The origins of the Moon Festival story tell the tale of Chang E, a beautiful young girl who was banished to live on earth by the Jade Emperor – punishment for breaking a precious porcelain jar. Once she had contributed a valuable service to the ordinary people of earth, she would be allowed to return.
When 10 suns arose in the sky one day, scorching the earth – Hou Yi, a talented archer, came to the rescue and shot down nine of the ten suns, becoming an overnight hero and eventually king.
Hou Yi married Chang E but grew to become a tyrant, seeking immortality through the creation of an elixir to prolong his life. To prevent the cruel king from living as an immortal and hurting more people, Chang E stole the elixir and drank it herself – floating into the sky towards the moon.
Furious with this betrayal, Hou Yi tried shooting at his wife as she flew to the moon but missing her. Chang E became the spirit of the moon and thereafter people have offered sacrifice to her during the Moon Festival to commemorate her good deed.
Chang E’s companions on the moon are the jade rabbit and a wood cutter.
A widespread character in Moon Festival celebrations, the Jade Rabbit is a symbol of self-sacrifice. Legend says that the Rabbit was send to the Moon Palace by the Emperor of Heaven after sacrificing itself as food when it didn’t find any for the group.
The wood cutter, Wu Gang, was an ordinary person sent to the moon as punishment for his attitude towards work. He wanted to become immortal but didn’t work very hard, and was sent to the moon by the Emperor of Heaven to cut down a cassia tree that he planted. Every time the tree was cut, it healed itself and We Gang never makes any progress. This symbolises mortal life, as the limbs of the tree are continually cut away by death, but new buds are always appearing.