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Moon rabbit
File:Rabbit in the moon standing by pot.png
The image of a rabbit on Moon's surface
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 月兔
Simplified Chinese 月兔
Literal meaning Moon rabbit
alternative Chinese name
Chinese 玉兔
Literal meaning Jade rabbit
Japanese name
Kanji 月の兎
Korean name
Hangul 달토끼

The Moon rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, is a rabbit that lives on the moon in folklore, based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle.[1][2] In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang'e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cake.

History

The earliest mention (citation needed) that there is a rabbit on the moon appears in the Chu Ci, a Western Han anthology of Chinese poems from the Warring States period, which notes that along with a toad, there is a rabbit on the moon who constantly pounds herbs for the immortals. This notion is supported by later texts, including the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era encyclopedia of the Song Dynasty. Han Dynasty poets call the rabbit on the moon the Jade Rabbit or the Gold Rabbit (金兔), and these phrases were often used in place of the word for the moon. A famous poet of the Tang Dynasty period, Li Bai, relates how: "The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain" in his poem "The Old Dust."

Folklore

File:White-Rabbit-making-elixir-of-immortality.jpg

In the Buddhist Śaśajâtaka (Jataka Tale 316),[3] a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon (Uposatha), believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.

When an old man begged for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Śakra and, touched by the rabbit's virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.

A version of this story can be found in the Japanese anthology Konjaku Monogatarishū, where the rabbit's companions are a fox and a monkey.

Similar legends occur in Mexican folklore, where people also identified the markings on the moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then a rabbit grazing nearby offered himself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated him to the moon, then lowered him back to Earth and told him, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all men and for all times."

Another Mesoamerican legend tells of the brave and noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the fifth sun. Humble Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun, but the wealthy god Tecciztecatl hesitated four times before he finally set himself alight to become the moon. Due to Tecciztecatl's cowardice, the gods felt that the moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. It is also said that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the moon, casting his shadow there.

A Native American (Cree) legend tells a different variation, about a young rabbit who wished to ride the moon. Only the crane was willing to take him. The trip stretched Crane's legs as the heavy rabbit held them tightly, leaving them elongated as crane's legs are now. When they reached the moon Rabbit touched Crane's head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark cranes wear to this day. According to the legend, Rabbit still rides the moon to this day.

Modern references

  • The moon rabbit was mentioned in the conversation between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first moon landing:[4]

Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded.
Collins: Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.

  • Kenneth Anger's film Rabbit's Moon, released in 1972, takes inspiration from the folklore of the moon rabbit.
  • The American electronic music group Rabbit in the Moon gets its name from this legend.
  • In Japanese anime and video games there are many allusions, ranging from showing a rabbit outlined in the moon in the background to punning names.

See also

References

Template:The Moonit:Coniglio lunareru:Лунный заяц zh:月兔

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