Thursday, September 11, 2008


Houyi , also simply called Yi, was a mythological Chinese archer and the leader of Dongyi. He is sometimes portrayed as a god of archery descended from heaven to aid mankind, and sometimes as the chief of the Youqiong Tribe during the reign of King of Xia Dynasty. His wife, , became a lunar deity.

The Time of the Ten Suns

In Chinese mythology, the sun is in the form of a Three-legged bird. It is believed that there were ten of them, all of whom are the offspring of Dijun, God of the Eastern Heaven. The ten sun birds resided in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea; each day one of the sun birds would be rostered to travel around the world on a carriage, driven by Xihe the 'mother' of the suns.

Folklore also held that, at around 2170 BC, the Sun-birds grew tired of the routine and decided that all of them were to rise at once. The heat on earth became intense. At a result, crops shrivelled in the fields. Lakes and ponds dried up; humans and animals cowered in shelters or collapsed from exhaustion. Time passed and the suffering continued. , the Emperor of China, decided to plead for divine intervention and ask Dijun for aid.

Dijun was well aware of his sons' misdeeds, and sent for Houyi, the God of Archery, to teach his sons a lesson. Dijun wanted Houyi to simply frighten them so that they would not dare to cause mischief again. Houyi, too, wanted to settle this crisis peacefully, but a single glance at the scorched land was enough to convince him that desperate measures were needed. Angered by the suffering of the people caused by the Sun-birds' misconduct, Houyi lifted up his bow and shot them down one by one. Upon killing the ninth, Emperor Yao hurried to halt him as killing the last one would leave the world in total darkness. Houyi agreed and was hailed as a hero for mankind. Yet, later, Houyi's actions caused him to make enemies in Heaven and as a result he was punished with divine wrath.

Banishment from the heavens

Although Yao was pleased with Houyi, Dijun was anything but happy. Yi had killed nine of the Sun-birds, nine of his errant children, instead of merely bringing them to heel as he wished. As a father, Dijun could not forgive him, so he banished the hero from the heavens and stripped him of his immortality. He thought that if Houyi cared so much for the mortals, he could live as one.

Houyi cared little about the banishment as he saw no difference between living on earth and in the heavens. In fact, Houyi continued to serve humanity selflessly after his banishment. As he was well aware, the land remained beset by chaos and it seemed as though the world was returning to its primal state of chaos. Neither the deities in Heaven or the mortal rulers could solve these problems. Yet, little did they know, Houyi's great ability would be the solution.

Houyi's heroic missions

Houyi set off on a series of epic adventures to save China. First he had to deal with Fei Lian, Count of the Winds, who created storms that swept across the Middle Kingdom, uprooting crops and tearing down houses. Fei Lian is a fearsome spirit who generally took the form of a one-eyed bull with the tail of a serpent; he resides in . Using his power to travel on the wind, he tracked the gales back to the Demon's habitat. Noticing the Divine Archer is to come and get him, Fei Lian hid in a sack. When Houyi entered the monster's cave, he saw through the Demon's lame trick and fired an arrow at it which burst the sack right open. Fei Lian attempted to run but Houyi quickly struck the Demon on his knee. Wounded, Fei Lian surrendered and promised to not stir up trouble again.

During his crusade, Houyi happened to come upon a river that had burst its banks. Houyi knew that this must be the doings of a turbulent water god, so he shot an arrow at random into the water. Soon the flood receded and a white-garbed figure on a white horse with several attendants surfaced upon the water. Instantly, Houyi attacked him, wounding him in the eye. The god then fled, leaving his companions behind. Next, Houyi took aim at the nearest figure but when he was about to fire, he noticed his target was a harmless girl. He swung his bow so that the arrow whistled harmlessly through her hair. The girl was Chang'e, the daughter of the water god that had fled. Houyi, stunned by her unearthly beauty, asked her on the spot to be his wife. Chang'e, with great respect for the hero, accepted the prosposal.

The next threat Houyi had to face was a plague of monsters marauding through the world. Among them was Chilseltooth, a fearsome giant with a single huge incisor protruding from the top of his mouth which he used to rend his victims' flesh. In addition, a monstrous water serpent was disrupting the calm of Lake Dongting, and the giant Windbird caused storms merely by flapping its wings. Houyi managed to fend off these menaces one after the other. For Houyi's service for the human realm, Emperor Yao bestowed on him the title of Marquis Pacifier of the Country.

The search for immortality

Although Houyi cared little about being banished from Heaven, he couldn't bear the fact that he would one day die
and become nothing. Searching for a way to regain his immortality, he traveled to the palace of Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, on Kunlun Mountain, seeking her elixir of immortality. The stories of the great hero Houyi were known to the goddess and she took pity on him and agreed to give him the elixir, but with one condition: knowing that Houyi was a skilled architect, she asked him to build her a summer palace in exchange for the immortality drug. He agreed and for many months he laboured and earned it. Before departing, Xi Wang Mu warned Houyi that these two elixir she gave him were the last of their kinds. Houyi planned to spend them on himself and his wife.

Chang'e's ascent to the Moon

When Houyi returned to his home, he found that Emperor Yao had urgent requests for him, and he made haste to respond. Houyi made a vital mistake by not taking the elixir immediately, and leaving them unguarded. While Houyi was hunting monstrous wild boars and dragons terrorizing the land, his wife stayed at home, and for months, he had no news of home.

In her boredom, Chang'e found the elixirs that her husband had left behind, and out of curiosity drank them both. At this momment, Houyi returned and to his surprise found his wife ascending to the moon. Houyi heard his wife's cry for help, tried to seize her but she was already beyond his reach. Chang'e would gain immortality and forever live alone on the moon with only white hares accompanying her.

The death of Houyi

The grief of the loss of his wife changed Houyi completely. He became violent and changed from a hero welcomed by the mortals to being hated as a tyrant.

Houyi had taught mortals the ways of using the bow and had a prized student called Feng Meng. Feng Meng's skills of archery had blossomed under Houyi's tutelage and soon he saw himself as worthy of comparison with Houyi. One day, Feng Meng challenged him in a shooting contest. Houyi easily beat him and convinced Feng Meng there was no way he could catch up to his master. Blinded by jealousy, Feng Meng decided to murder his teacher. To him, it was entirely justified as Houyi was no longer an honorable hero but a tyrant. One day during a hunt, he attacked him on the back with a club. Along with others that were angry at Houyi, he beat him to death. Although these men were to be brought to justice, the epic of Houyi finally came to a bitter end.


There are variations of the story of Houyi.

One of them involves Houyi being the chief of the Youqiong Tribe , saving the world from drought by shooting down the ten suns and slaying various beasts.

In popular culture

The tale was depicted in the music video of Australian rock band Powderfinger's 2003 hit, ''"Sunsets".''

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