Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Legend of Chang Er

In commemoration of the Chinese Moon festival, or the Mid-Autumn festival as it is sometimes called, the ancient Legend of Chang Er is recounted here. The festival falls upon a full moon, usually the month of September. After the New Year celebration, this is perhaps the most important of Chinese traditional festivals. Families gather; Yue bin, moon cake, is traditionally eaten.

There are many beautiful legends about the moon in China. the most popular one tells how a goddess named Chang Er ascended to the moon.

A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes. The trees and grass were scorched. The land was cracked and parched, and rivers ran
dry. Many people died of hunger and thirst.The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou Yi arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down nine suns one after another. The weather immediately turned cooler. Heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water and the grass and trees turned green. Life had been restored and humanity was saved.

One day, a charming young woman, Chang Er makes her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container, A young man comes forward, asking for a drink. When she sees the red bow and white arrows hanging from his belt, Chang Er realizes that he is their savior, Hou Yi. Inviting him to drink, Chang Er plucks a beautiful flower and gives it to him as a token of respect. Hou Yi, in turn, selects a beautiful silver fox fur
as his gift for her. This meeting kindles the spark of their love. And soon after that, they get married. A mortal's life is limited, of course. So in order to enjoy his happy life with Chang'e forever, Hou Yi decides to look for an elixir of life. He goes to the Kunlun Mountains where the Western Queen Mother lives.

Out of respect for the good deeds he has done, the Western Queen Mother rewards Hou Yi with elixir, a fine powder made from pieces of fruit which grows on the tree of eternity. At the same time, she tells him:If you and your wife share the elixir, you will both enjoy eternal life. But if only one of you takes it,that one will ascend to Heaven and become immortal.

Hou Yi returns home and tells his wife all that has happened and they decide to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is full and bright. A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng secretly hears about their plan. He wishes Hou Yi an early death so that he can drink the elixir himself and become immortal.

His opportunity finally arrives. One day,when the full moon is rising, Hou Yi is on his way home from hunting. Feng Meng kills him. The murderer then runs to Hou Yi's home and forces Chang Er to give him the elixir, Without hesitating, Chang Er picks up the elixir and drinks it all. Overcome with grief, Chang Er rushes to her dead husband's side, weeping bitterly. Soon the elixir begins to have its effect and Chang Er feels herself being lifted towards Heaven.

Chang Er decides to live on the moon because it is nearest to the earth. There she lives a simple and contented life. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals. Never does she forget the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness.

Another legend explained the role of the Old Man on the Moon, the Divine Match-maker. The Chinese believed that marriages were made in Heaven but prepared on the moon. The Old Man on the Moon tied the feet of young men and women with red cords for marriage. Thus a maiden made offerings and prayed to him during the Mid-Autumn Festival, hoping that some day she would ride in the red bridal sedan chair.
From the website:

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