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Saturday, October 7, 2006

A Story of the Moon Lady




A long, long time ago, there was a beautiful lady named Chang Er who was married to the heavenly archer Hou Yi...



By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, AAV Contributing Editor


 



...They did a lot of very brave and kind things together to help the people on earth, the most famous being saving the earth from the ten suns that scorched the earth. One time, after they built a big new jade palace for the Queen Mother of the West (XiWangMu), the Queen Mother of the West rewarded them by giving them a special magic Pill of Immortality, saying, "If you eat this magic pill, you will live forever. But you can’t eat it right away. It has very strong magic, so you have to wait one year and eat special foods and sit quietly (fast and meditate) to get your body ready for the magic."


Hou Yi took the pill home and told Chang Er about it. Then he put it in a secret hiding place until they were ready to eat it. But after three or four days, Chang Er wanted to take a closer look at the magic pill. So she took the box out from its hiding place and opened it up and took out the pill. It was so beautiful. It was like a pearl, glowing white from the inside with a rainbow of color shimmering just under the surface, and it smelled like peaches.


Just then Hou Yi came in and found her holding the pill. He said, "What are you doing?"


She hid the pill behind her back and said, "Nothing."


He said, "Are you eating the Pill of Immortality? We’re not supposed to eat it until after one year. It’s too strong."


She said, "No. I’m not eating it."


He said, "Let me see your hands." She took one hand out from behind her back. He said, "Let me see your other hand." She switched the pill and showed him the other hand. He said, "Let me see both hands."


She didn’t know where else to hide the pill, so she hid it in her mouth and showed him both hands and mumbled, "See, nothing." She was so afraid of getting in trouble that she began to run away from him. He chased her around the room—on top of the tables and under the chairs and around and around—until, "gulp," she accidentally swallowed the magic pill.


Her body suddenly felt weightless, and it began to glow with a bright light and she started to rise up into the air.


He said, "Where are you going? Come back down!"


She said, "I’m sorry, it was an accident! I didn’t mean to swallow it. I was just looking at it!"


The window was open and she floated out the window. He couldn’t reach her, but he saw her pet, Jade Rabbit, sitting on the porch looking up at her, and he tossed the rabbit up to her so that she wouldn’t be all alone wherever she was going. She caught Jade Rabbit in her arms and shouted, "Bye bye!" And she floated up up up to the moon, where she lives until this day in the Cold Palace of the Moon.


 


People say that when the moon is full, you can see them there. The Jade Rabbit is busy pounding a new elixir of immortality. And on the night of the Moon Festival, you can look up at her on the moon and ask Chang Er for a secret wish…


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The Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, is celebrated with family gatherings, prayers, and a lantern parade by children. Offerings of mooncakes, fried chicken, roasted pork, pomelos, water melon seeds and Chinese tea are made to deities and ancestors, while prayers are offered with joss-sticks, red candles and joss paper burnt. One of the legends behind the Mid-Autumn Festival is about Chang Er, a beautiful woman who transformed into a fairy and floated to the moon after taking an immortality pill meant for her husband, Hou Yi, a heroic archer.


Hou Yi, who was grief stricken, touched the hearts of the heavenly gods, who in turned allowed the couple to reunite on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar or Mid-Autumn. Hou Yi then ascended to the sun and built his palace there. Today it is still believed that if you look hard enough at the moon on Mid-Autumn, you’ll be able to see Chang Er and the rabbit which is keeping her company. Another legend has its roots in 14th century China. The people of Yuan Dynasty were living under the tyrannical rule of a Mongolian ruler who, in order to safeguard his empire, had forbidden the people to possess any tools, including kitchen knives.

A Chinese leader Zhu Yuan Zhang, wanted to bring the people together to overthrow the tyrant’s rule. He had to find a way of putting out the word without arousing the suspicion of the Mongolians, and a comrade came up with the idea of stuffing a paper message “Strike on Mid-Autumn night” into freshlymade round cakes, which were then distributed as gifts to the people and the rebel army.

On Mid-Autumn night (the night of the year when the moon is at its brightest), the people united and overthrew the Yuan Dynasty to establish the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 – 1644). To commemorate the successful rebellion, the Chinese began the custom of eating mooncakes on Mid-Autumn, or the 15th day of every eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Mooncakes are sweet, round cakes traditionally filled with lotus seed paste, or fatty meat and melon seeds. These days – in the true spirit of Singapore culinary experimentation – you can sample mooncakes with very eclectic fillings, such as durian, cherry, chocolate praline, bird's nest and green tea!