Uncover the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival, where myth and reality intermingle. We explore the origins behind the folklore and see how these legends gained their significance.
According to Chinese mythology, Chang’e’s husband Hou Yi, an archer, saved the Earth from scorching by shooting nine of the ten suns over the planet. As a result, he was chosen by the people to be their king, but became tyrannical. Hou Yi had the elixir of life, but Chang’e took it herself so as to save the people from his tyrannical rule. She then ascended to the moon and became the Moon Goddess.
In another tale, it was said that Buddha disguised himself as a hungry old man and sought help from three animals – a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit. While the fox brought a fish and the monkey offered fruits, the rabbit sacrificed itself by jumping into the fire, offering its own body as food. Touched by the rabbit’s selflessness, Buddha revived it and sent it to the moon, where it was honoured and revered.
It’s said that Wu Gang, the woodcutter, was banished to the moon as he made a mistake in his quest to achieve immortality. To punish him, the Jade Emperor planted a huge cherry bay tree on the moon and told Wu Gang that he would become immortal if he could chop it down. However, whenever Wu Gang tried to chop it down, the cherry bay tree would immediately grow back.
Legend also has it that mooncakes contributed to the liberation of Yuan China (1206-1341 CE) from Mongol rule. In the 14th century, rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang made a plan using mooncakes. The rebellion was planned to take place during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Despite a prohibition against large gatherings, he was able to instigate a rebellion by hiding secret messages in mooncakes. The rebellion was a success and the Mongols were overthrown. The celebration of the festival and the eating of mooncakes took on a different meaning thereafter.