There was the universal concept of ‘spirit mountains’ in the story of Yao Ji earlier, and there’s also the idea of the “tree of life” and the “moon rabbit” which spanned across several civilisations and cultures such as the Chinese, Indian, Mesoamerican, and African. Female goddesses were also often associated with the moon, as did men with the sun.
The ancient Chinese believed that like the Sun, the moon was driven around by a cart across the sky and that its home is somewhere in the north-western sea. In fact, there was not just 1 moon, but 12–representing the 12 months of the year. Of course, if we’re talking about Chang’E, then we would have to mention her husband Hou Yi the archer, who shot down 9 suns which were scorching and burning everything on earth and left just 1 to provide for the world.
From this, we could see that unlike the Western civilisation which gravitates towards Sun worshipping, the Chinese exhibited a certain disdain towards the Sun, and had a more romantic attitude towards the moon (think about all the Chinese festivals that are set around the full moon). No werewolves, nothing sinister happens when the moon’s out–unlike the West. Even the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar–which is a way of calculating the days using the Sun AND the Moon (Chinese calendar is not completely based on the moon unlike the Islamic calendar, but it was a combination of both the Sun and the Moon and the Tibetan calendar is similar as such). Yes, the Sun is still in the picture cos the Chinese was largely an agrarian society.
One of the reasons why the moon was so special to the Chinese, is perhaps because of its origin as a matriarchal society. The moon has been closely associated with the menstrual cycle of a woman and the waxing and waning of the moon are like a woman’s pregnancy cycle. The toad (chan chu蟾蜍) and its bloated stomach, too, was closely associated with the moon for the same reason. Many other civilisations across the world associated moon with women and femininity, but not necessarily as positively or romantically as the Chinese. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how humanity related to nature and rationalised their understanding of the world in such similar manners.
More common than the toad’s association with the moon was that of the rabbit with the moon across cultures. It was believed that the Moon Goddess/Fairy was accompanied by a rabbit–Jade Rabbit. Jade is often used in Chinese culture as a prefix to refer to something celestial (i.e. the Jade Emperor) as it was believed to be the food of all the spirits and gods. While the Chinese have long mastered the ways of metalworks, use of gold and silver for accessorising never really caught on until very much later. Jade was the defacto accessory and item which the Chinese would carry around themselves for auspicious and symbolic purposes.
Ancients across civilisations were highly imaginative and apparently, all the crater spots on the moon resembled a rabbit to the ancients.
In Mexican mythology, there was the story of how during the creation of the sun, the designated god set himself aflame into the sun without a moment of hesitation. And when it was the god of wealth’s turn, being a pragmatic god (presumably), he hesitated several times before taking that leap of faith to be turned into the moon. As such, he was thought to be a coward by the other gods and undeserving to be shining as brightly as the sun. So one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light.
In Aztec, a rabbit saved a god who was in the form of a man on earth by sacrificing itself to him as food. The god elevated the rabbit to the moon and then back to earth. In Cree, there was the story of the crane and the rabbit who made a joint journey to the moon and left their mark there. And cultures like India, Zululand and Tibet also apparently have their own moon hare stories.
Besides keeping Chang’E company on the moon, the rabbit was also believed in other versions to be accompanying Wu Gang (the man on the moon). If you have to ask, Wu Gang and Chang’E lived in parallel universes in the galaxy of Moon mythology *pats self on the back for the puns*. Wu Gang was said to have angered the gods and was sent to the moon, condemned to be chopping an osmanthus tree for eternity as the tree heals like Wolverine. His wife then turned their 3 kids into the toad, the rabbit and the snake, and sent them to the moon (yeah, who needs kids when you can have pets right–mothers, please forgive me).
Of course, the ancients, would not give up any opportunity to link things together. And the world of Chang’E and Wu Gang collided in the version that Wu Gang was a celestial guard and was dating Chang’E. So he was punished for being unprofessional at work by the jade emperor and sent to chop this tree. When he’s almost done, the jade emperor sent a crow and snatched his clothes which he removed while chopping the tree away. So he chased after the crow and by the time he got back his clothes, the tree had healed. And he had to repeat this cycle for eternity.
And on the 16th day of the 8th month (full moon–See! Good things happen in Chinese culture during full moon) in the Chinese calendar, some believed that a golden leaf from the tree would drop to earth from the moon and find its way into the household that is the most hardworking of that year. With that golden leaf, the family would be blessed with endless wealth.
When we think about Hou Yi and Chang’E, it’s interesting to note that Sailormoon’s past life was Princess Serenity who resides in the moon kingdom while masked tuxedo was the protector of Earth–pretty much like how Hou Yi’s earth-bound while Chang’E’s moon-bound. And like Chang’E, Sailormoon also has a pet animal, Luna, who also came from the moon. However, unlike the strong love between Sailormoon and masked tuxedo, the story of Chang’E and Houyi were less whimsical and romantic. Perhaps Hou Yi and Chang’E’s story would have been the realists’ version of Sailormoon and Masked Tuxedo.
In all versions of the story between Hou Yi and Chang’E, betrayal has been the recurrent theme. Like in Infinity War, there’re 1001 versions which lead to the same stories of betrayals and only one happy ending which probably lead to the story of Sailormoon and Masked Tuxedo. In some version Chang’E’s the villain who got greedy and stole the elixir of life, on others Chang’E sacrificed herself for the rest of humanity as she could see how Hou Yi became more tyrannical and corrupted with his gain in power and might. There’s also story of how Hou Yi had an affair with the Nymph of River Luo, and fought with her husband the god of Rivers and injured him. And that became the faultline in the relationship between Chang’E and Hou Yi.
It might be of interest to also know that apparently due to naming convention/confusion, there were apparently two Yi. One is Yi the Great (Da Yi) from an earlier period, and Yi the II (Hou Yi) from a later period. One was a great archer who saved the world by shooting down 9 suns, and another was supposedly an ambitious warlord who rebelled and went on to overthrow the king. It was for political reasons that scholars later merged the two identities, and that also explains the multitude of stories between Hou Yi and Chang’E.
It’s no surprise that in Japanese culture, moon is also associated with the rabbit, this the name of sailormoon–usagi which means rabbit in Japanese. In Chinese mythology, the jade rabbit was also said to be an avatar of Chang’E as well!
It’s been a crazy period at work for me, so TGIF EVERYONE FROM SAILORMOON~!
[Note] I spoke about the ‘alternative reading‘ of Chang’E in an earlier entry, and I assume that Chang-e is such an iconic figure that most people wouldn’t require much elaboration on her backstory. However, I thought of focusing more on the details of her story this time around, and weave the story of Sailormoon and her Moon Princess identity to this.