The Emperor’s Journey to the Moon
The year: 712 C.E. The place: the great Chang’an, meaning “eternal peace.” This is the capital city of the Tang Dynasty, the most glorious and prosperous of all dynasties throughout China’s 5,000 years. It is time for the reign of a new “Son of Heaven”—Emperor Tang Xuanzong.
Xuanzong was not the eldest son of Emperor Ruizong, but he was the most talented. And so, with unrest brewing in the imperial palace, he was chosen to succeed and took the throne at 27 years old.
He enjoyed studying the Tao, or the Way of the universe. Xuanzong often invited well-known Taoist masters to his palace, and became friends with one of the “Eight Taoist Immortals,” Master Zhang Guolao, famous for riding his donkey backward. The Taoist tradition is replete with feats of magic, and accomplished practitioners would sometimes casually demonstrate their abilities for the emperor. And then, one day, it happened.
It was in that first year of Xuanzong’s reign that a Taoist master invited him to go on an unusual excursion—a journey to the Moon Palace. The old Taoist tossed his staff into the sky, where it morphed into a gigantic silver bridge stretching up toward the heavens, disappearing in the direction of Earth’s satellite. The Taoist and the emperor stepped onto the bridge and left the planet.
They ascended for some time before being dazzled by a great luminescence before them. Approaching the moon, they found themselves in front of the gate of a grand city. This, explained the Taoist, was the Moon Palace.
In the Moon Palace, beautiful heavenly maidens danced. Some were riding magical white birds while others were playing musical instruments and dancing in a spacious court surrounded by evergreens.
“What is that costume they are wearing?” Xuanzong asked the old Taoist.
“That is called ‘Rainbow Skirts, Feather Coats’,” the Taoist replied. “They are playing a tune called ‘Purple Cloud Melody’.”
Xuanzong fastened the melody in his memory. Soon their brief visit was over, and the old Taoist and Xuanzong descended back to Earth, to the courtyard of the imperial palace in the capital city of Chang’an. There, in the still night illumed by the moon’s beaming gaze, Xuanzong could almost hear the tune of the maidens’ dance. He immediately wrote down the music and the dance.
To this day, "Rainbow Skirts, Feather Coats" continues to be performed, here on Earth. Perhaps, some day, the celestial ladies of the Moon Palace will come down to grace us with a visit.
The 2013 Shen Yun dance, The Emperor Journeys to the Moon was inspired by this story.