Legends are like the shifting sands of a desert—forever changing, hard to grasp. This legend is no different, and there are many versions.
The Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven, had ten unruly sons. One day, they transformed themselves into ten suns, heartlessly scorching the earth from high up in the heavens. Unable to stop their mischief, the Jade Emperor summoned Hou Yi, an archer renowned for his marksmanship. The emperor commanded the immortal to teach his sons a lesson.
Hou Yi descended to Earth and saw its suffering with his own eyes. Everything was charred and lifeless, and the people were in agony. Filled with righteous indignation, he acted. Plucking an arrow from his satchel, he took aim at the suns. First one fell down, then another. In the end, nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons were dead. Hou Yi left only one sun alive, to give the earth light and warmth.
Upon hearing the news, the Jade Emperor was furious. He banished Hou Yi and his beautiful wife Chang’e from heaven, stripping them of their immortality. They were now forced to live on earth as ordinary mortals.
The pair found human life hard and miserable. Though a hero to mankind, Hou Yi had a single wish: to avoid the death that awaited all mortals and return to heaven with his beloved wife. She, at least, did not deserve to suffer.
Fortunately, Hou Yi recalled that the immortal Queen Mother of the West, who lived on Earth, had a rare supply of the elixir of immortality. The hopeful archer left on an arduous journey to seek her aid.
After countless difficulties, he finally reached her palace on sacred Mount Kunlun. Learning of their plight, the merciful Queen Mother gave Hou Yi two things. One was the elixir; the other was a warning.
“Drinking half the elixir will grant everlasting life. The entire elixir, however, will make one ascend to heaven as a full-fledged immortal.”
Half for himself; half for his wife. It was all Hou Yi could have hoped for.
When Hou Yi reunited with Chang’e, she was thrilled over his success. Yet while her husband was resting from his journey, she could not resist peeking at the elixir he brought back. Her eagerness to become immortal tempted her into drinking the entire potion. Before long, she felt her limbs grow weightless, and she began to float into the sky against her will.
As a banished deity, she could not longer return to heaven. Earth was now beyond her grasp as well. With nowhere else to go, Chang’e drifted to the desolate moon, where she spent the rest of her days in a lonely palace. She wept bitterly for her husband Hou Yi, who was condemned to live the rest of his days on earth as a common man.