Mid-Autumn Moon Festival :
Goddess of Immortality
Around 2200 BCE, during the reign of the legendary Emperor Yao, shortly after the reign of Huangdi, our story begins... Houyi was an immortal, but like many immortals, he had grown weary of his long-life. He had seen many lands, things, places, and people over time and not many things were different from the ones before it. So, he found himself quite bored and sad as the seasons changed and time passed because nothing was new to him. His only past-time was to watch the people below do the same things over and over, never learning from their mistakes, and shake his head. One day from the heavens, however, he spotted a unusually beautiful young maiden in the garden, weeping by a koi pond. Something about this girl captured his immortal eyes and drew his attention. Even the fish seemed to notice and gathered up from the water to drink her tears. She was a servant girl named, Chang'e, working in the palace of the Jade Emperor.
The Jade Emperor was a kind and benevolent man, but his wife, the Queen Mother of the West, was jealous and paranoid. The Queen had been lovely in her youth and was still lovely to be sure, but the cruelty in her heart had begun to show on her face. Now, she had deep frown lines from pursing her lips all day and wrinkles from her many worries. Fearing aging more than anything else, she would pay people to pluck her white hairs and tell her how beautiful she was and how young she looked. She would send imperial soldiers to increasingly dangerous, faraway lands in search of increasingly expensive and rare beauty elixirs. Or course, she would also frequently yell at the young girls entering the castle, who seemed to her, only to get younger and younger. On this occasion, Chang'e, the newest servent was the subject of her latest wrath.
After noticing her, soon day after day, Houyi's attention would inadvertantly wander to the koi pond. He would frequently see Chang'e sitting by the pond weeping. Growing increasingly curious, he finally decided to come to ask her why she was so sad. Because immortals typically do not like to reveal their nature, as not to frighten mortals, Houyi disguised himself as a little bird. He flew down from the skies and transformed himself. Sitting by the edge of the pond in a cherry blossom, he got a good view. Chang'e was even more beautiful up close! Poking his head down, he sang a little song. To ordinary ears, this song would sound like a normal bird chirping. Those, who knew what to listen for, would hear a subliminal message. Houyi sang out to Chang'e, asking the maiden to say why she felt so sad.
Compelled to speak, Chang'e whispered to the little bird, watching her from the cherry tree.
"Oh little bird, how lucky you are!" The young girl smiled, wiping away some tears.
"You do not need money. You can fly! You can eat berries and be free. I wish I could, too, sometimes... But I have a family to feed. My parents did not want to sell me. I had to volunteer. My other siblings are too young. This is not such a bad life, living in a palace, and seeing this scenery. Only, the Queen..." The young girl turned her head and grew quiet, this revealed a pink mark in the shape of a hand print on her cheek.
The little bird's eyes grew shiny. It chirped some more, as if inquiring why the girl was here.
"I come to the pond because the Queen does not like to be disturbed. She doesn't like to hear crying when she tries to sleep. It is important for her to stay young." Chang'e said looking down at the koi, which were jumping up and down out of the water. They, too, were upset to hear this.
A loud noise came from the silk covered pavillion, nearby. It sounded like a Gong had been rung. The Queen had awaken. It was time for her ritualistic bathing. Chang'e wiped her cheeks. She bid adieu to her bird and koi friends, then ran into the chambers to attend to her lady. After all these things had been related to Houyi, he was infuriated. His first thought was to hurl a targeted hail storm at the Queen, but then he remembered if he did Chang'e's family would starve. Her noble sacrifice would go to waste. Often times in Ancient China, once a Queen was disposed, so were her servants.
Houyi thought to himself every story has two sides. He decided to observe the Queen to understand her character more. From what he saw, Chang'e's description was polite. Her royal highness liked to sleep. She slept pretty much the entire day, except for when she woke up to shout at her servants to bathe or dress her. In her chambers, there were jars and containers filled with ointments, oils, perfumes, powders, teas, herbs, and even animal parts. Everyday, it seemed a new jar would appear filled with new stuff, which the Queen would proceed to wipe all over her face or eat or drink or have her servant's massage onto her skin using acupuncture. Everyday, she would consult with doctors, scholars, soldiers, and explorers for news on the latest treatment, cure, or remedy for old age.
In the center of the room, there was a large mirror with golden frame. The mirror would be covered during the day with a crimson brocade, but every night the cover would be unwrapped. By moonlight, the Queen would gaze into her own reflection. She had done this ever since her scholars told her sunlight causes the skin to grow dark. For hours, she would stare. She would stare and stare and stare. Unsatisfied until she grew too tired to continue, she would look to see if her remedies had any effect. When some medicine seemed promising, she would immediately order one thousand more of the same until the effect was lost or her skin broke out in rash from over exposure and allergic reaction.
From his research, Houyi did not like what he saw. As beautiful as Chang'e was, the Queen was the opposite. It made him more and more angry to behold Chang'e cry by the pond everyday. She worked so hard sometimes her knuckles bled, only then to get slapped in the face regardless. Although the immortals were sworn by unspoken oath not to interfere with mortal lives, Houyi found he could no longer contain himself. It was such a travesty that the Queen bask in such wealth and splendor, while mistreating all those around her. The only person she had fooled was the King, who had a soft heart or blind eye to his wife's folly.
In mid-autumn, Houyi descended from the heavens and transformed himself into human form. As an archer, he presented himself before the royal court. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Chang'e fanning the Queen and smiled. He blushed. Boasting of his skill, he suggested that he came from the land of ten suns to pay tribute to the Queen of famed beauty by displaying his talent. This pleased the Queen very much, who had never heard of the land of ten suns but was excited because it sounded far and possibly had new medicines she had never tried. Erstwhile, the King was skeptical. He regarded the stranger with suspicion.
"Honored Archer, it is customary for guests to present to Her Highness a gift when entering her home. What gift would you give me?" the Queen demanded, speaking of herself in the plural form.
Bowing deeply, Houyi with sparkling eyes loudly proclaimed, "Your Excellence, I have come baring the greatest gift of all." He paused for effect. The King raised an eyebrow.
"I give you, the elixir of life." He held out a bottle of the most translucent glass. Sparkling white pills swirled in liquid at the bottom. Then, he made flourishing motions with his hands as he knelt again to bow. A gasp went through the court. This was quickly followed by murmuring. The Queen clapped. The King stood up.
"Impossible! There is no such thing!" the King shouted. He motioned for the guards.
The Queen, desperate for a cure to her aging, chided her husband. "There is such a thing! There is such a thing!" She looked towards her advisors. "Tell him!," she commanded. Her advisors, of course, who had been lying to her all along for profit found themselves in a tough spot. Gulping, they mumbled amongst themselves and largely nodded.
"Why yes... It is possible. Quite possible... If he indeed came from such a far off place as the land of the ten suns," the spokesman for the thieves stammered out at last.
Houyi bowed again.
The King had his guard seize the bottle. "What is this? Poison?" he shouted. His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Are you trying to poison my wife?"
The guards drew their swords and came closer.
The Queen laughed and grabbed the elixir out of the guards hands. Before anyone could stop her, she popped open the bottle. She forced open her servant's mouth and pushed the liquid in. "You wouldn't mind a little taste test?" she said as if Chang'e had a choice.
Houyi gasped, along with the rest of the court. Chang'e began to turn translucent and started to float.
"What have you done?" the King stammered horrified.
"Don't worry honey, if it is poison, it will only kill Chang'e."
The King looked at his wife, as if for the first time.
"That's terrible! You would poison someone in your own place?" he whispered.
Houyi quickly grabbed Chang'e and escaped.
To save her spirit, he was forced to take her to the skies with him. Because she had swallowed the pill, she could no longer walk on the earth as she would float away from it. Yet, in the sky she could see her family and was happy to see they were well. Houyi had made her immortal. He explained that he originally had wanted to give the Queen immortality, exactly what she wished for, so she could see how terrible it would be to live forever. Somehow fate had changed and Chang'e, instead, had become immortal. In the end though, they were happy as they fell in love together. The end.