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Four legends you need to know about Mid-Autumn Festival

Editor: zhenglimin 丨China Daily

09-21-2018 08:47 BJT

Chinese are celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival on Monday - an annual festival that falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Traditionally a harvest festival to worship the moon, Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, has developed into a day for families to gather for a reunion.

People across China will enjoy a three-day holiday, with many packing their bags and traveling long distances to reunite with their families. To celebrate the day, they will share mooncakes, which are traditional festive Chinese pastries, and gaze at the full moon, if weather permits.

What are the festival's origins? Over the centuries, there have been different versions of the folklore behind it. Among them, the story of Chang'e is the most widely known.

An ink painting by Chinese artist Zheng Mukang depicts the goddess Chang

An ink painting by Chinese artist Zheng Mukang depicts the goddess Chang'e flying to the moon. [Photo/artron.net]

Chang'e flying to the moon

Chang'e is the Chinese goddess of the moon who consumed an elixir of life before flying to the moon.

According to the most famous variation of the story in Chinese mythology, in ancient times, 10 suns shined simultaneously in the sky, creating scorching heat on earth: plants were burnt and humans faced death.

Hou Yi, Chang'e's husband and a valiant archer, was able to shoot down nine suns and saved the planet. As a reward he was given an elixir of immortality, but it was only enough for one person.

The archer didn't take the elixir since he didn't want to be separated from his beloved wife, but instead, he asked her to put it away.

After his epic deeds, Hou Yi gained instant fame and respect nationwide and a large number of people flocked to his home to learn his archery skills.

However, an immoral man named Peng Meng was in the throng of people, but only wanted the elixir.

One day when Hou Yi was leading his students outdoors to hunt, the cunning Peng said he was sick and stayed behind. He sneaked into the couple's room to steal the elixir but Chang'e caught him.

Peng tried to force Chang'e to hand over the elixir but she swallowed it and started to floated up to the sky, all the way to the moon.

Legend has it that she chose to stay on the moon, the closest planet to the earth, so that she could stay nearer to her husband.

Hou Yi was heartbroken by her departure. He immediately set up an incense table in his garden and laid out Chang'e favorite foods to pay tribute to her. From then on, people began to worship the moon.

The Moon Rabbit pounding herbs in vain

The Jade Rabbit, also known as the Moon Rabbit, is often portrayed as a companion of Chang'e in the Moon Palace (or the Guanghan Palace), constantly pounding herbs and trying to make a pill to send her back to earth to be reunited with her husband. But it never succeeds.

Famous Chinese poet Li Bai once wrote in his poem series The Old Dust: "The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain."

A Chinese painting depicts woodsman Wu Gang chopping a self-healing laurel tree in the Moon Palace. [file photo]

A Chinese painting depicts woodsman Wu Gang chopping a self-healing laurel tree in the Moon Palace. [file photo]

Woodsman Wu Gang chopping the laurel tree

In Chinese folklore, a woodsman was trapped in the vicious circle of chopping a self-healing laurel tree day by day in the Moon Palace. By some magical power, the huge tree is able to heal itself after each stroke.

It's his punishment for offending the Jade Emperor - God of the Heaven. He could only be pardoned after the tree was taken down, but it never worked.

Year after year, the tree still stood verdantly and sheltered the palace beside it.

Zhu Yuanzhang's mooncake uprising

The tradition of eating mooncakes on the festival is believed to be linked to Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), people were tortured by the cruel government, which prompted a nationwide rebellion. Zhu Yuanzhang was a rebel leader.

Zhu sought to launch an uprising on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival but it was difficult to get his orders to his supporters, as raids by government forces were intense.

Zhu's troops came up with the idea of hiding notes containing the date of the revolt in mooncakes and distributing them to resistance forces. The ploy worked and the rebels successfully took the capital of the Yuan Dynasty—today's Beijing - and so began the Ming Dynasty.

In celebration, Emperor Zhu ordered the mooncakes used be given to soldiers and the people.

From that grew the custom of consuming mooncakes to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.

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