A tragic love story? 10 Suns and an archer? Jade rabbit? The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节, Zhong Qiu Jie) is a traditional Chinese festival that goes beyond delicious mooncakes and a reunion meal with family and friends. However, before we delve deeper into the story behind the Mid-Autumn Festival, here are some basic facts to set the scene.
- This annual festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. According to the Gregorian calendar, this date will fall on 13 September 2019 this year – don’t forget to mark your calendar!
- It has been celebrated for over a thousand years and was formally recognized in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
- The Mid-Autumn Festival derived from the ancient Chinese practice of worshipping the moon goddess. During this annual tradition, Emperors would worship the Autumn harvest moon to pray for plentiful harvests.
- Similar to Chinese New Year, this is a major traditional Chinese festival that encourages family reunions over lavish meals and mooncakes.
- In China and Hong Kong, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an actual Public Holiday.
Without further ado, here is the story behind the Mid-Autumn Festival!
Is this another tragic love story?
In short, yes. It concerns a great archer named Hou Yi, his beautiful wife Chang’E, his archery student Peng Meng, the Jade Emperor and Queen of the Western heavens.
10 Suns and an archer?
There used to be 10 suns on earth. The heat was so unbearable it scorched crops and caused a severe drought. A great archer known as Hou Yi, came to the people’s rescue and successfully shot down 9 of the 10 suns; restoring peace on earth.
Unbeknownst to Hou Yi, the 9 suns he had shot down were the mischievous sons of the Jade Emperor and Queen of the Western Heavens. To seek revenge for their deaths, the Queen summoned Hou Yi to heaven on the pretense of rewarding him with a pill that can grant him eternal life. In reality, this was an elaborate ploy to separate the loving couple (since only 1 of them could live as an immortal) so that he will feel loss and pain, as she had.
However, the Queen’s plan fell through. When Hou Yi went home to Chang’E , they decided that they would rather be together and lead mortal lives, than leading separately lives.
How does Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’E fit into this story?
The people adored Hou Yi for his heroic deed so much so that some started taking martial arts classes from him. With this newfound fame, word spread that Hou Yi possessed a pill to eternal life. Wanting it for himself, his archery student Peng Meng, snuck off during an archery lesson in search of this pill.
The search of Hou Yi’s house was futile, because to keep it away from him, Chang’E swallowed the pill. Almost immediately, she started getting lighter and floated to heaven. She then chose to make the moon her home as it was the closest to earth, and Hou Yi.
How about the flying rabbit?
Well, the rabbit is not exactly related to the Hou Yi and Chang’E story. Legend has it that 3 deities visited earth disguised as poor old men and were begging for alms. Along the way, they met a fox, monkey and rabbit, none of them had any food to offer. The rabbit, however, decided to sacrifice itself to prevent the old men from going hungry. Moved by the gesture, they made the rabbit an immortal and sent it to the moon to accompany Chang’E.
Pretty neat huh? How well do you understand the Mid-Autumn Festival now? Stay tuned for more Mid-Autumn related articles in the coming weeks.
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