14 September 2016 by Suyen Hu
We have selected two beautiful legends from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Both stories are about beautiful ladies. The first one is a bit sad and is about a lady called Chang E. The second one is a happy story about a princess called Nong Yu. You can find Nong Yu’s story in our book Dragon Tales: Stories of Chinese Dragon. It is called ‘A Good Son in-law’.
In very ancient times there used to be ten suns in the sky. The weather was so hot that all the crops withered and people were dying from hunger. At this hard time, a warrior named Hou Yi took pity on the suffering of the people. The Emperor Jade, Lord of the Heavens, ordered Hou Yi to shoot nine of the suns out of the sky and order the last sun to rise and shine to give back the people a normal life. Hou Yi features in our story Big Red Rooster for the coming Year of the Rooster in 2017.
Hou Yi’s great deed made him famous and well respected and widely admired by the people. Many young men came to learn the martial arts from him and he was happy to teach them his archery and hunting skills. He married a beautiful and kind-hearted lady named Chang E. The couple loved each other affectionately and lived happily together. However, their happiness invited jealousy from one of Hou Yi’s disciples, Peng Meng, who plotted to destroy Hou Yi and his family.
One day Hou Yi was given a packet of immortal elixir by the Empress of the Heavens, Emperor Jade’s wife at a regular party the Empress threw for heros on the earth. Drinking this elixir would make mortals into immortal gods who would live in the heavens with the other Gods. However, Hou Yi could not bear the thought of leaving his beautiful wife alone on the earth. So he asked Chang E to keep the elixir. Chang E hid it in her jewellery box on her dressing table. Unfortunately, Peng Meng learned about this and decided to steal the elixir to become immortal himself.
Three days later, Hou Yi went on a hunting expedition with his followers, but Peng Meng pretended to be unwell and stayed behind. Then, with his sword in his hand, Peng Meng went to Chang E’s chamber and forced her to hand over the elixir. Chang E knew she could not fight with Peng Meng so, all of sudden she smashed the jewellery box, took out the elixir and swallowed it down. Immediately Chang E rose above the ground, flew out of the window and ascended all the way to the sky! But Chang E missed her husband so much that she chose to live in the Palace of the Moon. No human lived there but a rabbit with a lovely name the Jade Rabbit so Chang E was all alone, but she chose it because it was the closest place to the earth she could find in the heavens. Chang E had become an immortal, but she could never be with her husband again.
When Hou Yi returned home from hunting, the maid told him what had happened. Angry and desperate, Hou Yi looked for Peng Meng, meaning to kill him straightaway, but he couldn’t find that villain anywhere. With a broken heart, Hou Yi looked up at the night sky, calling out loud his wife's name. He was surprised to find that the moon was especially bright and shining that night and he thought he could see a moving figure that looked so much like Chang E. Hou Yi tried to chase after the moon. But when he walked forward three steps, the moon also moved forward three steps. When he went backwards three steps, the moon also went backwards three steps. There seemed to be no hope at all for him ever to catch up with the moon.
Hou Yi felt hopeless and desperate. He could not stop missing his wife. So he asked the maids to set up a table in the garden where he and Chang E used to spend happy times together. On the table, he put his beloved wife’s favourite fruits and sweets, and he burned incense which he would send his good wishes and love to his wife living alone and lonely in the Palace of the Moon.
When people came to know the story about how Chang E had become the immortal Moon Goddess, they started to remember her just like Hou Yi did, and to pray for blessings and good luck from the goddess. And they do this on the full moon day when the moon is especially bright and shining, which comes on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar.
Our facebook icon features the Chinese Moon Goddess Change E and her Jade Rabbit. Have you noticed it?
The second story is happier. Nong Yu was the youngest daughter of King Mu in the kingdom of Qin in ancient China. Nong Yu was very good at playing the sheng, an ancient Chinese musical instrument. King Mu wanted a good husband for Nong Yu and he chose the prince from the neighbouring kingdom. Nong Yu was not happy with her father’s plan. ‘I would rather be alone all my life than be married to someone who doesn’t know about music,’ she said. But King Mu couldn’t find any prince who loved music to marry his daughter.
One evening Nong Yu was playing the sheng in her garden when she thought she heard a flute playing too. But when she stopped playing her sheng, the flute stopped too. That night Nong Yu dreamed of a handsome young man who came from the Hua Mountains, riding on a beautiful phoenix. ‘The Jade Emperor, ruler of the heavens, has chosen you to be my wife,‘ he told her.’ I will come again for you on the day when the moon is full in August.’ The young man took out a red jade flute and started to play. The music was very beautiful.
Nong Yu told her father about the dream. King Mu sent one of his generals right away to Hua Mountains to find if there really was a young man living there who could play the flute so beautifully. After a long search the general found an old farmer who told him, ‘There is indeed a young man called Xiao Shi who likes to play the flute. His music can be heard for hundreds of miles.’ The general found the young man at last and invited him to the King’s palace. Perhaps it was by chance that the day when Xiao Shi arrived in the palace was just the day of the full moon in August!
King Mu saw that the young man was handsome and his manners were noble. When Xiao Shi took out his flute and started to play, the music was even more beautiful than in Nong Yu’s dream. The decorative dragons and phoenixes on the palace walls seemed to dance.
King Mu said to Xiao Shi, ‘My daughter Nong Yu would love to marry a person who knows about music and today is the mid-autumn day, which really is a day for a marriage given by the Heaven.’
So Xiao Shi and princess Nong Yu were married. Xiao Shi taught Nong Yu to play the flute so beautifully, like the sound of a phoenix singing, that one day a real phoenix flew down from the sky and perched on their roof. King Mu built a mansion for the couple and called it ‘Phoenix Mansion’.
One night they saw a purple phoenix and a red dragon fly down and perch on the roof of the mansion. ‘Now the dragon and the phoenix have both arrived it is time for us to leave the earth,’ Nong Yu said. So with Xiao Shi riding on the dragon and Nong Yu riding on the phoenix, Xiao Shi and Nong Yu disappeared together into the night sky. Now the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the night of the full moon in August and it is still considered to be one of the happiest and best days for lovers to tie the knot or for families to get reunited.