The Moon rabbit (月兔), Moon hare, or Jade rabbit (玉兔) is a figure from folklore based on the dark marks of the moon appearing as a rabbit pounding a mortar. The Moon rabbit features in several East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Native American cultures. In some places, like China and Vietnam, the hare is pounding the elixir of immortality or mooncakes, while in others, like Japan and Korea, he's making mochi or other rice cakes. In Chinese mythology, the Moon rabbit is the companion of the beautiful moon goddess Chang'e, the central figure from the legend that gave rise to the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Needing to find a medicine maker to prepare the divine elixir of life for the immortals, the wise Jade Emperor disguised himself as a poor old man and entered the forest to find a worthy candidate. He came across three animals: a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit, who saw his sad and hungry state and decided to help. The monkey and fox quickly were able to procure food from the forest, but the noble rabbit, having nothing to offer, selflessly threw himself into the fire to offer himself as a meal. Touched by the virtue and sacrifice of this animal, the Jade Emperor revealed himself, saved the rabbit, and placed him on the moon as the divine medicine maker of the immortals.
The Moon rabbit has come to symbolize sacrifice and selflessness because of his actions and can be seen on the surface of the full moon, still pounding away with his mortar and pestle. He lives in the lunar palace with Chang'e. He even makes an appearance in the renowned Journey to the West novel, in which he fights Sun Wukong.
In December of 2013, the Chinese rover Yutu (玉兔, or Jade Rabbit), named after the mythical figure, landed on the moon as part of one of the Chang'e missions. It died in August of 2016 after more than two years of roaming the moon, collecting data on its topography and geology.