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Tales of Shadows on the Moon

Mid-Autumn stories about a lady on the moon, a selfless rabbit and a woodcutter who wanted to be an immortal.


Published: 23 Sep 2020

Time taken : >15mins

The Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated by Chinese all over the world on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Many believe that on that day, the moon is at its brightest. If the sky is clear, you might even be able to see the shadows on the moon. But, do you know who or what is creating these shadows? There are a few Chinese legends about the full moon and how the shadows came about. Munch on your mooncake and read about three such lunar tales. 


According to ancient Chinese folklore, there used to be 10 suns in the sky. The 10 suns were supposed to take turns providing light to the people. However, one particular year, all 10 suns rose together causing droughts and a great disaster to everyone in the land.

Seeing the people suffer, Hou Yi, a great archer, shot down nine suns leaving only one sun for light. Hou Yi went home to much victory, admiration and fanfare—many wanted to be his apprentice! His heroic act caught the attention of an immortal who gifted Hou Yi with an elixir for immortality.

However, to Hou Yi's dismay, the elixir was enough for just one person. If Hou Yi drank the elixir, he would have to leave his wife Chang’e whom he loved deeply. Chang'e too could not bear to be separated from him. And so, the couple hid the potion so that no one would find it. Unknown to them, Feng Meng, one of Hou Yi’s apprentices, found out about the elixir. He wanted it for himself.

On the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, Hou Yi left the house for a hunt. Knowing that Chang'e would be alone, Feng Meng broke into the house and demanded for the elixir. Chang’e refused!

Without much time to think, she broke free and swallowed the elixir before Feng Meng could get his hands on it. The elixir took effect and Chang’e floated helplessly up into the sky, all the way to the moon. 

When Hou Yi returned that night, he could not find his wife. In a corner of the room, he saw the empty bottle of elixir. Where was Chang'e? His maids rushed in told him what had happened. Hou Yi was heartbroken! 

Hou Yi ran outside and looked up at the full moon. He tearfully cried out for his wife. And at that very moment, he saw a swaying figure on the moon that looked exactly like his beloved.

From that day onwards, on the 15th day of the eight lunar month, Hou Yi would lay out his wife’s favourite food and fruits in the garden to honour his wife. The villagers who had heard about the unfortunate incident, began to pay their respects to the loyal and devoted Chang’e too.

According to folklore, when the moon is full and bright and the sky is clear, you might be able to see Chang’e's shadow on the moon along with her companion, the Jade Rabbit.


A long time ago, the Jade Emperor decided that he needed some help preparing the elixir of life for the immortals. However, he felt that humans could not be trusted with such an important duty. Only a selfless animal was worthy of the task. So, the Jade Emperor disguised himself as an old beggar and flew down from the heavens to begin his search.

When he arrived, he spotted four animals—a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit. 

Hungry, he asked the animals for food. The monkey gathered fruits from the trees, the otter brought back dead fish and the jackal gave him a lizard and a pot of milk-curd.

However, the rabbit could not find anything but grass. The rabbit felt embarrassed—it could not give a human being grass to eat! Feeling sorry for the old man, the rabbit offered its life to him. Without a moment's hesitation, the rabbit threw himself into a fire.

The flames rose and the fire crackled and burned! The other animals gasped and peered into the fire. To their disbelief, there the rabbit stood! It was safe. Not a single strand of fur was harmed. What was happening? It was a miracle!

Moved by the rabbit's selflessness, the old man revealed his true identity and rewarded the rabbit by granting it immortality.

The Jade Emperor then sent him to the moon where he would be safe from anyone who wanted to steal the elixir of life. For his loyalty and selflessness, the rabbit was also rewarded with a coat that was dazzling white and soft that it created a beautiful glow that looked like jade. 

Legend says that when the moon is full, you can even see a shadow of the Jade Rabbit pounding his mortar and pestle, making the elixir of life for the immortals.


Once, there lived a woodcutter who goes by the name of Wu Gang. Wu Gang, like many, had great dreams. However, unlike many others who work hard and are resilient, Wu Gang was someone who quit when things get hard.

One day, an idea struck Wu Gang! What better way to escape his mortal life than to become immortal? With this idea planted in his head, he sought out an immortal to teach him the secret to living forever. And so, he went in search of a famed immortal up in the mountains.

After a day of searching, Wu Gang finally met the wise immortal. He begged, pleaded and promised with the immortal sage that he would be the best student he had ever had. Finally, he relented.

On the first day, his new teacher taught Wu Gang medicine. Eager at first, Wu Gang read through every single page zealously. However, after the third day, his interest waned and Wu Gang gave up. Next, his teacher taught him how to play Chinese Chess and yet again, Wu Gang gave up—he lasted only a mere two days. Finally, the sage gave him books on immortality to study, but after a few days, the woodcutter got bored. He tossed the book aside and started daydreaming.

The immortal came back to check on his student's progress but to his surprise, he saw the woodcutter deep in his daydream. He was fuming mad!

Angered by Wu Gang's fickle mindedness and sheer laziness, his teacher knew that the woodcutter had to be taught a lesson! He told Wu Gang that that he would be banished to the moon. To be released back to earth, he would have to chop down the Cassia tree that is on the moon.

Ah! This will be easy for he is a woodcutter, Wu Gang thought to himself. He laughed at the foolishness of the task.

However, unknown to him, the Cassia tree was a magical tree. Every single time Wu Gang came within an inch of cutting down the tree down completely, it would shoot up and grow again to its full height!

And so, up to this day, Wu Gang is stuck there on the moon, chopping away at the tree for eternity. He wanted immortality and was granted his wish, but he never got to stay idle ever again.

And yes, you guessed it! Take a peek at the moon on a bright moonlit night and you might see the shadow of the woodcutter swinging his axe at the Cassia tree.

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