Wu Gang or Wu Kang, is a character in Chinese folklore and Taoism.  who was set the task of cutting down a self-healing bay laurel tree on the moon. The story of Wu Gang has often been associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival. The reason for this connection remains unclear, although different versions of the story offer several different explanations. 
The Book of the Master of Huainan, from the Han Dynasty, records that when the moon waxes, the foot of an immortal grows into a laurel. However, Wu Gang is not mentioned in that book. 
Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang records that the tree on the moon is over five hundred chi high, and Wu Gang of Xihe stands under it. It is also recorded that immortals are sent to the moon to chop down the laurel tree when they make a mistake. 
In the earliest known version of the story as it exists now, Wu Gang's wife had an affair with Yandi's grandson and had three sons with him. Wu murdered Yandi's grandson in revenge. Consequently, Yandi ordered Wu to be banished to the moon, where he would cut down a laurel tree. However, the tree healed itself after each blow. Consequently, Wu was forced to spend eternity trying to perform a task that could never be completed.
In another version of the tale, Wu Gang wished to learn to become an immortal but he did not try very hard. The Jade Emperor was furious, and decided to punish him. The Emperor created a cherry bay tree on the moon. Wu Gang was asked to chop itdown in order to become an immortal. Wu Gang tried to chop down the tree but, because of the tree's self-healing abilities, it was impossible. The shadows on the moon are said to be created by the cherry bay tree. 
In yet another version, Wu wished to be taught the method of eternal life. He found a teacher in the mountains. When his teacher tried to teach him to heal, Wu gave up after three days. When Wu was taught to play Chinese chess, he gave up learning after two days. When Wu received lessons in the method of eternal life, he lost interest after a day. His teacher sent him to the moon to chop down a tree of unnamed species. 
References in literatureEdit
- "Wu Kang". S.K.H. Kei Oi Primary School. http://www.keioi.edu.hk/MAF/story1.html. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
- "吳剛砍玉桂樹" (in Chinese). Hong Kong Space Museum. http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/Space/StarShine/Starlore/c_starshine_starlore8.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
- "Wu Gang Chops the Laurel". Taoist Culture and Information Centre. http://eng.taoism.org.hk/daoism-human-civilization/daoism-literature-art/pg5-2-5-23-5.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
- "Mid-Autumn Festival Story" (in English). http://www.itsaboutchina.com/mid-autumn.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
- "中秋傳說之——吳剛伐桂" (in Chinese). National Taipei University. http://www.ntpu.edu.tw/admin/a8/org/a8-6/files/www/moon/102.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-05.