It is almost the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节and for me it is one of the most romantic Chinese festivals because all the interesting myths about it. We will use two episodes to share them with you.
Mid-Autumn Festival is on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon at night and this year it will be on the September 24th . Some researchers think the festival was originally for celebration of the harvest in the fall. Some historians think the festival was originally for the worship of the moon which was recorded in the book LiJi 礼记 since the Spring and Autumn period. The festival started from the early Tang dynasty 唐朝 when the Emperor XuanZong of Tang 唐玄宗 held formal celebrations in the palace. The festival was as important as the Spring Festival 春节, the Chinese new year since the Ming dynasty 明朝.
Today the festival is mainly about moon worship, moon gazing and family get together. I think moon gazing is the most romantic thing to do in the world and the second is star gazing. Anyways, moon gazing started from the palace among the scholars and then became popular with normal people. There are countless poems in the Chinese history about the moon and it used to be part of the Mid-Autumn Festivals traditions to write poems about the moon in the ancient time. While moon gazing, of course we need something to snack on. YueBing 月饼, moon cakes , a round desert with stuffings like salted egg yolk , bean paste is the traditional food on the festival and it goes so well with a cup of tea. Of course there are more flavors nowadays including ice cream. Fruits and nuts are always great for worship the moon and to eat ourselves. And then we are ready for the moon gazing. This is when people start to talk about stories and myths about the moon.
We will start with story of the goddess of the moon today. Her name was originally HengE 姮娥 due to the name of the Emperor Liu Heng 刘恒 in the Han dynasty 汉朝, she was known as ChangE 嫦娥 after than. Just try to explain here, on the contrary of the western culture that people like to give the names of their kids with their own names or their ancestors’ names, in China, people actually try to avoid use the same characters in the names of their ancestors or the emperor out of respect. In the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经, it says ChangXi 常羲 and Di Jun 帝俊, of of the ancient supreme deities had 12 moons as children.
In the book ShiJing 诗经, it says, ChangE is the daughter of ChangXi and DiJun. DiJun had a minister called HouYi 后羿 that we mentioned in our episode 3, who shot down nine suns leaving one left. HouYi is also regarded as a god of archery. DiJun’s daughter ChangE married to HouYi.
In the book HuaiNaiZi 淮南子 from the Han dynasty 汉朝, it says, HouYi got the elixir of life from Queen Mother of the West 西王母. You can check out episode 74 about Queen Mother of the West if you want to know more about her. HouYi didn’t consume the elixir right away and ChangE stole the elixir of life and consumed it when her husband wasn’t at home and flew to the moon. So she wanted to be immortal however she didn’t know she would have to fly to the moon afterwards and was forced to be separated from her husband and be alone forever.
In the book ChuXueJi 初学记from the Tang dynasty, it says, after ChangE flew to the moon, she became a toad and the spirit of the moon. This also is mentioned in other books. Why did she become a toad. Some people say because the surface of the moon looks like the skin of a toad. Some people say it is a punishment for ChangE of stealing the elixir of life.
But probably most people didn’t want to accept the end of the story that a beautiful woman became a toad and that’s the god of the moon. There were more stories coming up and are more widely known today. We will talk about them in our next episode.
山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas
唐玄宗 Emperor XuanZong of Tang
西王母 Queen Mother of the West