The first gate of the five moons is the fragile existence of birth and beauty. So it is that a father may celebrate the birth of his first daughter and behold beauty in her being. Joshua Chang Burns was born of missionary stock. His father a stern Scots minister of Calvinistic training and his mother a Chinese maiden who was tempted by the Christian ideal embodied by her husband. They were the yen and yang of Joshua’s life and the reason for his being an American citizen. The student revolution finally expelled the old Scot for even in death his body was denied burial on the mainland soil. His very young wife, who was contaminated by the western culture in the judgment of the Red Guard, was permitted to try and escape with her infant son. So begins the story of Su Lin Chang Burns.
Lian Chang Burns applied to the Calvinist mission society for relief and was met by that harsh Christian charity remittance for her efforts. The society booked her passage on one of the last tramp steamers of Philippine registry. She would travel for almost two months in steerage until she could reach Boston. A man dressed in a dark suit whose fashion had faded by fifty years picked her up at the dock and drove for hours into the rich country side until they reached a two story building that faintly resembled a once flurishin mission. Here he explained in chinese, for she spoke but a limited set of English phrases, she would work for the mission until she had, through her labor, reimbursed the mission for her passage. Later she could apply for one of the regular jobs in the mission’s areas of work. Lian expected such humble conditions as her fate. But she also felt very fortunate to be in America where her son could become a man without fear of the government.
So began the journey into manhood for Joshua for his mother, without complaint or tiredness, worked for the mission as he grew in stature and in learning. She worked in the soup kitchens in Boston and then New York. The boy often helped in the kitchen washing the pots, pans, and dinnerware. He was schooled privately by one of the ministers who took a liking to the child. Besides his bible and Calvinistic theology, he was taught literature and math, science and geography, and many other subjects thought necessary for a minister to know. His mother taught him the Chinese of her homeland and the fables and folk songs of her childhood. The years passed until one day he won a scholarship to NYU. This is the second gate of the moon where the darts of knowledge are loosed upon those who desire them. Thus with his scholarship he was free from the study of theology at a Calvinist seminary. “I shall study the history and culture of my mother’s people. I shall study their writings and their philosophy.” A bold declaration for any boy on the edge of manhood to make. The moon smiled at the boy, now becoming man as he passed his time beneath the second gate. Year after year he studied and worked, for he needed more sustenance than learning, and the time came when he graduated from his studies. “I like this life and I have a chance to linger in these halls of learning. I shall spend but another few years and then take my place in the world.” And so it was, Joshua spent a few more years in the halls of learning and achieved much distinction. His mother Lian was proud of her son and his high station in this new country. He left the halls of learning and went into the world to seek his fortune, for surely there were many who would need his talents.
The journey was a short one for he found an import/export company in need of his knowledge. He found men like himself who could speak chinese and converse in philosophy. But more than that they could provide a sure knowledge of his own culture, help him acquire an identity he was eager to acquire. Once again the lady of the moon smiled upon him and led him through the third gate where the moon loosed the golden darts of love. Wen Chi Ho has a lovely daughter who admired the learning of Joshua and his high status as a man of philosophy. Diligence is rewarded for who but a diligent man can afford a bride of such beauty. Lijuan was as beautiful and graceful as her mane implied. Her father had chosen such a name and had not been disappointed. It was during this time that Joshua was referred to by his Chinese name of Chang for he was good, he flourished, and he prospered. Soon his wife was with child and birth came with the spring blossoms. He sent for his mother to come and live with him and his wife and his child, for he was now a successful man with high status. Indeed, his pride grew to match his high status.
Sometimes a wise man will step back and view his life and what he believes it represents. Chang was very sure of himself and his place in life. He was a good son and cared for the comfort of his mother. He was a good husband and indulged his wife with both the necessities and a few luxuries of life. And he was a good father who took pride in his daughter’s accomplishments for she was learning to play the violin and was good in her school work. And he was a good son in law who saw after his father in law and his wife. He was proud of having come from poverty and death to wealth and high status. But pride blinds the eyes and a man will fail to see the calamities of life before him. Cancer would take his wife before her daughter reached the age of sixteen. There was great sadness in the house. Then his mother would succumb to a heart attack when his daughter was a junior in the university. Fortune was no longer smiling upon Chang or his house. In a year’s time the house of Wen Chi Ho would suffer great losses in business and have to answer to the courts of law. Chang had reached the fourth gate of the moon when the white jade coldness froze his heart and he held his duty above all else in life. Even that of his daughter. At fifty he was still a young man in his body. But his heart was like that of an old man ravaged by time. He withdrew to the quiet of his own house, to the quiet of solitude, for his daughter had left for the gaiety of the city life. They had not spoken for years, their voices for each other lay like thick dust on the shelf. And in the darkness of the night Chang passed under the fifth gate beneath the fifth moon. His heart filled with sorrow for the fifth moon was death.
Author’s note: This story is based on a Chinese folk tale and like all folk tales is in reality a morality play. This exercise, for it is an exercise, offers the possibility of becoming a book. It speaks to a few universal truths in life, about life, and are life. This particular story offers one possibility as a general outline. But there are a few others that may be more appropriate. You may expect this story to be told several times and in different ways.