The Chinese and the Moon

In Chinese minds, the moon is associated with gentleness and brightness, expressing the beautiful yearnings of the Chinese. On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the moon is full and it is time to mark the Moon Festival, or the Mid-Autumn Festival. The round shape symbolizes family reunio. Therefore the day is a holiday for family members to get together and enjoy the full moon – an auspicious token of abundance, harmony, and luck.

According to traditional Chinese culture, the moon is a carrier of human emotions. Ancient Chinese myth and philosophy explain why the Chinese prefer the moon.

In Chinese fairy tales, the fairy Chang E lived on the moon with a wood cutter named Wu Gang and her pet jade rabbit. In the old days, people paid respect to the fairy Chang E and her pet, the jade rabbit.

The story takes place around 2170 B.C. At that time, the earth had ten suns circling it, each taking its turn to illuminate to the earth. But one day all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat. The earth was saved by a strong and tyrannical archer named Hou Yi. He succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns. One day, Hou Yi stole the elixir of life from a goddess. However, his beautiful wife Chang E drank the elixir of life in order to save the people from her husband’s tyrannical rule. After drinking it, she found herself floating and flew all the way to the moon. Hou Yi loved his divinely beautiful wife so much; he refused to shoot down the moon.

The wood cutter – Wu Gang

Wu Gang was a shiftless fellow who changed apprenticeships all the time. One day he decided that he wanted to be an immortal, so he went to live in the mountains wher he importuned an immortal to teach him. First the immortal taught him about the herbs used to cure sickness, but after three days his characteristic restlessness returned and Wu Gang asked the immortal to teach him something else. So the immortal to taught him chess, but after a short while Wu Gang’s enthusiasm again waned. Then Wu Gang was given the books of immortality to study. Of course, Wu Gang became bored within a few days, and asked if they could travel to some new and exciting place. Angered with Wu Gang’s impatience, the master banished Wu Gang to the Moon Palace telling him that he must cut down a huge cassia tree before he could return to earth. Though Wu Gang chopped day and night, the magical tree restored itself with each blow, and thus, he is up there chopping still.

The Hare – Jade Rabbit

In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead by jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit’s sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace wher he became the "Jade Rabbit."

The Customs of sacrificing the Moon

From the royalty to the populace, it is an important custom to sacrifice to and appreciate the moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, sons and daughters come back to their parents’ house. Sometimes people who have settled overseas will return to visit their parents. Adults will usually indulge in fragrant moon cakes of different varieties with a good cup of piping hot Chinese tea, while the little ones run around with brightly-lit lanterns. After nightfall, entire families go out under the stars for a walk or picnics, looking up at the full silver moon, thinking of their nearby relatives or friends, as well as those who are far from home. A line from a verse “The moon at the home village is exceptionally brighter” expresses those feelings. It can also be a romantic night for lovers, who sit holding hands on riverbanks and park benches, enraptured by the brightest moon of the year.

To celebrate this sighting of the moon, red plastic lanterns wrought in traditional styles and embellished with traditional motifs are prepared for the occasion. The lanterns are made in traditional shapes such as rabbits, goldfish, carps, butterflies, lobsters and star-shaped fruits.

There is a saying in Chinese that marriages are made in heaven and prepared on the moon. The man who does the preparing is the old man of the moon (Yue Lao). This old man, it is said, keeps as a record book with all the names of newborn babies. He is the one heavenly person who knows everyone’s future partners, and nobody can fight the decisions written down in his book. He is one reason why the moon is so important in Chinese mythology and especially at the time of the Moon Festival. Everybody hikes up high mountains or hills to view the moon, hoping that he will grant their wishes.

Therefore, lovers spend a romantic night together tasting the delicious moon cake with some wine while watching the full moon. Even couples who can’t be together still enjoy the night by watching the moon at the same time so it seems that they are together at that hour. Reams of poetry have been devoted to this romantic festival. Hopefully the Moon Festival will bring you happiness.

Contrary to what most people believe, this festival probably has less to do with harvest festivities than with the philosophically minded Chinese of old. The unio of man’s spirit with nature in order to achieve perfect harmony was the fundamental canon of Taoism, so much so that contemplation of nature was a way of life.

The Moon in the Chinese aesthetics

According to the myth of the moon, Chang E drank the elixir of life and Wu Gang cut down the cassia tree which can restore itself with each blow, implying an immortal spirit of life. The moon’s waxing and waning greatly influences the Chinese lunar calendar and Chinese philosophy, in pursuit of immortal spirit of life and mysterious wisdom.

Chinese culture has something in common with the moon, always peaceful and gentle, also are reflected by Chinese whose modest and friendly attitudes best elucidate the spirit of Chinese culture.

Flying to the Moon

With respect to the history of Chinese civilization, China is the first nation to cherish the dream of flying to the sky. From the myth of Chang’ E to the Fly Apsaras of Dunhuang caves, expresses Chinese ancestors’ desire to explore outer space. Many ancient Chinese poets also showed their preference for the moon through wonderful words. For example, the poetic genius Libai wrote more than 320 poems about the moon in his lifetime.

The Chinese exploring moon project is named after Chang’ E, fully expressing this pursuit of the Chinese.

Chang’e 1 Lunar orbiter was launched to the moon on October 24, 2007. The Chang’e moon satellite will take 3-D images of the moon surface for a year. This is the groundwork for the next Lunar Lander (Chang’e 2) project in 2012, Lunar Sample Return (Chang’e 3) in 2017 and the Chinese astronaut on the moon project. Chang’e 1 Lunar orbiter will achieve the ancient dream of the Chinese, which will bring to the world not a threat, but opportunity, not war but peace.

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