Legend of Moon Cake Festival

“May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we are thousands of miles apart.”

 

This line (但愿人长久, 千里共婵娟) from a famous Song dynasty poem written by Su Shih, perhaps best captures the spirit of Mid-Autumn Festival, an age-old event with roots in Chinese cultures.⁣

The Moon Goddess - Chang'er

Legend has it, that a long time ago, the Earth had 10 suns, the heat of which ravaged the world with a terrible drought and brought suffering to all the people.⁣

At the request of the Empress of Heaven, the great archer Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns leaving just one we have today, saving life on Earth. As a reward for this incredible feat, Hou Yi was given the elixir of immortality, which he hid in his home, planning to share it with his beautiful wife, Chang’er.⁣

One day while Hou Yi was away hunting, his wicked apprentice, Pang Meng, came to his home to steal the elixir. Chang’er, knowing that she cannot overcome Pang Meng, and determined to keep it out of his hands, swallowed the elixir and ascended to the heavens. Chang'er's great love for her husband, Hou Yi drew her to the moon, the nearest place to the earth in heaven.⁣

Hou Yi was despaired and grieved when received the news of what happened to his wife. He shouted Chang'er's name and was surprised to see a figure resembling his wife on the moon. He then moved a table under the moon, and prepared some of her favorite food hoping Chang'er could come back to stay with him. ⁣

Since then, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, people have offered lots of food to worship the moon-goddess Chang'er. It is said that, to this day, those who look hard enough can see Chang’er's likeness in the moon.

...and then there's the Jade Rabbit

The Jade Rabbit is also a widespread character related to the Mid-Autumn Festival and the moon. The Chinese believe that the Jade Rabbit is a companion to Chang'er on the moon. 

The story goes like this. There are three animals living in a forest: a fox, a rabbit, and a monkey. One day, the Emperor of Heaven wanted to test the animals' virtues. So he descended to Earth and changed his appearance to that of an old man.

He said, "I heard that you three are good friends, so I came a long way to meet you. Now I am very hungry. What will you offer me?"

"Please wait here. We will come back with food soon."

Then the three animals went their separate ways to find food for the old man. The fox caught a fish in a river; the monkey got fruit in the forest; but the rabbit got nothing and came back empty handed.

The old man said, "It seems that you three are not united and work alone. You two kept your promise and brought back food. But the rabbit hasn't brought back anything."

The rabbit felt terribly sorry. "Please help me to get some firewood. I want to cook some food for him," she said to the fox and monkey.

After they set the firewood on the fire, the rabbit said to the old man, "Sorry I didn't fulfill my promise. But I can sacrifice myself to you. Eat me, please!" and the rabbit jumped into the fire before the old man could say anything.

The Emperor of Heaven was deeply moved by the rabbit. He picked up the rabbit's remains and said, "I am so touched. To honor her, I will let her go to the Moon Palace, so that people can see her forever."

 

Chang'er and the Jade Rabbit