For some reason, Chinatown can’t seem to lure an attractive moon goddess
By Mao Shan Wang
Last year, if you remember, Chinatown’s Mid-Autumn Festival celebration was visited by a shockingly masculine Chang’e (嫦娥). Unfathomable but true. I was thinking, perhaps the lunar immortal could not make the journey. The moon is, after all, 386,400 or so kilometers away. Was it possible that her husband Hou Yi (后羿) took her place instead? After all, it was a paid job. She could not have stood up the organiser, Chinatown Festival Committee. By hook or by crook, Chang’e had to be there, even in drag. But the people were disappointed. So un-goddess-like she was and so unappealing that a change was eventually put in place, but that jock-in-a-dress version stuck in my head.
However, not all lessons are to be learnt. The patroness of the Mid-Autumn Festival this year is, shall I say, also a less traditional moon goddess. Chang’e 2020 looks to be, er, pregnant. Now, lest I’m mistaken, there’s nothing wrong with an expectant goddess (in the Chinese pantheon, producing a good brood is not an alien concept), but I am not sure if it’s good for her to appear here, in Chinatown, with the suggestion that she has an active sex life with that archer husband of hers. Perhaps, she is merely reflecting what was written on one of the oblong lanterns nearby: 月圆人圆 (yue yuan ren yuan, moon round people round)! To be fair, if you view this Chang’e from the side, it appears that she is seated. But, to paraphrase the Big Bad Wolf, what big knees you have! Either that, or the poor goddess is suffering from elephantiasis!
The two Chang’es: from 2019 (left) and this year’s. Photos: (left) file and (right) Zhao Xiangji
I think this year, the real Chang’e is unable to be here—again—as she is possibly WFH (or should that be WFM—working from moon?). Inexplicably, it didn’t dawn on the Chinatown Festival Committee to install a video screen at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street/New Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street so that Chang’e could Zoom with the pedestrians, on the way to buying mooncakes. Instead, they installed what could be considered a personal maid (tieshen yahuan 贴身丫鬟) of a mistress (zhuzi 主子)—not likely to be Chang’e since her only companion on the moon is a rabbit. The substitute (or, to be topical, fake) moon goddess is, to be sure, attired like a domestic assistant, even too poor to afford proper maternity clothes (I’ll stick to the front view) and sadly still working when a baby is on the way. And the hair! Chang’e is known for her gorgeous hair, affixed with dazzling hair ornaments. Or, at least that is how she was depicted in ancient art. Our Chinatown imposter does not even have one hair pin (fazan 发簪)!
I have to admit that my idea of beauty is informed by my early, pre-pubescent acquaintances with Bessie and Fanny (The Enchanted Forest) and Nancy Drew (of her own eponymous series). But that does not mean I didn’t later learn about ancient Chinese beauties. I know they don’t look like the two Chinatown delineations. Before stealing the elixir of immortality from her husband, drinking it, and flying to the moon, Chang’e was an earthly beauty that was renowned throughout China. She was known to have skin the colour (and smoothness?) of milk, hair as black as night, and lips as pink as cherry blossoms. In art (and mooncake packaging, on which we now mostly see her depiction), we take in a regal woman in elegant, flowing robes. At this time, Chinatown, as The Straits Times wrote, is “aglow”, but, sadly, there is nothing glowing about this year’s dumpy Chang’e.