China's Mid-Autumn Festival Origins - Chang'e & Houyi


It's Mid-Autumn Festival time China's second largest traditional holiday.

People travel back home to be with their family, eat moon-cakes and just have a good time.

The festival is intrinsically linked the folk tale of Houyi and the moon goddess Chang'e, every Chinese person knows the legend.

The only problem though, everybody tells it differently.

Strap yourselves in, this one is about to get complicated.

There are like 20 different legends regarding Chang'e and Houyi, we going to focus on 2, let's call them the warrior story and the love story.

The warrior story is supposedly set around 2356 BC. Houyi was a skilled archer and a member of King Yao's Imperial guard.

One Day 9 ravens inexplicably turned into suns scorching the earth, drying crops and just generally making life uncomfortable for people.

The emperor commanded Hou Yi to shoot down the fake suns with his magic bow and arrows.

The Queen Mother of the West, who was on mount KunLun was so impressed with this feat that she commanded him to build her a Jade Palace in return for a reward.

Upon completion Hou Yi was awarded a pill of immortality and was instructed to fast for 1 year before taking it.

He then took the pill and hid it in his roof.

One day while Houyi was out on a mission, his wife Chang'e found the strange pill of unknown origin and like any sensible person would do, ate it.

But, at the same time Houyi returned home and afraid of the consequences Chang'e with her new powers flew out the window and hid on the moon.

When she arrived on the moon she threw up the pill and it turned into a jade rabbit and Chang'e herself transformed into a three legged toad.

According to this legend Chang'e Chang'e and the jade rabbit are sill on the moon to this day preparing a new pill in hopes of returning home.

The love story follows most of the same beats as the beginning of the warrior story, but Houyi was given an elixir rather than a pill and chose not to drink it as he didn't want to be separated from his beloved Chang'e.

Then, on the now day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, Houyi's apprentice Fengmeng tried to steal the elixir.

In order to stop Fengmeng from becoming immortal, Chang'e drank it herself and began flying up into the sky.

Chang'e loved her husband so much that she chose to live on the moon to be as close to him as possible.

When Houyi found out what had happened, he prepared fruits and cakes as an offering to her.

Everyone was so moved by the events that every year on the same day Chinese people eat moon-cakes and round fruits in tribute to Chang'e's sacrifice.

So like I said there are many variations of this legend, but which one is the real origin story?

Well, none of them!

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival first began around the time of the Song Dynasty as combination of the post-harvest celebrations and moon worship.

It was during the Northern Song Dynasty that the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was selected as mid-autumns day.

The character Houyi is derived from the archer god Yi.

The two characters are both extremely skilled bowmen, and both shot out 9 suns over the earth, though Yi's story is more like a creation myth.

Over the course of time, Yi and Houyi eventually became a single entity confusing the origins of several Chinese myths.

The Jade rabbit from the story was originally from a Buddhist legend, where the rabbit sacrificed his own life to feed a disguised Buddha and was rewarded by being able to live on the moon.

This story became linked with moon worshipping and harvest festivals and is now also deeply embedded not only in the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival but also the Korean and Japanese Chuseok and Tsukimi Autumn Harvest festivals as well.

And finally Moon cakes which you can watch me try on my new second channel, seriously go check that out.

Mooncakes were originally used as offerings during the moon worshiping festival, and like most aspects of Chinese traditional holiday's they have become completely mixed up and intertwined into one big mess.

But Just like Dragon boat festival, confused origins don't really matter, the most important thing is . . . .

that I don't have to go to work!

So thank you for watching another one of my videos, if you would like to see more about the Mid-autumn festival you can visit my new second channel WooKong's World where I try OREO mooncakes.

As always thank you so much for watching, I'm WooKong and good bye.