The Moon Goddess

Waiting, she finds her silk stockings
soaked with the dew drops
glistening on the marble steps.
Finally, she is moving
to let the crystal-woven curtain fall
when she casts one more glance
at the glamorous autumn moon.
     Li Bai, aka Li Po (701-762)
     An Imperial Concubine Waiting at Night

More Artful Romance

Chang'e, Ch'ang-O or Chang-Ngo, also known as Heng-E or Heng-O, is the Chinese Goddess of the Moon. Unlike many other lunar deities, Chang'e does not personify the moon but lives on it. She and her husband Hou Yi, the Excellent Archer, are the subjects of one of the most popular Chinese mythological legends. According to one version of the story, Hou Yi was an immortal, while Chang'e was a beautiful young girl, working in the Jade Emperor's (Emperor of Heaven) Palace as the attendant to the Queen Mother of the West (wife of the Jade Emperor), before her marriage. One day, Yi aroused the jealousy of the other immortals, who then slandered him before the Jade Emperor. Yi and his wife, Chang'e, were subsequently banished from heaven, and forced to live by hunting on earth. He became a famous archer.

At this time, there were 10 suns that took turns to circle the earth — one every 10 days. One day, all 10 of the suns circled together, causing the earth to scorch. To receive the pill of immortality and bring it to his beloved wife, Yi killed all but one of the suns by shooting at them. He put the pill in a box and asked Chang'e not to open it before his return, and then left for a while. Like Pandora in the Greek mythology, Chang'e could not resist, opened the box and found the pill. She accidentally swallowed the entire pill and started to float toward the sky because of overdose. Yi returned and in a rage followed Chang'e but could not bear to aim the arrow at her. Chang’e kept on floating until she landed on the moon where she became a goddess accompanied by a jade rabbit. As for Yi, he built himself a palace on the sun as "Yang" (the male principle), while Chang'e is "Yin" (the female principle). Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Yi visits his wife. That is why the moon is full and beautiful on that night.

Chang'e is represented as a very beautiful young woman, and her name is often mentioned in novels and poems. It is said of a pretty woman that she is "as beautiful as if Chang'e had come down from the Moon".

Strongly related to the Moon goddess, the Mid-Autumn Festival, aka Moon or Mooncake Festival, is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese New Year). It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Chang'e is also the name of the Chinese space program for unmanned exploration mission to the Moon scheduled to be launched in April 2007. The Chang-Ngo crater on the Moon is named after the Chinese Moon goddess.

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Li Bai or Li Po (701-762) lived during the Tang Dynasty. Called the Poet Immortal, Li Bai is often regarded, along with Du Fu, as one of the two greatest poets in China's literary history. Approximately 1,100 of his poems remain today. The Western world was introduced to Li Bai's works through the very liberal translations of Japanese versions of his poems made by Ezra Pound.

An Imperial Concubine Waiting at Night is one of his works. Similar to the following Japanese haiku, it implies waiting for and uniting with a lover:
    Behind the tiny hatch,
    A candle.
    The endless night of union.

Drinking Alone under the Moon is another one of his famous poems:
Amongst the flowers is a pot of wine
I pour alone but with no friend at hand
So I lift the cup to invite the shining moon,
Along with my shadow we become party of three
The moon although understands none of drinking, and
The shadow just follows my body vainly
Still I make the moon and the shadow my company
To enjoy the springtime before too late
The moon lingers while I am singing
The shadow scatters while I am dancing
We cheer in delight when being awake
We separate apart after getting drunk
Forever will we keep this unfettered friendship
Till we meet again far in the River of Stars*.     
   ( *Milky Way

MidAutumn Moon Festival
Chinese Bamboo Painting