The Legend of Chang E

…is a story that’s central to the Mid-Autumn Festival. It has many versions, but generally goes like this. Chang E was a beautiful young woman who dwelt in heaven as a servant of the Jade Emperor, a Zeus-like character of Chinese mythology. She was married to another immortal, an archer by the name of Hou yi.

One day the Jade Emperor’s ten sons decide to have a little fun. They transform themselves into ten suns and begin to march across the sky together, burning the land to cinders. The Emperor is not amused and begs Hou Yi for help. His response is to shoot nine of the suns down and kill them, which wasn’t the solution the Emperor had in mind. So he punishes Hou Yi and Chang E by sending them to Earth to live out their lives as mortals.

But Chang E and Hou Yi soon hatch a plan to regain their immortality by locating the elixir of life that is in the possession of Xi Wangmu, the Goddess of the West. Shortly Hou Yi sets off on a quest and returns with enough potion for the both of them. Somehow — and stories vary widely on exactly how this happens — Chang E ends up drinking it all. Made buoyant by too much youth juice, she floats up into the sky and ultimately lands on the moon where she lives to this day.

For company she has only the Jade Rabbit (who himself makes elixirs and is forever pounding a mortar and pestle) as well as a Sisyphus-like woodcutter by the name of Wu Gang who is cursed by the gods to cut down a tree that is forever growing back again.

Traditionally Chang E is honored during the Mid-Autumn festival (as a sort of embodiment of the female principle) and mooncakes are laid out for her to bless.

5 thoughts on “The Legend of Chang E”

  1. The version I heard as a kid was like this:

    The earth used to be a very, very hot place because of the ten suns, and all the villagers (I guess people all lived in one village) could barely harvest crops due to the heat and drought-like conditions. Enter Hou Yi, this strong man and archer who was able to shoot down nine of the ten suns. He left one in the sky because if not, then it’d be too dark. So Hou Yi became this hero to everyone.

    I forgot what happened next, but in my memory, Hou Yi was a mean person who wanted to marry Chang E because she’s so beautiful (think Gaston & Belle), but Chang E did not want to marry Hou Yi and she cried every day after being forced to marry him. Hou Yi would not let Chang E leave the house and locked her in it before he left to go about his daily business. Before he left, Hou Yi admonished Chang E not to take these “magical pills.”

    Well, guess what, I guess these magical pills were just lying around the house and so Chang E of course stole them and took the pills. After taking the pills, Chang E started rising into the sky until she was on the moon. As sort of a natural punishment for stealing (perhaps to her it was an escape?), Chang E was forever to live on the moon that had bunnies on it.

    1. I like that one, Eva! Thanks!

      Yes in some of the stories I’ve read it seems that Hou Yi went on to be a pretty mean fellow…a despotic emperor in one of them, I think. And then right, Chang E is trying to escape him. Here are so many versions of the story it’s hard to keep track!

      Thanks, Eva!

      – Joe

  2. the version that i heard was pretty similar to eva, but kind of different somehow chang – e helped Hou Yi with his bow and arrow to kill the 9 suns, and after Hou Yi succeeded Chang-E becomes weak, and Hou Yi went to Goddess of The West, but by the time he came back, Chang E is already too weak, so instead of giving her half of the pill like the Goddess suggest, he gave it all to her.And She became the moon Goddess. Because Goddess of The West touched by their Love She let Hou Yi ride the Sun, the Fire Phoenix, so in that way he can meet Chang-E when the day becomes night, even just for a glimpse.

    1. Thank you, Ruu. I am certainly no expert here. I appreciate the info!

      – Joe

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