Blog

Episode 85: Mid-Autumn Festival – Jade Rabbit And Chinese Sisyphus

Click here to listen

Today we will keep talk about stories about the Mid-Autumn festival and they are great entertainment for tonight’s moon gazing.

Last night we talked about a beautiful woman called ChangE 嫦娥 flew to the moon after eating the elixir of life. She lives in a palace on the moon 月宫or 广寒宫. In the book YiShi 逸史, it mentions a story of the Emperor XuanZong of Tang 唐玄宗 had a dream of visiting the palace of the moon.

In the book WuJingTongYi 五经 通义, it says, there is a rabbit and a toad on the moon. In the book YueFuShiJi 乐府诗集, it says, the rabbit is pounding medicine for the mortals with a mortar and pestle. Later we call the moon rabbit as Jade Rabbit 玉兔, as a companion of the lonely goddess of the moon ChangE 嫦娥. If you saw the Japanese cartoon Sailor Moon, the main character Sailor Moon’s name is Usagi Tsukino meaning Moon Rabbit. In the book Journey to the West 西游记, the monkey king fought with the Moon Rabbit.

中秋5

In the book HuaiNaiZi 淮南子 from the Han dynasty 汉朝, it says, there is an osmanthus tree on the moon. The osmanthus tree is native to Asia. The tree flowers during the autumn. The flowers is also know as sweet osmanthus, tea olive, sweet olive and so on. The flowers have a special fragrance and are infused with tea and made into jam.

中秋6

In the book JiuYangZaZu 酉阳杂 俎from the Tang dynasty 唐朝, it says the osmanthus tree on the moon is 500 zhang 丈, which is around 1500m. There is a person cutting down the tree. This man is called WuGang 吴刚, the Chinese Sisyphus because the tree is self-healing so he has to keep chopping the tree.There are a lot of variations about why Wu Gang is on the moon. In some stories, it says, WuGang murdered his wife’s lover, who is the grandson of Emperor Yan 炎帝 after he found out about the affair. So he was banished to the moon where he would cut down the tree. Some historians think the story of WuGang and the tree was originally from the imagination of the shadows on the moon.

中秋7

In 2007, China launched its first lunar probe , a spacecraft named ChangE ‘1. Tow other lunar probes in 2010 and 2013 named ChangE ‘2 and ChangE ‘3 in the honor of the goddess of the moon. In 2013, a lunar rover landed on the moon called YuTu 玉兔, Jade Rabbit.

I will finish our episode with part of the conversations between Houston control center and the Apollo 11 crew before the first moon landing in 1969:

  • Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit.
  • Okay . We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.
  • 中秋4

 

Mentioned:

逸史 YiShi

五经 通义WuJingTongYi

乐府诗集 YueFuShiJi

西游记 Journey to the West

淮南子 HuaiNaiZi

酉阳杂 俎 JiuYangZaZu

唐玄宗 Emperor XuanZong of Tang

炎帝 Emperor Yan

Sailor Moon

Episode 84 : Mid-Autumn Festival – Goddess Of The Moon

Click here to listen

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.

中秋9

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.

中秋2

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.

中秋1

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.

中秋3

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.

Mentioned:

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

诗经 ShiJing

淮南子 HuaiNaiZi

礼记 LiJi

初学记 ChuXueJi

唐玄宗 Emperor XuanZong of Tang

常羲 ChangXi

帝俊 DiJun

后羿 HouYi

西王母 Queen Mother of the West

Episode 83 : Shine Shine Monk

Click here to listen

It is the rainy season after a great summer. Today we will talk about a cute tradition in ancient China since the Yuan dynasty 元代 and in Japan today that people do to pray for a sunny day.

扫晴娘2

In the book DiJingJingWuLue 帝京景物略 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, whenever the rainy days last for a while, people would make a woman’s figure. The head is made of white paper and the body part is made of green and red paper. The figure is holding a tiny broom. The figure would be hung up on the edge of the roof outside. They are called SaoQingNiang 扫晴娘. Sao means sweep, qing means sunny and niang means woman.

扫晴娘4

In the book GaiYuCongKao 陔余丛 考from the Qing dynasty 清朝,it says it is a tradition in the rainy season to cut a woman figure out of a paper holding a broom to wish for a sunny day.

扫晴娘1

QingSaoNiang is hard to see in China today maybe in the countryside however it is popular Japan. Farmers hang it outside of the winder by a string. In Japan, it looks like a ghost doll which is much easy to make out of tissue paper or cotton and string. It is called teru teru bozu in Japanese meaning shine shine monk.

扫晴娘3

Mentioned:

帝京景物略 DiJingJingWuLue

陔余丛 考 GaiYuCongKao

Episode 82: Chinese Four Great Beauties 1 -XiShi

Click here to listen

In Chinese history, there are four women considered as the Four Great Beauties. They are XiShi 西施, Wang ZhaoJun 王昭君, DiaoChan 貂蝉 and Yang YuHuan 杨玉环. They are known for their beauty and they are remembered also due to their influences over the emperors. We will spend four episodes to talk about their legends.

There is a idiom to describe how beautiful each of them was. It is called 沉鱼 落雁闭月羞花 meaning the beauty can make the fish sink, birds fall, the moon eclipse and flowers be ashamed.

西施2

Today we will talk about the beauty XiShi 西施 whose beauty was so entrancing that while she was leaning over a balcony to look at the fish in the pond, the fish would forget to swim and sink in the water. XiShi is said to have lived during the end of the Spring and Autumn period around 500 BC. Her original name was Shi YiGuang 施夷光 from the Kingdom of Yue 越国.

西施

The King GouJian 勾践 of Yue was imprisoned by King FuChai 夫差 after being defeated in a war and the Kingdom of Yue became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Wu 吴国. The King of Yue planned to revenge by offering the beauty XiShi to the King of Wu. In the book WuYueChunQiu 吴越春秋 , it says, the King of Wu couldn’t resist beautiful women. So the King of Yue with the help of his minister FanLi 范蠡 picked XiShi and trained her how to move and walk, how to dance for three years and offered her to the King of Wu as a tribute.

西施1

Bewitched by the beauty and education of XiShi, the king of Wu spent days after days with her without caring about his state affairs. He built palaces for XiShi for her. In 473 BC, the King of Yue finally launched his strike and defeated the Kingdom of Wu. In the book WuDiJi 吴地记, before XiShi was sent to the King of Wu, she and he minister FanLi who picked her and trained her fell in love and had a son. In some legends like in the book YueJueShu 越绝书, after XiShi accomplished her mission, FanLi retried from his position and left with XiShi on a boat.

西施4

Mentioned:

越王勾践 King GouJian of Yue

吴王夫差 King FuChai of Wu

范蠡 FanLi

吴越春秋 WuYueChunQiu

吴地记WuDiJi

越绝书 YueJueShu

Episode 81 : The Assassin Lady Nie — part 3

Click here to listen

In our last episode, we talked about Nie YinNiang and her husband was on the way to assassinate Liu ChangYi and changed their mind after seeing him and started work for him. We will finish our story today.

After one month or so since Nie YinNiang and her husband worked for Liu ChangYithey informed Liu ChangYi that, “our previous leader who assigned us to kill you doesn’t know what happened after we left. He will surely to send other people to assassinate you. Please cut some your hair and put it in a red silk bag. I will send it to my old leader to tell him the truth.”

In the middle of the night, Nie YinNiang came back and told Liu ChangYi , “I sent out the red bag. I am sure he would send JingJiangEr 精精儿 to kill me and you tomorrow night. I will deal with him. Don’ worry.” Liu ChangYi like always didn’t show any fear.

The next night, the house was lit up as day. In the middle of the night, people saw two flags a red and a white fighting with each other. After a while, a person fell on the ground with the body and head detached. Nie YingNiang came up and claimed that she killed JingJingEr. She liquefied the dead body as she was taught and nothing was left.

聂隐娘11

Nie YinNiang told Liu ChangYI, “after two day, Tian Ji An would send KongKongEr 空空儿 to kill us. KongKongEr is so fast that I can hardly catch him. It’s a gamble this time. You need to wear a jade around your neck and put blanket on you when you sleep that night. I will ambush near you”

The night after two days, Liu ChangYi lied on the bed and closed his eyes. In the middle of the night, he heard a loud sound Bang on his neck. Nie YingNiang came up and comforted him , “you are safe now. KongKongEr is like an eagle that I only had one change. He was ashamed of his failure and flew away.” She then checked the jade on the neck, there was a deep crack from a dagger. Liu ChangYi awarded the couple for saving his life.

After a few years, Liu ChangYi was assigned by the emperor to move to the capital. Nie YinNiang didn’t want to move there and said, “from now on I would travel around and visit and learn from the great sages. Don’t worry about me. Just give my husband a job. ” Liu ChangYi did what Nie YinNiang wanted and left.

After that, nobody knew where Nie YinNiang went until after Liu ChangYi’s death, she traveled to the capitol and cried at his tomb.

聂隐娘13

During the reign of WenZong of Teng 唐文宗, around the year 836 to the year 840, Liu ChangYi’s son LiuZong 刘纵became the governor in LinZhou 陵州 and accidentally ran into NieYinNiang one day. She looked exactly like years ago riding the same white donkey. They were glad to meet each other again.

聂隐娘12

Nie YinNiang said, “you will have a disaster here. You shouldn’t stay here” and gave LiuZhong a pill. “Don’t accept the position and go back to LuoYang. My pill can only help you for a year.” LiuZong offered some premium silk as gift for Nie YinNiang but she didn’t accept and left. LiuZong didn’t care about Nie YinNIang’s words and still accepted the official position offer. After one year, he died at LinZhou. Nobody heard about Nie YinNiang after that.