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The Mid-Autumn Festival is the traditional moon worshiping festival in China. Most of the festival's customs are related to the moon, as are the popular stories explaining the festival's origin below.
The most famous Mid-Autumn Festival story is Chang'e flying to the moon. The story goes like this…
Long, long ago, there were ten suns in the sky. The suns burnt all the plants and people were dying on Earth, until one day excellent archer Hou Yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down nine of the suns. Earth was saved, and people flocked to learn archery from Hou Yi.
The Western Queen Mother gave Hou Yi a bottle of elixir that could make one person immortal. Although Hou Yi did want to become immortal, he wanted to stay with his wife Chang'e more. Therefore, he just kept it at home.
Pang Meng, one of his students, tried to seize the elixir when Hou Yi wasn't at home. Faced with greedy Pang Meng, Chang'e decided to drink the elixir. It made her fly to the moon where she would stay forever.
To remember her and pray to her, Hou Yi and others started to worship the moon with many offerings.
Chang'e's image usually appears on Mid-Autumn Festival pictures. Children in China are told that Chang'e is still living on the moon. And on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is bright, children try their best to find the shape of Chang'e on the moon.
The second story is also set on the moon. The story goes like this…
Wu Gang the woodman wanted immortality, but he didn't try hard enough to learn the necessary magic.
The Emperor of Heaven got angry with him because of his attitude. In order to punish him, the Emperor of Heaven planted a huge cherry bay tree, 1,665 meters (about a mile) high, on the moon and toldWu Gang that if he could cut it down, he could become immortal.
Wu Gang thought this was his chance to try hard at something he was good at to gain immortality. However, the Emperor of Heaven had made it so that the cherry bay healed every time Wu Gang chopped it!
Today, people still believe an obvious shadow on the moon is made by the huge cherry bay.
The jade rabbit is the main character in the third famous Chinese Mid-Autumn story. Chinese children are told that the jade rabbit is on the moon with Chang'e. Here's the story…
Once upon a time, there were three animals living in a forest: a fox, a rabbit, and a monkey.
Three immortals, pretending to be beggars, went through the forest asking for food. The fox and the monkey quickly offered them food.
The rabbit, who was less resourceful but very pious, felt guilty. She said, “I'm so sorry I couldn't offer any food to help you, but I can give myself”, and jumped into the fire.
The three immortals were moved by the rabbit's sacrifice, and decided make the rabbit an immortal, sending her to live in the Moon Palace.
Hou Yi: 后羿 Hòu Yì /hoh ee/ '[surname Hou] + [name of legendary archer, Yi]'
Chang'e: 嫦娥 Cháng'é /chung-er/ '[the Moon Lady] + beautiful'
Pang Meng: 逄蒙 Páng Méng /pung mnng/ '[surname Pang] + [to cover/receive/cheat]'
Wu Gang: 吴刚 Wú Gāng /woo gung/ '[surname Wu] + strong'