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THE ARCHER AND THE MOON GODDESS

A Chinese Myth By Shiu L. Kong and Elizabeth K. Wong These stories explain how the sun and moon became the way they are today. I. The Downing of the Nine Suns When the world began, Dijun the Sun God and his wife had ten sons. These sons were winged birds of fire and served as suns in the sky. Dijun worked out a schedule so that only one of his sons would be perched on the Fusong Tree each day, giving off just the right amount of heat and light to the earth. When it was not their turn, the nine other sons rested in the sea. One day, having had enough of the monotony of sitting alone in the tree all the time, the ten sons rebelled against their parents and flew up into the tree together. This brought disaster to the earth, as the combined rays of the ten suns seared and scorched its surface. The heat and light were so intense that the earths inhabitants had to hide in deep, dark holes. Even the rocks and metals were slowly melting away. Nothing could escape the burning rays. The people of earth prayed to the gods for help. The Sun God and Goddess tried to persuade their children to stop their nonsense, but to no avail. However, there was a god by the name of Yi who was very concerned about the plight of the people. He asked Dijun if he might have permission to shoot the rebels down. At first, Dijun was extremely reluctant to allow his sons to be treated in this way. However, when nothing else worked, he finally consented. He gave Yi a magic bow and a quiver of red arrows. Do what you must, he told Yi, but please do not hurt my children any more than is necessary. Yi was the best archer of the universe. He was also a compassionate god, and proposed shooting down the sun birds only because it was the last resort to stop the suffering on earth. Yi went down to earth and climbed the highest mountain. He showed the sunbirds his magic bow, but they ignored his warning as they had ignored all the others. Left with no alternative, Yi fitted an arrow to his bow. He took aim and let the bolt fly. An instant later, a ball of fire hurtled down to the ground. The sunlight was dimmed slightly, and the heat was less overwhelming. When people went to examine the fallen bird, they saw a huge, three-footed raven lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. Yi shot down two more suns before he paused. Even though three of their brothers had been rendered useless, the other firebirds refused to give up. Yi was angered by their stubbornness, and fired arrow after arrow at the dazzling sources of light in the sky. When his fury had subsided, the people on earth counted nine dead ravens on the ground. Yi had one more arrow in his quiver. If he had used all ten arrows, the people realized, there would have been no suns left, and no more light or warmth. What a close call that had been. The last sun left in the sky learned his lesson from this unnerving event. From then on he never disobeyed his parents.

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II. Chang Os Flight to the Moon After shooting down the nine suns and thus saving earths inhabitants from death, the Great Archer Yi returned to heaven. He found that Dijun was very angry with him, even though Dijun himself had given the order for his sons to be punished. Why did you shoot down nine of our sons all at once? he asked Yi, in a rage. How could you inflict such a great loss on myself and my wife? If you love earth and its people so much, you and your wife must go to live there. I cannot bear to have you in my sight. Your presence will always remind me of my grief for my boys. Thus Yi and his wife, Chang O, were banished from heaven. Even though humans loved Yi very much and admired his beautiful wife, the immortal couple did not find it easy to adjust to life on earth. Chang O, especially, was unhappy. What have I done to serve this? she complained bitterly to her husband. Why should I, a goddess by birth and brought up in heavenly comfort, be blamed for your misdeeds? As time went on, she continued to complain and bemoan the fate that had coupled her with a disgraced god. The domestic difficulties with his wife added to Yis disappointment at being exiled for his successful and benevolent mission. But he worked hard to establish as normal a life as possible on earth. He roamed the mountain forests all day, searching for game. He helped people to defend themselves against the attacks of wild beasts and monsters. Gradually, he began to adapt himself to his new life. But, however much he tried to make their life comfortable, his wife refused to become accustomed to living on earth. In fact, she never stopped reproaching him. To think that we gods should have to become mortal like humans and, one day, to die like them, she lamented. I cannot bear the thought of going down to the underworld and being in the company of those terrible ghosts. Oh, if only you had not shot down the nine suns! Though the Great Archer had no regrets for what he had done to help the suffering of the people, he tried to work out a way that would spare his wife and himself the horrible fate of living in hell. Chang O realized her husbands concern. One day, she said to Yi in a softer voice, My dear husband, I was told that the Queen Mother of the West, who lives in the magnificent Jade Palace on the highest peak of the Kunlun Mountains, has a special magical elixir. Would you go and see if you can charm her into giving us enough potion to render us immortal? Though we are no longer gods, this wretched human existence is at least better than becoming gruesome ghosts in hell. I will get the elixir for you, my dear wife, no matter how difficult it may be, Yi promised. The Kunlun Mountains, the legendary home of the Chinese race, are located to the west of China. The mountain where the Jade Palace was situated was surrounded by a moat filled with weak water, upon which even the lightest bird feather could not float. This moat was encircled by a desert so hot and barren that flames burned in it, day and night. It was known that no mortal could cross these two barriers alive. The Queen Mother of the West was reputed to be a monster. She was thought to have the face of a woman, the body of a beast, and the tail of a leopard. Her palace was guarded by giant three-headed bluebirds that hovered in the sky above the palace. Any intruder that was sighted would be pecked to death. By sheer determination, aided by some supernatural power he still possessed, Yi managed to reach the impenetrable Jade Palace. The Queen Mother granted him audience in her magnificent jade hall. Yi related his unhappy story, and asked the Queen Mother to have mercy on himself
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and his wife by giving them some of her elixir so that they could escape the miseries of hell. The goddess was moved by Yis courage and his unfair treatment by the Sun God. She went to her chamber and returned with a small bottle. Handing it to Yi, she said, This is the Elixir of Immortality. If you and your wife each share half of it, you will live forever on earth. However, if one of you were to drink all of it at once, he or she would become a god again in heaven. Guard this potion well, for it is the essence of a magic peach tree. This tree flowers only once every three thousand years. Its fruit takes another three thousand years to ripen. Even then, the harvest is scanty. All the elixir I have is here in this bottle. Take it, and use it wisely. Yi was greatly touched by the Queen Mothers extreme generosity. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he did not utter a word but slowly knelt before his benefactor in gratitude. Chang O was jubilant when she saw that Yi had returned with the bottle of elixir. She was even more elated when he told her that a person could actually attain godly status by drinking the entire contents of the bottle. She immediately contrived a secret plan. The next morning, Yi rose early to go hunting. Before he left, he told Chang O to guard the elixir very carefully. He said cheerfully, My dear wife, I will hunt enough food for a feast tonight. This elixir warrants a special celebration. After dinner we shall share this precious potion, and then we shall be able to live together forever on this beautiful planet, earth. Chang O anxiously watched her husband through the window when he left for the hills. As soon as he disappeared into the distance, she took hold of the little bottle. Then she paused for a moment. Did she really want to forsake Yi forever on earth? She knew that if she drank the entire potion, she would probably never see her husband again. But after a few moments thought she decided to return to her former godly self. Since Yi loved earth so much, she reasoned, he would be able to find happiness even without her. With this thought in mind, she emptied the entire contents of the bottle into her mouth. The magic potion took effect instantly. Chang O felt her body gradually drifting upwards, pulled by a celestial force. She had not realized that the potion would work so suddenly, and was taken by surprise. She thought with regret of her husband, to whom she had not had a chance to say goodbye. Since no one was around to help her, she quickly found herself levitated to a great altitude. Around her, the stars were shining and the moon was not far away. The farther she drifted away from earth, the more remorse Chang O felt for her selfishness. She began to realize that a great many of her friends both in heaven and on earth might not forgive her for leaving Yi behind. So she decided to land on the moon instead of going back to her old home in heaven. But the moon is far from being the romantic place that people imagine it to be. The terrain was desolate and gray, and the air was freezing cold. Except for a single cassia tree and a small rabbit, there was no other sign of life on the moon. Disillusioned, Chang O began to realize the full consequence of her selfishness. It had caused her to forsake an immortal life with a loving husband for an immortal life of infinite loneliness.

The Archer and The Moon Goddess from The Magic Pears by Shiu L. Kong and Elizabeth K. Wong copyright 1986. Published by Kensington Educational, 52 Granby Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B2J5. Used by permission of Kensington Educational.

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