China’s Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. The roundness of the full moon that night represents “wholeness”, the getting together of communities and families to gather in the harvest or to simply enjoy each other’s company by eating mooncakes.
These two prints, both collected around 1930 by the Reverend Hallock, tell the story of Chang E, the deity most associated with the moon and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chang E was the wife of Hou Yi, described in the frankly insane Chinese bestiary, the Shan Hai Jing, as a mighty archer with a red bow and short white arrows. In mythology, he’s famous for shooting down nine extra suns which had been scorching the Earth, for which he was given the elixir of immortality.
But Chang E ate the elixir and then, fleeing her husband’s wrath, escaped to the moon. Here she lives in the cold Guanghan Palace with her companion the moon hare, who pounds the herbs of immortality in a giant mortar. She has become something of the patron deity of women, protecting them from loneliness; China’s space programme is also named after her.