Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Woman in the Moon (Hezhe/Hezhen)

An old fisherman and his wife had a son, and when he became of age, they found him a wife. She not only had a lovely egg-shaped face but also knew how to cook, sew, fish, and gather firewood. While the son loved her dearly and the old fisherman was pleased with the match, the mother was soon not happy at all. Icy and heavy-browed, she soon came to despise the girl, looking down upon her as an upstart and a clod.

The mother-in-law resented the girl's visits to her own elderly parents and perceived every sound or movement as a sign of disrespect. In time the mother-in-law became more and more impatient and even brutal. While the father and son were away fishing, as they often were, the older woman would order her daughter-in-law to make ten trips to carry wood, scoop up water, and fry up ten pans of fish. When the fish came in, she would tell the girl to hang out ten jin of fresh fish and then collect exactly ten jin of dried fish. Let there be one jin less of dried fish or even one twig less of what the old woman thought there should be for firewood, and there would be hell to pay--the girl would be whipped.

And how did the unfortunate daughter-in-law react to all of this? Out of respect for her husband's mother, she held her tongue and refused to argue back or even to defend herself, and she only tried harder to please. But so often is the case when one tries too hard, nothing the girl did or tried to do was good enough for the mother-in-law. What soon made all of this more unbearable was the scolding and beatings only occurred when the two men were out fishing.

Early one evening the daughter-in-law managed to get away and went out by the river. She brought her buckets and intended to bring back some water. She looked at her reflection in the cool, slowly moving water. She gasped. Her once lovely face was now gaunt; her eyes were now sunken into her face and hooded; her hair was frizzled.

"What has become of me?" she cried.

She saw the full moon slowly rise over the mountains.

Looking up at the moon, she said, "If there is a god in the moon, please save me now. I have had enough!"

She then stepped off the bank and dropped like a stone towards the river below. However, before she touched the water, a cloth, much like a table cover, appeared right under her feet and stopped her from hitting the water. It then slowly rose into the air, carrying her up along with it.

"Aiii!" she screamed, grabbing onto the trunk of a willow tree. The cloth kept rising, and as it did, she steadfastly held onto the trunk, buckets and pole. The terrified young woman, along with the tree trunk, pole and buckets, flew all the way up to the moon itself. There, she was taken in by the kind moon god himself and became his wife.

When the young wife hadn't returned home, her mother-in-law went out to search for her. Cursing the young woman and yelling into the night, the mother-in-law went to the river bank. She looked up into the sky and saw the moon, and within the moon's disk, she saw her own daughter-in-law holding her two buckets on the pole and standing by the uprooted tree. This startled the old woman, and she decided to make up a story to tell her son. She hurried home.

"Where's my wife?" asked the son after returning from his fishing trip.

"You must forget all about her, my son," the mother answered.

"What do you mean?"

"She went and drowned herself in the river!"


"Yes, it is true," the old woman continued. "I had caught her stealing, and I suppose she couldn't own up to what she had done. We're better off without her."

Well, the son couldn't and wouldn't believe any of this, but since it was clear his wife was not going to return home, he assumed she had indeed drowned herself. He remained brokenhearted, in any case.

It was now up to the mother-in-law to do everything her daughter-in-law had done: sweep, gather firewood, dry fish, wash, cook . . . There was no rest, and she soon deeply regretted the way she had treated the girl. Of course, the regrets came too late.

The son never forgot his wife, and everyday he longed to see her. Exactly one month later, the night of the full moon, he went to where the tree had once stood by the river bank. The full moon shone brightly in the night sky, and the young man naturally looked up at the brilliant disk. There, he saw what his mother had seen the night before: his wife holding the two buckets on a pole and standing by the willow tree.

"Come back to me, my heart, my love!" he cried. "Please come back to me!"

"I cannot," she replied. "Your mother hurt me once too often, but I was rescued by the moon god. I am his wife now. Farewell." She then shouldered her pole and walked out of sight.

From then on, whenever there was a full moon, the son would set offerings of pears and grapes on the banks of the river for his wife. This is why the Hezhe people still leave offerings for the full moon even to this day.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


from Li, p. 97-101

There are Turkic-Mongolian traditions about the moon as a seducer (Roux 325-326). Motifs: A751, "Man in the moon"; A753.1.1, "Moon abducts woman"; A753.1.4, "Moon married to woman." Perhaps the most famous "lady-in-the-moon" story is the Han Chinese tale of Chang'e (sometimes translated as "Ch'ang O"), the wife of legendary archer Hou Yi, who flew up to the moon and took up residence there.

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