Mid-Autumn Festival: A Love Story
This story took place many, many moons ago. The Lord of Heaven had ten sons who had a particular affinity for fun and games and often snuck away to play. One day they enjoyed themselves so much that they forget to make it home and turned into ten suns suspended in the sky. The human world became devastated with drought, the soil dried up, and men could no longer maintain their livelihoods. The Lord of Heaven, enraged after hearing about the hardships of the people caused by his sons, sent the immortal and renowned marksman Hou Yi to descend to the world of mortals to scare his deviant sons into returning home.
Hou Yi brought his wife Chang E with him down to the realm of mortals, and immediately the two were struck with the sight of devestation. Hou Yi, furious, placed an arrow on his bow, aimed toward the sky, and threatened to shoot the ten suns. But the suns paid him no heed and continued their play. Sympathizing with the plight of the people, Hou Yi became even more enraged, and in a display of superhuman marksmanship shot down nine of the suns all in one breath.
Immediately the people lifted up Hou Yi as a beloved and respected hero. Even though the people were pleased, the Lord of Heaven was bereaved at the death of nine of his sons. He held Hou Yi culpable for the deaths and banished him and Chang E to the earth to become mortals. Hou Yi, rather than becoming dismayed, said of his situation, “the competition for status in heaven is stifling, but life on earth is quite leisurely.” Soon many noble men sought to become disciples of Hou Yi, whereupon Hou became a master teacher. Unfortunately nobody could predict that the treacherous Peng Meng was among his disciples. Hou Yi felt guilt for having caused his wife’s fall from grace, and so in all his time not spent teaching his disciples he was never far from the side of his beloved Chang E.
The now mortal Hou Yi now began to worry, as mortals do, about his own death. So he decided to take the perilous journey across turbulent waters, high mountains, and volcano faces to climb Mount Kunlun, where dwelled the Queen Mother of the West, in order to ask her for the elixir of immortality. On the road Hou Yi used his unparalleled skills and superhuman willpower to overcome all manner of danger. When he finally arrived, the Queen Mother of the West found that she admired Hou Yi greatly and empathized with his plight, and so she agreed to grant him the elixir. But the rub was that there was only one pill left. The Queen Mother told Hou Yi that her elixir was made from the fruit of the undying tree, that the undying tree bloomed once every three thousand years, that it bore fruit another three thousand years later, and that it took yet another three thousand years to prepare the elixir. If one person takes one dose, she said, he could ascend to heaven and become a celestial. If two people share one dose, they could live forever on earth.
Hou Yi returned home with the elixir and conferred with Chang E to choose an auspicious day to eat it. He did not expect that the treacherous Peng Meng would see Chang E placing the elixir in her box of treasures. The next time Hou Yi took his disciples out hunting, the scheming Peng feigned illness and stayed back. The very moment Hou Yi was out of sight, Peng forced his way into Chang E’s chamber with a sword and ordered her to hand over the elixir. Knowing she could not stand up to Peng, Chang E feigned compliance, but once she had produced the elixir from her box, she swallowed it down herself.
As soon as she had swallowed the elixir, Chang E began to float away from the surface of the earth. Amidst her confusion, she managed to grab her jade hare before ascending out of the house. As she could not stand the thought of leaving her beloved husband, Chang E decided that she should become a celestial upon the moon, the closest heavenly body to the earth. Hou Yi returned later that night to hear from a sobbing servant girl what had happened that day. Pained and enraged, Hou Yi immediately drew his sword to exact revenge upon Peng Meng, but he had already flown without trace. Hou Yi banged his chest, stamped at the ground, and moaned in agony. Emotionally ravaged, every night he looked to the sky wailing the name of his beloved wife. One day, he noticed that the moon was unusually bright and clear, and that there was a person’s shadow moving about on the moon, and that the shadow resembled that of his wife. So Hou Yi had an incense burned and her favorite candied fruits brought over.
When people heard that Chang E had flown to the moon to become a celestial, they also took to burning incense under the moonlight and praying to the benevolent Chang E for peace and blessings. The story goes that this is when the Chinese people began the tradition of gazing up at the moon on Mid-Autumn Festival.