WASHINGTON, August 21, 2013 — Chinese legend claims the first person on the Moon was a woman named Chang Erh who became The Fairy Goddess of the Moon. She risked her life to save her people, in doing so she gave us one of the oldest Chinese holidays.
September 19 coincides with August 15 of the Lunar Calendar, the day of The Mid-Autumn Festival.
In ancient times, ten Suns lived in the Fountain of the Heaven. They were the sons of the Jade Emperor, responsible for providing life force to the world. The Jade Emperor forbade more than one Sun in the sky at a time.
Each of the brothers guarded his allotted time in the sky with jealousy. Whenever one fell ill, he would not allow another to take his place, which explained the infrequent solar eclipses.
One night, the brothers agreed to join and defy the edict of their father. It would be fun to play together and show the people the greatness of their clan. Next morning, they soared together into the Heaven, and the people awakened to the combined might of ten solar beings. The Suns frolicked across the sky, leaving charred swaths of earth. Rivers and lakes boiled dry, crops, people and animals died from thirst and the heat.
Imperial Guards of the Heaven pursued the errant Suns but the combined power of the ten suns fried the guards, turning them into streams of meteors.
The death and suffering of the people and the impotence of the Imperial Guards outraged Ho Ee, the mightiest hunter of the land. His strength and skill in archery, unmatched even by the gods, became the last hope of the people.
While Ho Ee prepared his weapons, his wife Chang Erh beseeched the gods for assistance. The Jade Emperor, humiliated by the behavior of his own sons, sent a messenger to deliver a golden quiver containing ten shining ebony arrows to Ho Ee. The missiles were fashioned by Lu Pan, the god of all tools, including weaponry.
Their tips were fashioned from fingers nails of the Jade Emperor, capable of killing all things, be it mortal or deity.
Ho Ee climbed scaled atop the tall and craggy Yellow Mountain and ambushed the ten blazing fireballs. He waited until the Suns’ heat started to melt the rocks, then let fly his first arrow. Without waiting to see the result of his shot, he quickly loosed two more missiles into the sky.
Three Suns glowed into darkness then turned into black crows as they tumbled from the sky. The other seven Suns were startled; but, before they could recover, three more of their number flared and died. The remaining four Suns fled in different directions, kindling walls of flame in their wakes. Ho Ee gave chase, and The Jade Emperor sent the Thunder God and the Rain Goddess to aid him in the task. ‘
Torrential rains pouring from of the sky doused the fires and cooled a path for Ho Ee to continue the pursuit.
The fugitive Suns could not outrace Ho Ee’s arrows. One after another, three more Suns blazed in agony then darkened and fell from the sky, leaving only Golden Wheel, the eldest Sun, cringing behind the Moon. The proximity of the Sun to the Moon boiled its surface, leaving a forever-cratered moonscape.
Ho Ee notched his last arrow to string when he felt a strong wave of gentleness wash over him. He turned and found the Holy Buddha standing beside him. The almighty God of Mercy and Humanity raised his right hand to his chest and spoke, “Blessed is all that is merciful, brave warrior. Please spare the last remaining Sun. You have done enough killing. The people need the Sun’s light to work, its heat for warmth, and energy to give life to the crops in the fields.”
Ho Ee saw the merit of the advice, “As you say, Your Holiness.” Then he turned toward Golden Wheel, “It is by the grace of the Holy Buddha that you have been spared. I shall keep this last arrow. If you should again violate the Law of the Heaven again, I will send you to join your brothers.” Golden Wheel crept out from behind his makeshift shield, sending forth rays of heat to dry up the drenched land, and everything returned to normal.
Survivors, human and animals, emerged from their caverns, grateful to Ho Ee for his accomplishment. The King appointed their savior as General of the Army; and, when the old King approached death, he passed his throne to Ho Ee.
However, although a good hunter, Ho Ee had no knowledge of kingship. He ignored his responsibilities to the people and devoted his time to the pursuit of joy and luxury. His extravagance emptied the national treasury, causing increased taxes and widespread poverty to his people. When his subjects rebelled, he crushed them for no one survived against Ho Ee’s arrows.
The rebellion caused Ho Ee to think about the frailty of his existence. When he grew old and feeble, he would not be able to stamp out challenges to his throne. He needed a way to stave off the advancement of age.
He summoned the best alchemists and physicians to produce the elixir of eternal life. After decades of hard work, the alchemists produced the elixir.
Chang Erh despaired at Ho Ee’s tyranny. With eternal life, the people would be condemned to suffer forever under a cruel tyrant. Thirty odd years ago, Chang Erh had been willing to sacrifice her husband for the good of the people. Fate once again called upon her to sacrifice for her people; but this time, she must betray her king and husband.
Chang Erh sneaked into the laboratory and stole the elixir of eternity. However, the thievery was discovered before she could escape. Ho Ee sealed the palace gates and began to search for her. From the balcony, she spotted Ho Ee approaching with his bodyguards.
Chang Erh decided to drink the entire gourd of potion, to keep it out of Ho Ee’s hand. While one small dose would give any recipient eternal life, such a large amount would surely kill her. Still, it would prevent Ho Ee from becoming an eternal tyrant.
He would surely die of old age before all the necessary ingredients could be gathered again for a new batch of the elixir to be brewed.
Chang Erh tilted the gourd and gagged on the bitter liquid. Just when she choked down the last drop, Ho Ee stepped onto the balcony. He dashed forward to grab her, but she launched herself into the air, intending to atone for her disloyalty by committing suicide.
However, instead of hurtling to the ground, she found herself floating up toward the Moon.
Ho Ee sent for an archer. By the time the man arrived with the bow and arrows, Chang Erh had dwindled to the size of a tiny doll. Ho Ee let fly with his arrow at the shrinking figure.
Perhaps age and prolonged luxury took their toll on Ho Ee’s body, for the first time in his adult life, Ho Ee missed his mark.
Chang Erh’s sudden arrival on the Moon surprised the local deities. At length, the Jade Emperor decided Chang Erh should remain in the Heavenly realm. In recognition of her self-sacrifice for the people, the Jade Emperor appointed her as Goddess of the Moon.
Since then, every August 15th, Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by eating round moon cakes, and recounting the story of the fairy goddess that lives in the Moon.
The golden egg yolk inside a bed of black bean paste symbolizes the Moon against the dark night sky.
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