This famous folklore about Chang’e dates back to ancient China. The earliest record is in The Huai-nan Tzu.6 And the version presented hereinafter is a composite of various versions currently told.7 This lady’s name is Chang'e8, who is the Chinese goddess of the Moon. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the Moon, Chang'e only lives on the Moon as an punishment. And she has been living there for more than 4000 years.
According to the folklore, Chang'e and her husband Houyi were both immortals living in Heaven. Chang’e was a beautiful young woman working as a servant of the Jade Emperor9. Chang’e was married to another immortal, an archer named Houyi. One day the Jade Emperor’s ten sons transformed themselves into ten suns and began to march across the sky all together. They did this just for fun, however, they glared down upon the world mercilessly, causing the earth to ...view middle of the document...
Seeing that Chang'e felt extremely miserable over her loss of immortality, Houyi decided to go on a journey to find the Pill of Immortality11. As a reward for his long and perilous quest, the Queen Mother of the West12 gave him the elixir of immortality that would enable him to become immortal thus to live in Heaven again. Houyi was hesitant about taking the pill because he hated the thought of leaving his dear wife and their home on the earth. Therefore, when arrived back home, he told Chang’e about the elixir and then stored it in a case, promising that they would both never take the pill. However, Chang’e was fed up with the life on the earth. Every night she saw the moon, she longed to return to Heaven. So days later, when Houyi went out to work, Chang’e opened the case and took the pill. Just then Houyi returned and saw Chang’e was flying skyward. Although Houyi could shoot her to prevent her floating further away, he could not bear aiming the arrow at his dear wife. Then Chang'e kept floating skyward until she landed on the moon.
As soon as the Queen Mother of the West learned the fact, she condemned Chang’e to live on the moon forever as punishment. The moon henceforward was known as the "Moon Palace" to describe the abode of Chang’e. The “Moon Palace” in Chinese folklore, is a place of chilling cold and eternal loneliness, a place from where Chang’e could only see the earth and her husband, but never could she return. The only thing she could do is to regret. As to this point, many Chinese poets have depicted the bitterly remorseful Chang’e on in the “Moon Palace”.13
As can be seen, Chang’e betrays her husband and takes the elixir of immortality, thus lives on the moon forever. The moment she lands on it, the moon to her is no longer a long-cherished Heaven, but a desperate, infinite existence. What is the reason for this great shift? This folklore raises the question without giving an answer. However, when a similar story is depicted in written literature, the reason can be deduced. The title of this story is “The Distance of the Moon” -- the first and probably the best known one in Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.