In East Asia, stories of the Moon Rabbit go back over 2000 years. The legends vary depending on the country telling them, but they all praise the Moon Rabbit as a healer and/or guardian.
According to Chinese legend, the Moon Rabbit is a companion to the moon goddess Chang’e and pounds the elixir of life for her in its pestle. In one legend told in and around Beijing, a deadly plague came to the city around 500 years ago and started killing many people. The only thing that could save the city from this epidemic was the Moon Rabbit. Chang’e sent the Moon Rabbit to earth to visit each family and cure them of this plague. The Moon Rabbit did just that and asked for nothing in return except some clothes. After curing the city of this plague, it returned to the moon.
Another widely told legend in Japan, Korea and China goes like this…
The Old Man of the Moon came down to Earth one day to test the kindness of three animal friends (a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox). Transformed as a beggar, the Old Man of the Moon wanted to know who was the kindest out of the three. He approached the friends, who were sitting around a fire, and asked if they had any food to spare. The monkey gathered an abundance of fruit for the beggar. The fox brought the man a fish. But the rabbit did not have anything to give and offered to give himself as a sacrifice to the man by throwing himself into the fire and allowing the beggar to eat him. Before the rabbit could do so, the Old Man of the Moon transformed back into his original form and saved the rabbit from the fire. He said that the rabbit was a very kind soul and took the rabbit to live on the moon with him to watch over the earth.