Four Legends Of The Mid Autumn Festival

June 1, 2021
four legends of moon festival

Like other festivals, the Chinese Moon Festival legends have transcended from generation to generation. Various versions explain the celebration’s origin. The Chinese love to recite these ancient folk tales during the festival to their children besides preparing Suzhou-style mooncakes, oreo mooncakes, jujube mooncakes, and more. Here are some of the mid-autumn festival legends that have been passed down the generations:

The Lady Chang’e Flying to the Moon 

There are different stories about the fairy lady or the Goddess of the Moon – Lady Chang’e. One of the most famous ones goes as follows. 

During ancient times, there lived an archer named Hou Yi. At the time, there were ten suns in the sky that were burning and killing the people and crops on Earth. The Emperor summoned Hou Yi to shoot down nine suns, which he did successfully. 

Life on Earth went back to normal after that, and as a reward, Hou Yi was given the elixir of immortality. However, he did not want to consume it without his beautiful wife Chang’e and requested the Queen Mother to give him enough for both of them. The Queen Mother agreed and gave him what he wanted. 

Hou Yi and Chang’e decided to drink the elixir on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month together. However, a wicked man named Feng Meng, who was envious of Hou Yi’s skills, overheard them and decided to steal the elixir to consume himself. 

On the 15th day, Hou Yi went out hunting, and Chang’e was alone at home. Feng Meng went to their house and forced her to give up the elixir. Acknowledging that she would not be able to defeat him, she drank the whole elixir by herself. In doing so, Chang’e started to fly and was lifted to heaven. She then decided to live on the moon as it was the closest to Earth and her love, Hou Yi.

When Hou Yi returned, he heard the news and was very sad. He prepared the food that Chang’e loved and placed it on a table in his garden, under the moon, hoping that she would return. Since then, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, people admire and worship the moon by offering food for her to bless. Chang’e, who is believed to be fair and beautiful herself, is said to bestow those who worship her with beauty, love, and prosperity.

Other tales even say that Hou Yi became a tyrannical ruler and wanted the elixir of immortality to rule forever. To end this, Chang’e stole it and drank it all so that her husband could not find her. 

On Mid-Autumn Festival night, children gather their moon festival foods, look up to the moon, and try to find the shape of Lady Chang’e.

Hou Yi Making Cakes

Traditional mooncakes are generally imprinted with Chinese characters, representing longevity or harmony. Its packaging is designed with images of Chang’e, her companion – the Jade Rabbit, the moon, or sometimes flowers.

After Lady Chang’e flew to the moon, it is said that she and Hou Yi missed each other a lot. Hou Yi was then told by an immortal that he should make round cakes using flour. He was instructed to place them in the house towards the northwest and shout his wife’s name. It was believed that he would be able to reunite with his wife on the Mid-Autumn Festival Day if he followed these directions. Hou Yi obeyed the immortal’s words and was finally able to meet Chang’e. These cakes eventually became the famous mooncakes used widely during this year. 

Mooncakes are now one of the mid-autumn festival customs, not only in China but globally.  The mid-autumn festival in Philippines and other Asian countries also witnesses massive celebrations around this time. You can find countless types of mooncakes during the moon festival.

Wu Gang Cleaving Sweet Osmanthus Tree

Another legend of the moon festival is around the woodcutter, Wu Gang. 

Wu Gang used to live on Earth but was more fascinated by the magical power of the Gods and did not want to be a woodcutter. His behavior offended the Almighty, and he was banished to the Palace on the Moon where Lady Chang’e lived. He was told that he would attain magical powers once he cut down the sweet-scented Osmanthus tree there.

The tree was more than 1600 meters tall, and Wu Gang would try to cut it with his axe every day. Strangely, no matter how many times he tried, he could not fall off the tree, and the mark from the axe would heal by itself. He would try day after day but could never cut down the tree, and the cleaving scar would vanish after each blow. What he did not know was that it was a self-healing tree. Hence, it continued to grow, and Wu Gang was punished with the task of trying to cut it down.

The Chinese believe that repeated and never-ending labor is one of the cruelest punishments a man can be given. This pursuit destroys the spirit and flesh of a man. 

There are many versions of this narrative. And the reasons why he was sent to the moon vary with each one. 

Why is Rabbit the mascot of the Mid-autumn Festival?

Chinese autumn festival 2023 is a combination of symbols and legends. Some may confuse it with the lantern festival because of the lantern-hanging tradition. However, check for lantern festival greetings and the difference is sharp between both the festivals.

The Jade Rabbit has made its way into many Moon or the Mid-Autumn Festival legends. 

One day the Emperor of Heaven wanted to test the animals on Earth. He took the form of an older man and appeared to be a fox, monkey, and Rabbit. He told them that he was hungry and needed food to eat. The animals immediately went their separate ways to find the man some food. 

The fox brought back some fish, and the monkey collected some fruit. However, the Rabbit could not catch anything. Knowing that he would be unable to offer the old man food, he asked the fox and monkey to prepare a fire and jumped into the fire, thus offering himself. Deeply moved by this gesture, the Emperor of Heaven sent the Rabbit to live on the moon, where he was put in charge of preparing the elixir of immortality. This rabbit is called the Jade Rabbit or the Moon Rabbit. 

Jade Rabbit is perceived as the companion of Chang’e in the Moon Palace (or the Guanghan Palace). Lady Chang’e and the Jade Rabbit got along immediately and became best friends. On hearing about Chang’e and Hou Yi’s fate, the Jade Rabbit sympathized with her and wanted to make a special medicine to help Chang’e go back to Earth. As per the legend of the Moon Festival, the rabbit constantly pounds herbs in an effort to make a pill that would facilitate sending Chang’e back to earth to reunite with her husband. But it never succeeded.

If you observe the moon on Mid-Autumn Day, you can see an outline of the Jade Rabbit pounding with a pestle. Some legends say that Hou Yi turned into a rabbit to give his wife company, but she never knew that the Rabbit was her husband. 

The Jade Rabbit, a sign of devotion, altruism, and sacrifice, is a widely used and beloved symbol during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Lady Chang’e and the Jade rabbit are depicted together in many works of art. 

People Also Ask

Why is there a bunny on the moon festival?

There is a bunny on the moon festival because bunnies are associated with the moon in many cultures. The moon is also a symbol of fertility, so the bunny on the moon festival is a celebration of new life.

What is the most famous legend of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival?

The most famous legend of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is the story of Chang’e.

Who are the main characters in the Mid-Autumn Festival?

The main characters in the Mid-Autumn Festival are the moon goddess Chang’e and her husband, the archer Hou Yi.

What does rabbit symbolize in Mid-Autumn Festival?

Rabbit is a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture.

What is the story of Chang E and Hou Yi?

According to one legend, there were 10 suns in the sky. One day, the 10 suns decided to rise all at once, scorching the earth and causing great suffering to the people. The archer Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, and was given an elixir of immortality by the goddess Chang E as a reward. Chang E later drank the elixir herself by mistake, and floated up to the moon.

Who is Chang E and the jade rabbit?

Chang E is the Chinese goddess of the moon. The jade rabbit is her companion.

How did Chang E fly to the moon?

The myth says that Chang E took a pill given to her by Hou Yi, which transformed her into a beam of light that flew her to the moon.

What did Chang E swallow to get on the moon?

Chang E swallowed a pill to get on the moon.

Who is Chang E in over the moon?

Chang E is a Chinese goddess who lives on the moon.

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