As a kid I would hear of the man in the moon, but I never saw it. I had a very active imagination - my mother would argue an overly active imagination – but I never saw the man in the moon. While traveling throughout southeast Asia I learned of the Chinese rabbit in the moon. The rabbit I can see and as we point out the rabbit to our friends they can see it as well.
Aside from being easier to see, the rabbit on the moon known as the Jade Rabbit in Asian cultures, has an interesting legend. Two immortals, Chang’e and her husband Houyi, lived in heaven. One day the Jade Emperor’s ten sons turned into ten suns. The suns were scorching the earth. Houyi was a famous archer and he used his skills to shoot down nine of the suns leaving the one we know today. The Jade Emperor, not particularly pleased at the loss of nine of his sons, banished the couple to earth and made them mortals. Chang’e was devastated by the loss of immortality. Houyi in an effort to console his wife embarked on a long perilous journey (as all journeys in legends are) to find a way to become immortal again. After lots of trials and tribulations he convinced the Queen Mother of the West to give him a pill that would make them immortal again. The pill was to be broken in half as it was too powerful in its entirety.
Upon returning home Houyi placed the pill in a box for protection and told Chang’e not to touch it and then left the house. The legend is not clear as to where he went but maybe it was to the local bar to brag of his deeds and perilous journey. Back home Chang’e was overcome with curiosity and opened the box to examine the pill. Just then Houyi returned, either to hide her deceit or by accident she swallowed the whole pill. Because of the overdose she started to float away. Houyi drew his bow but was unable to shoot at his wife. As a result she continued to float to the moon where she remained destined to be a servant to the Jade Rabbit, the creator of all magical elixirs including the pill that sent her to the moon. The Jade Rabbit and his mortar and pestle can still be seen today. The Mid Autumn Festival also know as the Moon Cake Festival and the Lantern Festival celebrates this myth during the autumn equinox when the moon is the fullest. Vietnam has a similar festival that heavily features the lion dance (see GW Nunn Adventures article about lion dance)
The rabbit on the moon is featured in several other cultures, in Korea the myth has the rabbit making rice cakes, while in Japan he is making Mochi a rice cake with red bean filling. In Mexico, legend has it the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl while walking the desert as a man was almost to the point of starvation when a rabbit offered it’s self up as nourishment to save Quetzalcoatl from starvation. Impressed by the noble sacrifice of the rabbit Quetzalcoatl lifted the rabbit to the moon and returned him to the earth. The gesture left a mark on the moon so that everyone will remember the noble little rabbit. A native American legend tells of a rabbit that wanted to travel to the moon and convinced a crane to take him. As a result of the long journey and the weight of the rabbit the cranes legs stretched to give it the long stance it has today. Upon reaching the moon the rabbit touched the crane on the head to thank him, it’s paw was bloody and it left the familiar red mark on the cranes forehead. The rabbit still lives on the moon today.
In a conversation between Apollo 11 and Houston just before the first landing on the moon there was a mention of the Jade Rabbit and the princess.
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
Edwin E. Aldrin (LMP): Okay, we’ll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.
When you look up at the moon what do you see?