The Woman In The Moon

Two days ago on the 14th of September was the day of the Moon Festival a popular East Asian tradition of Chinese origin. It dates back over 3000 years to the moon worship of China’s Shang Dynasty.

The Moon Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese Lunar New Year). Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes (Chinese Grapefruit).

Behind this festival stands the legend of Chang’e that has six variations but most involve the following elements: Houyi, the Archer; Chang’e, the mystical Moon Goddess of immortality; an emperor, either benevolent or malevolent; an elixir of life; and the moon. This is one version:

Houyi was a lazy boy who did nothing but to practice his archery. He practiced day and night until he became the greatest archer in the world. One day, the ten suns all assembled around the earth. Their presence destroyed all vegetation, and hundreds of thousands were perishing. The emperor, who was desperate, offered his crown to anyone who could shoot down the suns. Houyi answered his call. He shot down nine of the suns, and as he pulled his bow to shoot the last one, the emperor stopped him. Saying the earth must have one sun. Houyi then became the emperor. He was pampered to the extent that he wanted to be emperor forever. He called his advisors to look for a way to make him immortal. His advisors found a way. They found a recipe for the Pill of Immortality. It required 100 adolescent boys to be ground into a biscuit like a pill. Every night he was supposed to grind one boy. On the hundredth night, his wife Chang’e could not bear to watch her husband become the tyrannical dictator for eternity. She prayed to Xi Wang Mu for help. She stole the pill, with Houyi shooting arrows at her, and flew to the moon grabbing a rabbit to keep her company. So the Chinese say that if you look up at the moon to this day you can sometimes see a rabbit making moon cakes.

I spent Sunday evening with Julia in Chinatown. Julia being Chinese knows a lot about this festival that I had not even heard about until two days ago. We spent the evening having dinner and doing what most Chinese people do that day. Eat moon cakes and pomeloes and admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon while trying to make out a rabbit on the moon making moon cakes.





“Woman On The Moon” Manhattan/ New York City/ Chinatown/ Full Moon 09-14-08 at 08:47 PM

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