. Deeply moved, the Emperor of Heaven picked up the rabbit’s bones, and because he was touched, he honored the rabbit by letting her live in the Moon Palace where the rabbit would be seen forever.  

Wu Gang Story

wu gang chops the tree

In Chinese folklore, Wu Gang, also called Wu Kang, is important in both Taoism and Chinese Folklore. It is said that Wu Gang was tasked with cutting down the self-healing bay laurel tree that is on the moon. His story is associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival of the Moon Festival, though the reasons for the connection between the two is unclear.

But the story has to do with how, on a clear night, you can see a shadow in the moon. And though proof shows that the shadow comes from the mountains resulting from the actions of meteors, Chinese legend believes that the shadow is that of a huge cherry tree on the moon.

In this story, Wu Gang was just an ordinary person who sought immortality but was lazy to learn about what was necessary for the theurgy.

The Chinese ruler at the time, Emperor of Heaven, became angry with him because of his attitude and planned the perfect punishment for him. The emperor went on to plant a huge Cherry Bay tree that stood tall at 5460ft on the moon; then, he ordered Wu Gang to cut it. The condition was that if he could cut down the tree, he’d be immortal. Despite having a lazy bone, Wu Gang worked very hard to chop down the tree, but he couldn’t because the tree was self-healing, and it would always heal after Wu Gang chopped it. Wu Gang never gave up, though, and he still tries to cut down the tree to date, which is why the tree shadow on the moon is still seen – the shadow is from the huge cherry bay tree.

Why Is Chang E On The Moon?

Chang’e is on the moon because she was banished there after stealing the immortality elixir from Hou Yi. She took the whole pill instead of taking just half.

Chang E Over The Moon Story

While the tales of Chang’e are ever-changing, depending on who you ask, this is the most popular one.

In this tale of Chang’e and her Hou Yi, her husband, they were both living in heaven as immortals. But one day, Jade Emperor’s 10 sons transformed into 10 suns, scorching the earth. The emperor was unable to order his sons to stop scorching the earth, and emperor Jade subsequently summoned Hou Yi for help. Using his legendary skills in archery, Hou Yi was able to successfully shoot down 9 of the sons, sparing one and leaving that one to be the sun. The emperor was, unfortunately, displeased with  Hou Yi for saving the earth by killing 9 of his sons, and he banished Hou Yi as punishment, changing his life and taking away his immortality.

Chang’e grew very miserable after Hou Yi became a mere mortal, and Hou Yi decided to take on a long, perilous journey in search of the immortality pill for Hou Yi to be immortal once again. At the end of her quest, Chang’e met up with Queen Mother of the West, who agreed to give him the pill, albeit on one condition, that each of them would only need half the pill for immortality. Hou Yi brought the pill back home with him and safely stored it, warning Chang’e not to open the case. But Chang’e let curiosity get the best of her defied the instructions after Hou Yi left. She opened the case, found the pill as Hou Yi returned home. Accidentally and because she was nervous, she swallowed the entire pill and started floating towards the sky because she’d overdosed. Hou Yi’s first instinct was to shoot her, but he couldn’t bear losing her, so he waited until she landed on the moon. Chang’e grew very lonely in the moon, although she had the company of the Jade rabbit who was known for making elixirs. The rabbit would eventually help the couple reconcile, and the two would meet once.

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