Legend of Chang'e, China’s sad moon fairy

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iol scitech dec 19 moon cake

AP

A cleaner wipes mooncake shaped advertisement decorations in a subway station in Beijing, China. The moon-cake legend holds that Chang'e was the wife of an imperial archer, Hou Yi.

Beijing - The legend that inspired the Chang'e lunar exploration programme features a woman who, disappointed with life on Earth, flew to the moon.

From oral history to Tang dynasty poetry and contemporary reworkings, the legend has taken many twists, but it is known to all Chinese people.

In ancient times, people believed that clouds moving across the moon were the fairy goddess Chang'e (pronounced Chang-euh). She is often said to have fled from a tyrannical husband who ruled an ancient kingdom with a heavy hand, making her a heroine for peasant farmers.

Other versions say Chang'e was crossed in love and took an elixir that lightened her body so much that she floated away from the Earth.

Each September, she is a focus of China's mid-autumn festival, popularly known as “moon-cake day” when lovers are meant to eat the cakes while gazing at a full moon.

The moon-cake legend holds that Chang'e was the wife of an imperial archer, Hou Yi, who was ordered to shoot down nine of the 10 suns from the sky.

Hou Yi was rewarded with an elixir for immortality, but it was taken instead by his beautiful wife, who became lighter and floated up to the moon.

Whichever version is told, Chang'e is usually depicted with her pet white rabbit, which she is said to have fed the same potion. Online voters chose the name of her pet for the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, lunar rover on the Chang'e-3 mission.

Writer Ye Zhaoyan, best known outside China for his novel Nanjing 1937, put a new spin on the tale of Hou Yi and Chang'e.

Ye took the line that Chang'e banished herself because of a broken heart. In his novel, Hou Yi loses his love for Chang'e after he becomes the emperor, but Chang'e sees that Hou Yi is losing his power and begs him to flee with her.

Hou Yi tries at the last minute to take the elixir and join Chang'e on the moon. “It is too late,” Ye told state media. “The two lovers are separated forever.” - Sapa-dpa

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