Join 3,376 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How Hou Yi Shot The Suns
December 6, 2010 5:08 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by Effigy2000 (22 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't believe in any of these myths of Hou Yi. I'm still hardly believe that Charlyne Yi is real.

(But I do think she's kinda neat.)
posted by inturnaround at 5:15 AM on December 6, 2010


Also not real? My vigilance in proofreading my last comment.
posted by inturnaround at 5:22 AM on December 6, 2010


What Hou Yi did was nothing short of saving mankind, and because of his deed, archery has always been highly regarded in China.

Was he in Armageddon? Cuz yeah, bruce willis and the rest of the construction crew did save mankind.

(roll song)
posted by hal_c_on at 5:22 AM on December 6, 2010


There is another version of the myth that states that Chang'e, his wife, became greedy and took both elixirs for herself. As a result of imbibing both, she ascends to the moon and stays there as punishment, with just a rabbit to accompany her.

Probably the kind of tale they tell kids to scare them though...
posted by titantoppler at 5:36 AM on December 6, 2010


There is also some confluence between the last surviving sun and the three-legged crow in Chinese mythology.
posted by kalessin at 5:38 AM on December 6, 2010


she ascends to the moon and stays there as punishment, with just a rabbit to accompany her.

Rabbit in the Moon
posted by empath at 5:46 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy Barry Hughart's novels. Looks like they are out of print at the moment, but used copies aren't that hard to find.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's a bunch of Hou Yi.
posted by crunchland at 5:59 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a result of imbibing both, she ascends to the moon and stays there as punishment, with just a rabbit to accompany her.

That's her punishment?

If that was a Greek myth, she'd have had her internal organs replaced by scorpions and forced to crawl naked over gravel for eternity. Those Chinese gods sounds pretty wimpy if you ask me.
posted by londonmark at 6:16 AM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Chinese Gods just have a long view.
posted by kalessin at 6:19 AM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's her punishment?

The rabbit only converses in lines from Sieinfield. After about 100 years of that, you'd chew off your own head to get away, but you can't reach your neck, and you are immortal. The Chinese gods aren't wimpy, they are subtle and malicious....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regarding archers, among the 2,000 year old buried terracotta soldiers at Xian, is the kneeling archer (second pic down). The weapons they held were made of wood and bronze, and those materials dissolved in the earth. Some German grad student mapped the stains left in the dirt and figured out what the weapons were. It was a compound crossbow with metal tipped arrows, which at short range was probably equivalent to a modern pistol.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:52 AM on December 6, 2010


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 while shouting "chou chou chou!" leaving only the one we still see shining in the heavens today.

FTFHistory
posted by DU at 7:10 AM on December 6, 2010


There was no relief from the heat, and what wheat farmers planted, was scorched by the fury of those ten suns.

I'm surprised that they even developed agriculture under these conditions.

Census taker: Says here you're a wheat farmer? What's that?

Wheat Farmer: I plant wheat, but you probably don't know what that means, since it just gets scorched.

Census taker: Where do you get the seed?

Wheat Farmer: ...
posted by bovious at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Those Chinese gods sounds pretty wimpy if you ask me.

Then you should not be bothered at all by your afterlife in the Chinese hells.

I hope you like the Terrible Bee Torture! ...and don't rush when you make your way through the sixteen departments of heart-gouging.

(cue Egg from Big Trouble in Little China)
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Hell of Upside-down Sinners, the Hell of Being Boiled in Oil, the Hell Where People Are Skinned Alive...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:03 AM on December 6, 2010


Just to be a stickler, the Chinese demigods who rule Hell and judge all beings are usually called the Yama. They are not a god but an office, and are sometimes mortals.
posted by kalessin at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2010


The Hell of Upside-down Sinners, the Hell of Being Boiled in Oil, the Hell Where People Are Skinned Alive...

Tell it to the
Han Fei
posted by clavdivs at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2010


Yama is certainly a god rather than an office in Tibetan Buddhism. A quick of the Wikipedia article suggests this is true for other forms of Buddhism as well...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:59 AM on December 6, 2010


As a result of imbibing both, she ascends to the moon and stays there as punishment, with just a rabbit to accompany her.

That explains the Moon Rabbit brand batteries I saw for sale in China years ago. But not the PUKE playing cards. (These were in Roman letters, not Chinese script obviously).
posted by msalt at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2010


"I'm surprised that they even developed agriculture under these conditions."

They weren't all supposed to be in the sky at the same time. In the fourth link it says:
In the old Chinese ten-day week, one Sun would appear in the sky each day before heading home for the weekend. But they became bored with their regular routine, ran riot and all leapt into the sky at once.
So the lesson is: always listen to your parents, or they'll send an archer after you.

Great post, Effigy2000!
posted by Kevin Street at 2:32 PM on December 6, 2010


@msalt: PUKE stands for poker in Chinese hanyu pinyin, so it actually does mean playing cards, not vomit. Though I have to admit, it was rather silly to put them together...
posted by titantoppler at 5:53 PM on December 6, 2010


« Older The X-37B OTV has landed. (previously) and (previo...  |  Pinterest is a social catalog ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments