A bright moon rising above Tian Shan Mountain,
Lost in a vast ocean of clouds.
The long wind, across thousands upon thousands of miles,
Blows past the Jade-gate Pass.
The army of Han has gone down the Baiteng Road,
As the barbarian hordes probe at Qinghai Bay.
It is known that from the battlefield
Few ever live to return.
Men at Garrison look on the border scene,
Home thoughts deepen sorrow on their faces.
In the towered chambers tonight,
Ceaseless are the women’s sighs.
~ Li Po
If look carefully at the moon in clear nights, one can see a black shadow on it. Here is an explanation from a Chinese fairy tale.
Long time ago, there was a man from Xihe of Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) named Wu Gang. He once followed the immortals to cultivate himself and became an immortal too. However, when in the heaven, he made a mistake and was banished to the moon to chop the laurel tree. This laurel tree growing in front of the Moon Palace was very flourishing and tall. Each time Wu Gang chopped it, it grew back right. This happened again and again and the tree was never cut down. The endless hard job was a punishment for Wu Gang.
From: China Travel Guide
The story goes about that three immortals reincarnated themselves into three poor old people and begged food from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and monkey both gave food to the immortals. However, the rabbit did not have any food. It then said to the immortals: “you can eat me” and jumped into the fire.
The immortals were so moved by the rabbit and sent it to the moon to become an immortal jade rabbit. Ever since, the jade rabbit stayed in the Moon Palace to accompany Chang E and pounded immortal medicine for those living in the heaven.
From: Travel China Guide
The story of Chang E is the most widely accepted tale regarding the moon and the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi, who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if took, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god/goddess. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth on the heaven.
On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grieved that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appeared in the Moon. He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. After hearing that Chang E became a goddess, folk people also offered sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among the folklore.
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The “sacred lily” (Narcissus) that blooms at the Chinese New Year is the emblem of happiness, and whoever finds his lily blooming exactly on that day, is sure to be lucky. There is a legend connected with it that is more than a thousand years old.
Once there lived in China two orphan brothers. The eldest inherited the largest share of the ancestors’ estates and also wickedly seized the younger brother’s inheritance, leaving him only a few acres of rough, pebbly soil upon which nothing would grow. At one end of the ground was a marsh overgrown with rank weeds and rushes. For years the younger brother bore with magnanimous patience the rapacity of the eldest. Poverty and hunger at last broke him down. Overcome by despair he lay on the ground, sobbing and bemoaning his fate.
Suddenly he was aroused by a sweet voice calling his name. He looked up and beheld a beautiful fairy standing over him and bidding him rise, saying:
“Thy patience and forbearance have been seen by the gods and now there is a rich reward in store for thee. Lo! Where thy head has rested thou shalt find it beneath the soil. To reach it will be no easy task, but patient toil shall bring thee thy reward. Take courage then. Rest not till thou hast found, buried deep, that which shall give thee immortal fame, and make thee beloved and honored for a thousand generations.”
The fairy vanished, the rocky ground was still there, but hope possessed the young man’s soul. For many a day he dug and toiled. At last he found the promised treasure. It was nothing but a lily-bulb. With faith in the fairy’s promise he took it up, planted it, and nourished it until it grew into a flower, fairer than any that had ever been seen. Riches and honors came to him from the moment it began to bloom. Other bulbs sprang from its roots. His name and his story soon became famous.
Strange as it may seem, the lily would grow in no other part of China. Thousands came to him to buy this flower of wealth which has ever since borne the name of the Shuey Seen Fah, the flower of the water-fairy, and which has become the emblem of a happy New Year. To this day the only way to cultivate it, is on stones and rocks covered with water, in remembrance of its original rough and stony ground.
This story comes from China. It begins with a giant egg. The egg was filled with chaos; in fact, the egg was so huge that it was filled with absolutely everything. Darkness and light were mixed together inside the egg and everything was in so much of a muddle that nothing was anything at all. Sleeping in the middle of all this was a giant – Pan Gu.
Pan Gu slept for thousands of years, but eventually he woke up and stretched himself, as he did, he broke the egg. The darkness and light separated from each other and poured out. Part of the egg drifted downwards and became the earth and part floated upwards and became the sky. The world had begun.
Pan Gu lived on the earth for many years making the world safe and beautiful. When he’d finished he was tired again and lay down for another short nap. While he slept his body changed into a whole mountain range covered in forests and rivers, his breath became the wind and his eyes became the sun and the moon. (If you’re not careful, this is what can happen to you if you stay asleep in bed for too long and don’t get up for school in the morning)
The world stayed this way for thousands of more years until, one day, it was discovered by Nu Kua. (noo-kwah)
Nu Kua was a strange and beautiful creature: her upper body was like that of a woman’s while her lower body was like that of a snake’s. She wandered around the world and was very happy. She watched the animals and roamed through the forests. Everything was so beautiful; she was enchanted with all that she saw.
The world was a wonderful place, but after a while, Nu Kua became lonely. Then, one day as she was sitting by a pool gazing at her own refection, she suddenly had an idea; she reached down into the pool and took a handful of yellow clay. Skilfully, she lovingly modeled a small figure that looked very much like her self, except that it had legs instead of a snake’s tail. When she had finished, she breathed life into it, placed it on the ground and the creature magically came to life; the first human had come into being.
Nu Kua was so delighted with the small creature, that she made many more and loved and cared for them all. At night while they slept, she would whisper secrets in their ears and sing to them softly so that they might sleep blissfully and awake in the morning with joy in their hearts.
All was well for a long time, until one day: disaster struck. In the heavens above the earth Gong Gong the lord of water and Zhu Rong the lord of fire were fighting. They fought so fiercely that they fell to earth where they continued to battle, causing terrible destruction.
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