In the time of the Chou Dynasty it was believed there existed Ten Celestial Suns
. Each day, one sun would be harnessed to a jade dragon and drawn across the heavens, bringing life and light to the world. It was their duty, all they had known - but in their hearts a cold and secret fire grew...
Chinese mythology tells the story
of the legendary archer Hou Yi
, who lived at a time when there were ten suns in the sky.
There was no relief from the heat, and what wheat farmers planted, was scorched by the fury of those ten suns. To prevent the destruction of the Earth, the emperor, who was ruling in that period, asked Di Jun, deity and father of the ten suns
to persuade his children to appear one at a time. But the suns did not listen to their father.
Finally, Di Jun sent from heaven the archer, Hou Yi, armed with a magic bow and ten arrows to frighten the disobedient suns. In the end, the godly archer shot down nine of the suns, leaving only the one we still see shining in the heavens today.
But the story does not end there.
Although the Emperor was pleased with Houyi, Di Jun was anything but happy. Yi had killed nine of his errant children, instead of simply getting them to stop behaving badly as he had wished. As a father, Di Jun could not forgive Yi, so he banished the hero from the heavens and stripped him of his immortality.
Hou Yi didn't care much at all about being banished from Heaven but he couldn't bear the fact that he would one day die and become nothing. Searching for a way to regain his immortality, he traveled to the palace of Xi Wang Mu
, the Queen Mother of the West, seeking her elixir of immortality. The stories of the great hero Hou Yi were known to the goddess and she took pity on him and agreed to give him the elixir, but with one condition: she asked him to build her a summer palace in exchange for the elixir. He agreed and for many months he laboured until his task was complete. Before departing, Xi Wang Mu warned Hou Yi that the two elixirs she had given him were the last of their kinds. Hou Yi planned to spend them on himself and his wife, Chang'e
Hou Yi returned home, tells his wife all that has happened and they decide to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is full and bright.
A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng secretly overhears about their plan.
He wishes Hou Yi an early death so that he can drink the elixir himself and become immortal. His opportunity finally arrives. One day,when the full moon is rising, Hou Yi is on his way home from hunting. Feng Meng ambushes and kills him. Feng Meng then runs to Hou Yi's home and tries to force Chang'e to give him the elixir, however, without hesitating, Chang'e picks up the elixir and drinks it all.
Overcome with grief, Chang'e rushes to her dead husband's side, weeping bitterly. While she is by his side, the elixir begins to take effect and Chang'e feels herself being lifted towards Heaven.
Chang'e decides to live on the moon because it is nearest to the earth. There she lives a simple and contented life. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals and she never forgets the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness.
This part of the story is the basis for the Mid-Autumn festival tradition in China
. Behind the Spring festival, it is the second most important festival of the year
to the Chinese people.
Like many of Chinese myths, this story may have been based on an actual person
, in this case a skilled bowman who lived sometime between 2436-2255 B.C. What Hou Yi did was nothing short of saving mankind, and because of his deed, archery has always been highly regarded in China
. The story was also the basis for Australian band Powderfinger's music video for their song, Sunsets
Yet there is also some ambiguity in the legend, and not just in the various versions of the story. For instance, one version of the legend (referenced at Wikipedia
) tells of how Hou Yi returned home not to be ambushed and killed but to find his wife dead from having drunk too much elixir. This changed him and he became a villain. Another suggests that Hou Yi eventually became a great king, and that on his death Hou Yi ascended to the sun and built a palace
. So Chang'e and Hou Yi came to represent the yin and yang
, the moon and the sun. Yet another says Chang'e left Hou Yi
, now a despot, and floated into the sky to become the Moon. This ambiguity has given rise to some debate about the character of Hou Yi and raises the prospect of multiple Yi's