As you will realise at once, this is Chang’e. She has many names: Chang’e, Heng’e, Changxi, Shangyi, Changyi, the Jade Rabbit, the Spirit of the Moon… beyond these, there are the unpleasant ones, such as the Toad, the Cleft-lip Rabbit, etc. Now she has descended to the world again.
Many have written poems about her in each and every dynasty. Li Shangyin wrote the finest:
A mica screen, deep shadows cast by the candles,
the long river slowly falls, the dawn stars sink.
Chang’e regrets stealing the marvellous potion—
jade-green waters, blue-black sky — at night in her heart.
Statistical data indicates that the men who have written poems to her are too numerous to count. Yet none describes her appearance; not because she is embarassingly ugly, but because she is too lovely. From ancient times to the present day, among all lovely women, she is the only one to enjoy this honour: everyone knows she is very beautiful, without the poets needing to waste words or ink. Incidentally, while no one wrote down the details of her beauty before, to do so today would be impossible. The present is an ugly age, when the task of the poet is to write about ugliness. As to what comes after — oh, don’t bring that up. People everywhere know that the next age will be called the post-ugly era.
Essay on an Assigned Topic
I am writing this essay on a topic assigned by Hou Houyi . Hou Houyi is an important historian, as well as my academic advisor. He instructed me to make a record of the descent of Chang’e to the world. He also said: Since the gathering of historical artifacts in the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities is called ‘fieldwork’, there will be no harm in calling the account of Chang’e’s descent to earth ‘factwork’, practical research in the sense of seeking actuality from facts. I have to listen to what Hou Houyi says because he is my adviser and holds my graduation in his hands. In the ordinary course of things, I should have received my Ph.D last year, but my dissertation, Chang’e Escapes to the Moon, has not gone to defence. Hou Houyi is the chair of the committee. The other committee members, as far as I know, are inclined to let me slip through the defense, except Hou Houyi will not agree. He says there should be high standards and strict requirements for his students and will only place the graduation cap on my head once I have revised the dissertation to his general satisfaction.
I gave Hou Houyi the preceding document to read, and he said: ‘What you’ve written is all cocked-up. You haven’t given the time, or the place, or explained the causes, and there are no annotations.’ In compliance with his instructions, I supplemented the record with the time and place: the date was 19 December 2000, by the lunar calendar the year gengchen, the seventeenth year of the sexegenary cycle, by solar terms the xinhai day as counted with the ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches. The site of her descent was the town of Hanzhou. As for the reason for her return, Hou Houyi has not told me yet. So I added one more sentence: No one knows what lofty errand compels her return. For annotation, I wrote: Of course I know how to write explanatory notes, after so many years of your instruction. To illustrate this, what I am writing right now is an annotation, although I do not intend to let him read it.
In a sense, Chang’e’s descent to earth and her previous flight to the moon are the same, since both ought to be seen as events of tremendous import. I should thus record the causes of this event and its effects in a little more detail, to the extent that I can. At noon on 19 December 2000, I was revising my dissertation when Luo Mi called to say that Hou Houyi wanted to see me. I believed Hou Houyi must be at the moment of his departure and wanted to sign his name to my dissertation before he passed away, so I rushed to his house in a taxi.
Hou Houyi’s illness had reached a terminal point some time before. He had prostate cancer, an illness which had already kept him in bed for many days. Normally I made two visits to see him at home every day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I went in the morning with the idea of seeing whether he had died during the night; in the evening, to know whether he had lived through another day. On 19 December a miracle occurred. I found him, to my surprise, sitting at the dining table and chomping away at a bowl of dumplings that he held in both hands. Another bowl, which he indicated had been set aside for me, sat on the table. The celebration of winter solstice had passed. Who was still eating dumplings? He wanted me to eat them, though, so I had to try. The filling of the dumplings was sour. He asked me if they tasted good. Luo Mi said, without waiting for me to answer: Piss good. Two more days and we can feed them to the dogs. Luo Mi was Hou Houyi’s wife. She turned on me next and asked: What do you think? She clearly wanted to cause trouble. I bit into another dumpling, making it look as though I found it hard to swallow. This action was open to two sharply conflicting interpretations: to Hou Houyi, it suggested that I was full, but the dumplings were so tasty I still wanted to eat one more; it also showed Lou Mi that the spoiled food was nauseating. She dumped out her own bowl and stomped out of the room. This was when Hou Houyi told me Chang’e had descended to earth again that very day. He went on to say that a woman’s nose is keener than a dog’s. The nose he referred to belonged to Luo Mi. He said that she had known as soon as Chang’e arrived. The news made her furious. Then he instructed me to make a record of the event, because it was historic. My adviser added: Throw away your dissertation and concentrate on writing this text. The document will be a kind of dissertation, too. After you finish it, I will place the graduation cap on your head.
I asked him: How do you know Chang’e has descended to the world? He said that he knew, of course, because he was the reincarnation of her husband Yiyi. He told me he had already met Chang’e face to face. Chang’e had given him some of the potion of immortality, but, since she could not confirm that he was Yiyi reincarnate, she only let him sip a tiny bit of the medicine, enough to sustain his life temporarily. He then sought me out to write about the descent of Chang’e, treating this text as my dissertation, in order to prove that he was the reincarnation of Yiyi — this was how he would receive from Chang’e the potion of immortality.
My Queries and Hou’s Explanations
I should mention that I had doubts: (1) Why didn’t he write the record himself, since he was not, for the moment, dying? (2) As the reincarnation of Yiyi, couldn’t he explain things to Chang’e personally? There was no need for me to belabour the point, especially as he was himself a historian.
Hou Houyi explained that these issues had occurred to him, too, but he preferred that I be the author of this document. To become immortal through a piece of writing is the dream of each and every historian. No one attaches more importance to posthumous reputation than historians, their passion in this regard being even greater than that of politicians. My doubts were increased rather than weakened by what he said. He must have been on something to give away such a good opportunity. I believed that there must be a more profound reason. He could see what I was thinking and said: True, I know you don’t want to believe I am sincere, but you need to realise that as the reincarnation of Yiyi I am already a historical figure. I don’t have to depend on a piece of writing to win earthly fame. He finished: If your essay convinces Chang’e that I am the reincarnation of Yiyi, I will fly with her to her heavenly abode. What use will fame in this world be to me once I am there?
The Dog’s Story
During our conversation in the middle of the day on 19 December, Hou Houyi and Luo Mi both mentioned dogs. After Luo Mi stormed out, Hou Houyi said: Luo Mi speaks more and more to the point. She said the dumplings could be fed to the dogs after being left out two more days, implying that the dumplings will taste even better then. She was referring to a specific dog, not to ordinary dogs. I asked him to which she referred. He said, You’ve studied history all these years for nothing. Give it some thought. Leaving Hou Houyi’s home, I pondered his question. There happened to be several people walking their dogs on the campus green. One woman walked with a dog for several steps, then picked it up, hugged it, and kissed it. There was a pile of dog shit by the railing of the iron fence that circled the edge of the grass. I gazed at the spongy droppings and thought for a while, until suddenly my mind was opened, and I understood Hou Houyi was reminding me of a basic fact, that within history there had been one significant incidence of mating between humans and dogs, and this historical event concerned Chang’e. That is to say, when Hou Houyi mentioned dogs, he was still talking about the story of Chang’e.
The dog clever enough to mate with a woman was called Pan Hu. There is a book titled History of the Later Han Dynasty , written by a certain Fan Ye, who, like Hou Houyi, was a great historian, one who held the post of general of the left guard and oversaw the imperial troops; he took part in confidential affairs and was an influential official of the imperial court. In his history Fan Ye verifies that the ruler Di Jun, suffering from the incursions of a foreign army, made numerous expeditions but could not subdue the enemy or defeat it in battle. He issued a decree saying that whoever could bring him the head of the leader of the hostile army would become the emperor’s son-in-law. The document was stamped in bright red ink with his imperial jade seal.