The Goddess of Mercy in Chinese Buddhism is named Guanshiyin (观世音菩萨 — Guān shì Yīn Pú Sà) or Guanyin for short. The name means “one who always hears the cries of the world. While many of the Buddhist deities are rather frightening (as seen in their paintings and depictions), Guanyin is actually very highly respected for being merciful to her followers. (more…)
Xiān yún nòng qiăo, fēi xīng chuán hèn, yín hàn tiáo tiáo àn dù
Jīn fēng yù lù yì xiāng féng, biàn shèng què rén jiān wú shù
Róu qíng sì shuĭ, jiā qī rú mèng, rĕn gù què qiáo guī lù
Liăng qíng ruò shì jiŭ cháng shí, yòu qĭ zài zhāo zhāo mù mù
As Clouds float like works of art;
Stars shoot with grief at heart.
Across the Milky Way the Cowherd meets the Maid.
When autumn’s Golden Wind embraces Dew of Jade
All the love scenes on earth, however many, fade.
Their tender love flows like a stream;
This happy date seems but a dream.
Can they bear a separate homeward way?
If love between both sides can last for aye,
Why need they stay together night and day?
(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
In a magical world in a century so long ago it has faded into dream and myth, there lived a tragic, poor, lonely man named Niu Lang. Most of his family had all died several years before, and those who remained had thrown him out on the street. So to stay alive, he found a small job taking care of some cows.
Imagine his surprise when he found out that one of those cows was something special. It actually had once belonged to the God of the Heavens, and it could talk to Niu Lang! They had some lovely conversations, and the cow came to like Niu Lang.Because although he was poor and his life was not good, his heart was still rather cheerful and he had a knack for finding joy in even the difficult times. So the cow decided to give Niu Lang a little bit of advice. (more…)
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from China to you!
Today (September 15, 2016) is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie). The festival will fall on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, which just so happens to be today for 2016. Although today is the official day of the holiday, most people in China will take a 3-4 day weekend to celebrate. 🙂 For example, at our university all classes are cancelled for Thursday – Saturday, with Friday’s classes made up on Sunday.
Based on the lunar calendar, on the 15th of the month, the moon should be a full moon, shining bright and beautiful. So a lot of the stickers and pictures being sent around WeChat (Chinese version of Facebook) are full moons or things shaped like full moons. 🙂
The moon has a special place in the world of Chinese art and culture, with many of my students great enthusiasts of the “romantic and beautiful night sky.” So during the Song Dynasty, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival was created to celebrate the Harvest Moon. This is supposed to be the brightest, biggest, most beautiful moon of the year.
One of the best and largest part of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the tradition of eating what are called “Moon cakes” (月饼 – Yuè Bĭng). Moon Cakes are little pastries or cakes about 4 inches around and 2 inches thick. The pastry crust tends to be pretty thick and then inside are any variety of treats or fillings. Most common in Henan is the red bean or Jujube paste, but there are many others with nuts and fruits inside. (I’m not terribly fond of the paste ones, but a few of the nut versions are pretty good.) The pastry top will somehow be stamped with a Chinese character of good fortune luck, peace, happiness, etc. They are usually passed around to family, friends, teachers, business colleagues, etc. Visit a Chinese shop before the holiday and for at least two weeks they will be selling these cakes like crazy.
According to legend, the moon cake became a holiday tradition during the Yuan dynasty. China was under the control of Mongolian rulers at the end of the dynasty, and the Ming Chinese were fed up. They decided to stage a revolution, but had a difficult issue in the logistics of communicating their message to the people without tipping off the Mongolians. The story says that the leader Zhu Yuanzhang and his adviser Liu Bowen came up with the brilliant idea of using moon cakes. They started a rumor that a horrific and deadly disease was spreading through the area and that special moon cakes were the only possible cure. Of course the people began buying up moon cakes and hidden inside each moon cake was a message telling them the date and time for the revolution (Mid-Autumn Festival). The Chinese revolted, the battle was won, and moon cakes became a permanent staple of the holiday! 🙂
Another famous legend about the festival is that of a tragic romance. In the west, our culture has the beloved Man on the Moon, but in Chinese it’s the beautiful Chang’e, Lady on the Moon. The story says that centuries ago there live a famous hunter, Hou Yi, and his wife Chang’e. At the time, the world was surrounded by 10 suns and they were burning the earth and its people to death. A brave man, Hou Yi took his bow and arrow and went out to shoot down nine of the suns. He saved the world in the end. As a reward, he was given a special potion that contained immortality. However, because he loved his wife so much and because the potion was only enough for one person, Hou Yi refused to drink it. After this, he was very famous and many people came to learn from him. But some also came to steal from him, including one wicked man. One day while Hou Yi was out, the evil man snuck into the house and attempted to steal the potion from Chang’e. She realized she could not keep him from taking it, and so drank it herself. The potion immediately gave her immortality, and her body flew up, up, up and up to the moon. Heartbroken, Hou Yi came home and prepared a feast on a table under the moon in honor of his wife and in the hopes that she would see his efforts and know how much he missed her. So (according tot the legend), ever since the Chinese like to eat big meals under the moon to remember her sacrifice and to celebrate their own families.
Korean legends are a fascinating world to immerse yourself in–of course as an avowed student of Myths and Mythology, I could perfectly happily spend my entire life in the fantastic world of eastern stories. Of a particular interest to me are the origin stories of creation and cultures, a passion which led me to research the Korean story of creation and the Korean culture’s origins.
Mythology and stories about the beginning of the world can be divided into two categories ~ 1) Creation Myths which tell of the origin of the world and 2) Foundation Myths, a subset of the Creation genre, which more specifically relate the origin of a people, nation, or culture.
As one of the great ancient peoples, it is only natural that much of Korean myths come through to us in the oral tradition. Still, Koreans do not have much in the way of “Creation of the Earth” myths ~ most of their stories and legends presume that the world was already in existence when the tales begin.
There are a few minor oral tales that claim the world began (as so many origin stories hold) in a time of utter chaos and an absence of any type of creation or order. The stories go on to say that suddenly a crack appeared in the heavens, dividing the earth from the skies. But those are very minor, basic tales lacking any deep specifics or embellishments.
Rather, Korean myths tend to fall into the realm of Foundation Myths ~ sharing the origins of Korea and the Korean peoples. There are several variations, of which the most popular is the Myth of Tangun, which speaks of Hwangun, a beautiful character of strength and eternal goodness.
Once upon a time, many centuries ago, the great Heavenly God Hwanin had a noble son whose name was Hwangun. Hwangun had looked upon earth and fell in love, wishing greatly for the chance to come to earth and rule over it so that it might prosper. After learning of his son’s desire and examining the situation on earth, Hwanin decided that his son’s leadership would benefit the earth and so decreed that Hwangun should go to earth and take charge.
Before he left, Hwanin gave his son three Treasures from Heaven that would signify his authority and right to rule. Taking these with him, Hwangun finally embarked on his great mission. Taking 3000 spirits with him Hwangun first alighted on a mountain in Myohyangsan, a place in the modern-day North Korea.
Along with his great assistants, the spirits of the wind, rain, and cloud, Hwangun began implementing his leadership and guided the earth into a time of prosperity and splendor.
After some time had passed, Hwangun began to be pestered by a tiger and bear who came visiting him and begging for human forms. Taking pity on them, Hwangun set before them a test~ they were to fast for 100 days and then they would receive their human bodies. Now, the bear was very diligent and passed the test, finally transforming into a female and enjoying her new form. The tiger was not so steadfast and failed to transform. But the bear was greatly saddened, for she realized that there was no one on earth for her to mate with and thus no children would come to her. So daily, she went to the alter and pleaded with the Heavens to provide her with a child.
Once again feeling pity for the tragic bear-woman, Hwangun transformed himself into a human form and married the woman. Together they had a son, who they named Tangun. Tangun was the man who, in the time of Emperor Yao (one of the Five Emperors of China in the 2300s-2200s BC), established the first human Korean city in Pyongyang and the first Korean dynasty~ the Choson dynasty.
There are of course several variations of this initial story, but this is the tale in its original and most basic form. Even, to me, the most beautiful form.
What do you think? Does this sound familiar to your culture’s foundation myth? Any themes or similarities that cross cultural bounds? Let me know in the comments!
If you are interested, this story is some-what re-told (with major alterations) in the Korean drama “The Legend“~ it’s a great watch, both for the beautiful storyline and insight into Korean cultures/ideology.