Detail of an eighteen-century embroidered emperor's robe. In Chinese myth, a white hare was believed to have lived in the moon.
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Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Heng-o and the Twelve Chinese Moons
In ancient times, Chinese people believed that there were twelve Moons as there were twelve months in one year. Likewise, Chinese people believed there were ten Suns as there were ten days in the Chinese week. The mother of the twelve Moons was the same of that of the ten Suns.
At the beginning of each month, the mother of the twelve Moons, Heng-O, washed her children in a lake at the extreme western side of the world. Then each Moon, one after the other would travel in a chariot for a month long journey to reach the east side of the world. There, the Suns would begin their journey.
It was believed that the Moons were made of water, and either a hare or a toad were living in their interior. The name "mother of moons" is strictly associated with that of Heng-o, considered in the modern folk-lore a Moon goddess. According to an ancient legend that had survived until our days, Heng-o was married with the Divine Archer Yi.
Yi had killed Heng-o's brother and spared the life of the Moon goddess. In gratitude, Heng-o consented to marry with the Archer. But later she fled to the Moon after having stolen from her husband the herb of immortality that grew on the soil of the Western Paradise. In the Moon, Heng-o became a toad.
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