FEMININITIES – Chang E and exile on the moon


Saturday is the Mid-Autumn Festival, the first full moon after the autumnal equinox, when Change E – 嫦娥 – comes down from the moon for a visit with her earthbound husband Hou Yi -后羿. Tacoma hosts a celebration and we’re going down to hear some opera – the trains run right by the park, about four or five every hour, and that’s about what it takes to make Chinese opera tolerable – then and send the lady back to the moon after that, then come home and have some mooncakes and wine.

There are several versions of the legend, but they all agree on the essentials – that Hou Yi and Chang E were lovers, that he had an elixir of eternal life, that she took it and floated up to the moon. From the wiki:

“The myths associated with Chang’e explain the origin of moon worship during this day. One version of the story is as follows, as described in Lihui Yang’s Handbook of Chinese Mythology:[8]

In the ancient past, there was a hero named [Hou] Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang’e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang’e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng Meng broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang’e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang’e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.

Yang describes another version of the tale which provides a different reason for Chang’e ascending to the moon:

After the hero Houyi shot down nine of the ten suns, he was pronounced king by the thankful people. However, he soon became a conceited and tyrannical ruler. In order to live long without death, he asked for the elixir from Xiwangmu. But his wife, Chang’e, stole it on the fifteenth of August because she did not want the cruel king to live long and hurt more people. She took the magic potion to prevent her husband from becoming immortal. Houyi was so angry when discovered that Chang’e took the elixir, he shot at his wife as she flew toward the moon, though he missed. Chang’e fled to the moon and became the spirit of the moon. Houyi died soon because he was overcome with great anger. Thereafter, people offer a sacrifice to Chang’e on every lunar fifteenth of August to commemorate Chang’e’s action.”

The moon is the extreme of the yin principle – cold, shadowy, frozen. It’s common in the West to equate yang to masculine and yin to feminine, but that isn’t accurate. Nevertheless, females are commonly thought to be more yin in nature and males more yang.

So this story is a parable of what happens when yin and yang are unbalanced in your nature – it swings wildly out of control and you end up locked to one extreme or the other. Chang E lost the yang influence in her life so now she is trapped in the palace of yin.

Of course a masculinity that is to yang is as sterile as a femininity that is too yin. Camille Paglia drew the same lesson from the myth of Phaeton driving the chariot of the sun, to his ruin. (Years ago, so no link) In the myth the horses pulling the chariot plunge back and forth uncontrolled and wreak havoc in heaven and earth, and finally Zeus launches an air-to-air bolt of lightning to save us all. Paglia said it was a parable of what happens when the male impulses are not governed and controlled by reason.

This is a parable for gender separatists. Those who dream of a women’s state where all the evil testosterone is banished from society should take heed. It always ends in tears – and “bed death”. (Just kidding – a little) And it’s not even man-free zones where this kind of thing is a problem – a femininity that is too fragile and dainty, too submissive, too dependent and shrinking, with no initiative – too yin – is a bore; a femininity with a goodly dose of yang traits makes for a far more interesting person, just as a masculinity with a shot of yin is makes for a fuller and richer personality. After all the “strong, silent” type of demeanor we associate with a certain kind of masculinity is yin.

Enjoy the Mid-Autumn Festival!

Jim Doyle
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