Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chinese Mooncake Festival

Chinese Mooncake Festival has many names such as Mid Autumn Festival, Lantern Festival and also Moon Festival. Whatever name we call it, this festival goes hand in hand with mooncakes and lanterns. And it is a celebration of unity.

Every year on the fifteenth day of the eight month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the Chinese celebrate Mooncake Festival otherwise known as “zhongqiujie”. At this point in time, the moon being at the fullest and roundest shines on us with its utmost brilliance. Many a times we listened to the tale of the Moon Goddess living on the moon. This legend dates back to 2170BC during the reign of Emperor Yao. According to legend, at that time there were ten suns. This phenomenon was causing the earth to burn. Emperor Yao then ordered the great archer General Houyi to shoot down the nine additional suns. Houyi succeeded in this almost impossible task and was rewarded with a pill that gives eternal life. However he has to pray and fast for a year before consuming the pill. One day his beautiful wife Chang’e found the pill and swallowed it. She began to float towards the sky and finally ended up on the moon. And she lived there ever since. Legend has it that Chang’e beauty is the greatest on “zhongqiujie”.

This description appears in written form in two Western Han dynasty collections (206 BC-24 AD):

1) Shan Hai Jing, the Classic of the Mountains and Seas

2) Huainanzi, a philosophical classic.

A famous folk tale surrounding Chinese Mid Autumn Festival is the uprising of the Chinese against the Mongol rulers in the 14th century. The Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang was planning for a rebellion. However group gatherings were banned by the Mongols. How do the Chinese coordinate this plan? Knowing that the Mongols do not eat mooncakes, they distributed thousands of mooncakes to the people on the pretext of blessing the Mongol emperor. Inside each mooncake was a piece of paper with a message. “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th month”. On that day with the precise coordination, the Chinese succeeded in overthrowing their oppressors. Under Zhu, the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) was established. And Festival Moon cakes was celebrated henceforth to commemorate this unforgettable event.

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