long, long ago, there were ten suns in the sky. they worked in shifts one after another. one day, these sun brothers, bored with the rotation, decided to show face together, disregarding that everything on earth was about to be burnt and die. a young archer named hou yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down 9 suns. the 9 suns fell on earth and formed 9 countries. he then united the 9 countries as a hero and became the king.
an immortal admired hou yi and sent him some elixir, or immortal drug, which would allow him immortality. however, hou yi didn’t want to leave his wife, chang’e. therefore, he just put the drug aside.
one of hou yi’s apprentices, who was called pang meng, somehow knew this secret. one day when hou yi went for hunting, he broke into his house to grab the drug. inside the room was chang’e, who refused to give it to him. forced into the corner, chang’e swallowed the drug herself instead of handing it to pang meng.
but she hadn’t expected that the drug took effect immediately, making her fly all the way to the sky. in order not to live apart from his husband too far, she struggled to land on the moon, the nearest place to settle down in the universe.
when hou yi came back and got to know what happened, he was so heartbroken that, having no other choice, he put nuts, fruits and cakes—all these were his wife’s favorite snacks—in the yard under the moon as a sacrifice to his wife and to their love.
that day was the 15th of the 8th month in the lunar calendar. the practice of worshipping the moon on this day went down history as a tradition throughout thousands of years in china, and mid-autumn festival was thence generated.
there is another, among many, version of the legend though. it is said that after hou yi shot down 9 suns and was crowned as the king of the 9 countries, he became increasingly ill-tempered and violent as a tyrant. people suffered under his rule.
one day, he got a bag of elixir from the queen mother, the female ruler in the west. his wife, chang’e, considering that this elixir would give him immortality and make his people suffer from his cruel rule forever, stole the elixir and swallowed it herself. in doing so, she attempted to exempt the people from the potential eternal pain. but the immortal drug took effect promptly and chang’e flew up and up and up until arriving at the palace in the moon.
people on earth, knowing that chang’e liberated them from the horrible destiny, worshipped her with censers, shrines and foods gratefully. and the date in this version of the story happened to be the 15th of the 8th month in the lunar calendar.
it is unknown whether hou yi regretted losing his loved one because of his tyranny, but it is said that chang’e did, at least so in a tang poem by the famous poet li shangyin, who wrote:
you’d regret having stolen the miraculous potion,
each night you brood over the lonely celestial ocean.
in both versions of the story, the husband and wife were separated from each other anyway. reunion of the couple becomes the eternal wish of the chinese people. therefore, one theme of the mid-autumn festival turns out to be family reunion. people hurry back home, no matter how far away, to enjoy family life with their loved ones while tasting the moon cake and enjoying the moon light together.
also widely believed is that the fullest and most romantic moon on this night symbolizes reunion, a word in chinese generating an image of roundness and a full house of family members.
we wish you and your loved ones happy mid-autumn!