Long ago in China, the story goes, people woke up to see 10 suns shining in the sky. Day after day the suns blazed away. Crops, animals and people were scorched to the point of extinction.
Luckily, Hou Yi, a great archer in the Imperial Guard of Emperor Yao (circa 2000 BC) was there to come to their rescue. With a magic bow and arrows, he shot down nine flaming suns, leaving one to keep life bright and warm and happy.
When the Queen Mother of the West (Xi Wang Mu) heard of Hou Yi’s heroic deed, she rewarded him with the pill of immortality, warning him first that he must pray and fast for 12 months before eating it.
One day, while he was away from home, his wife, Chang E, discovered the pill and swallowed it. Hearing her husband returning, she started to flee but discovered that the law of gravity had lost its power over her: She could fly.
Up, up, she went, straight to the moon, where she remains today as the goddess of the moon.
This popular tale is one of the many ancient fables that will be shared at storytelling and poetry-reading sessions in Chinatown on Sunday during the Moon Festival phase of the Los Angeles Festival.
Traditionally, the Chinese celebrate the festival of harvest and family reunion--symbolized by a full moon--on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (which this year would have fallen in early October on the Western calendar). This is when the moon is believed to be at its brightest.
But Moon Festival Coordinator Sue Yee said this year’s local celebration has been moved up so it could be included in the Los Angeles Festival.
The actual origins of the Moon Festival are unknown. The earliest records of it date from the time of the great Han dynasty emperor Wu Du (156-87 BC), who began the custom of a gala celebration built around banquets and moon viewing.
The local observance, which is sponsored by the Chinese Cultural Community Center and the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, with the assistance of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, will begin with lion and ribbon dances by the 20-member Castelar Dance Team at noon Sunday, in the 800 block of Yale Street.
From 12:15 to 6 p.m., the focus will shift to the Alpine Recreation Center, 817 Yale St., and the Castelar School, 840 Yale St., for free music, dance and martial-arts performances as well as Chinese arts and crafts activities and demonstrations by well-known artists.
There will be kite making by Tyrus Wong, face painting by his daughter Tai-Ling Wong, a painting demonstration by water color artists Tom Fong, Jake Lee and Chin-Chen Tso, dough sculpturing by David Lee, shadow puppetry by Shiu Lin Wang and by Kim Koga-Svenson and Friends, calligraphy by Hei Feng, knot tying by Daisy Lee, paper sculpture by Dennis SooHoo, storytelling by playwright and author Frank Chin and poetry reading by Janet Woo.
Lantern master Frank Ignacio will lead a demonstration of lantern making. Traditionally, walking around in a group with lanterns in hand is the favorite activity of children during the Moon Festival.
Ignacio, who learned his craft as a youngster in the Philippines, will provide the straw, bamboo, rice paper and other materials for the lanterns. He also will bring lanterns to be used in the procession that evening. Ignacio himself will build a giant lantern that will be a centerpiece for the Moon Viewing Party Sunday night.
At 5 p.m., the Chinese Kwun Opera Society, accompanied by the Spring Thunder Music Assn., will present “Broken Bridge,” an episode in the ancient love story about a man and a white snake fairy. The opera will be staged at the Alpine Recreation Center. Admission is free.
Naturally, the focus of the Moon Festival is the viewing of the moon. A special party, free and open to the public, that includes a traditional ceremony, storytelling, poetry reading, calligraphy demonstrations and Chinese classical music is planned at the Castelar School playground, from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
A traveling telescope from the Griffith Observatory will be on hand for examining the moon more closely.