A legend recorded in a Chinese book, Huainanzi 淮南子, compiled around 139 BCE says a beautiful girl called Chang E (嫦娥) has been living on the moon for thousands of years. Chang E swallowed elixir and her body became so light that she ascended to heaven, settling down on the nearest planet, the Moon.
At first, ancient pictures of this story only showed a toad, an osmanthus tree, and her pet bunny, who is often seen standing on his hind feet pounding some medicine in a mortar. Later on, ‘plucking a branch of osmanthus blossom’ became a metaphor for ‘top contestants in examinations’ and Chang E turned out to be a popular bestower of blessings for scholars and students.
blue-and-white covered tureen, Kangxi period (1662-1722) with Jiajing mark, Qing dynasty, courtesy of the Stamen Collection
blue-and-white covered tureen, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
blue-and-white covered tureen, c.1700, courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Holland