CHINESE TALES: THE STORY OF MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
Are you in China? Then there’s a chance you will be around for the Mid-Autumn Festival. It falls on the 15thday of the 8thmonth of the Chinese lunar calendar each year (on the 13thSeptember on the Western Calendar this year) when the moon is at its roundest and biggest, hence why it is also known as the ‘Moon festival’. But do you know the story behind it? With the help of Travel China Guide’s in-depth coverage of the Mid-Autumn festival, here is a summary of everything you need to know.
A Brief History
The moon has always held a special place in Chinese culture, even the Chinese calendar is based on the moon’s phases. It was very early in ancient China when the Chinese observed and associated the moon’s cycle with the passing of the seasons and agriculture, thus the moon’s importance and worth in terms of venerating, worshiping and sacrifice. This can be traced back over thousands of years of Chinese history, all the way back to the Zhou dynasty (1045-221 BC) where Chinese emperors would give sacrifice and worship the moon in autumn in the hope that it would herald a prosperous and plentiful harvest the coming year. This happened particularly in the royal courts and societies, it wasn’t till later in the Sui and Tang (618 - 907 AD) dynasties in which the custom spread and became extremely popular among common folk too. Widely celebrated and recognized, it was during the Song dynasty (960 - 1279 AD) that the Mid-Autumn Festival became official and the tradition has stood the test of time, becoming a Chinese public holiday in 2008.
The Legend of Chang E
Chinese culture is filled with amazing legends and fables, and there is a widely known tale that is celebrated as the origins of the festival. It is the story of Chang E. It is called ‘Chang E Flies to the Moon’ and this is the story...
In ancient times ten suns reigned in the sky causing sweltering heat and drought, making life extremely difficult to live, the crops were dying and it was just too dry. A brave archer named Hou Yiwho possessed great shooting skills, shot down nine of the ten suns. He became a revered hero and many people followed him. As a reward the heavenly queen gave him an elixir which once drunk will allow him to ascend to heaven and become immortal, become a God. However Hou Yi thought the elixir was too great a reward for him or anyone else and did not want to leave his beautiful and kind wife, Chang E,so he gave the elixir to her to look after. Unfortunately one of Hou Yi’s followers, the evil and greedy Peng Meng saw this...
One day, on the 15thof the 8thLunar month, when Hou Yi was out hunting, the evil Peng Meng broke into their home looking for the elixir. He threatened Chang E to give it to him. She could not overcome him, so she did the only thing she could, she drank the elixir herself. She ascended and her love for her husband made her fly all the way to the moon, the closest place to Earth she could be. Hou Yi went home and found that Chang E had disappeared. He went everywhere looking for her but could not find her, he shouted Chang E’s name into the sky, at last he was amazed to see a figure just like his wife on the moon. Chang E stared back longingly and affectionately at her husband. He tried to run to the moon but the moon kept on getting further and further away. He could never reach her. So Hou Yi took all the food that Chang E liked to an altar and offered the banquet as a sacrifice to her. He would do this every 15thday of the 8thlunar month in hope of being with her again. Because of the villagers fondness of Chang E, folks also lay their sacrifice on this day. Ever since this cherished day has become known as the day Chang E flew to the moon and separated with her beloved husband. And so the Mid-Autumn festival has become a time where families reunite to appreciate and worship the moon.
So what are the customs and traditions people usually take part in during Mid-Autumn Festival? As we touched upon before moon sacrificing which began thousands of years ago is something we will seldom see now in Modern China. Nowadays the act of appreciating the moon is most popular. Families and close friends with gather and reunite together to share their appreciation and worship for the moon, and enjoy the moon in the night sky. For those family members who are afar, strong yearnings are expressed to them. The custom of appreciating the moon evolved from the more serious act of moon sacrificing over time. Now it is a more relaxed and joyous occasion. There are many ancient works of Chinese literature which demonstrate appreciation of the moon and express yearning for family, one of the most famous poems by the great poet, Li Bai, I called ‘A Quiet Night’s Thought, you can read it through the following link: https://www.instantmandarin.com/news/chinese_poetry_reading_1
The customary food for the Mid-Autumn Festival is the synonymous mooncake. And this is said to have begun as far back as the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368AD), where the army would hide messages in mooncakes to get it around secretly. The leader would also hand out mooncakes as gifts to all his soldiers during the Mid-Autumn festival. Since then the custom of sacrificing mooncake was established. In ancient times a big mooncake would be cut and each member of the family and even those who weren’t there would receive a serving to sacrifice. It was considered auspicious to sacrifice to the moon, and because the mooncake and the moon are both round, they both represent reunion of the family. However in modern times, families just gather together and share and feast in mooncake.
You may ask what is mooncake and why is it so special. Well, you’ve got to give it a try. It’s a delicious pastry cake with a thick and tender outer skin and a dense and sweet filling inside.
What should you do during Mid-Autumn Festival?
You should travel and see more of China! But the one thing you must do is try and eat mooncake!
Last but not least our Mid-Autumn Chinese Learning: Keywords
Zhōngqiū jié - 中秋节 - Mid Autumn Festival
Zhù nǐ zhōngqiū jié kuàilè!
Wish you a happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
Tuányuán - 团圆 - reunion
Zhōngqiū jié shì yìjiā rén tuányuán de rìzi.
Mid-Autumn Festival is a day of family reunion.
Yuèbǐng - 月饼 - Mooncake
Zhōngqiū jié nǐ yīnggāi chī yuèbǐng.
During Mid-Autumn Festival you should eat mooncake.
Shǎng yuè - 赏月 - to enjoy, admire and appreciate the moon
Měi yī nián de zhōngqiū jié wǒmen dōu yìqǐ shǎng yuè.
Every year during the Mid-Autumn Festival, we all enjoy the moon together.
Yuèliàng - 月亮 - Moon
Zhōngqiū jié de yuèliàng shì zuì dà zuì yuán de.
The Mid-Autumn Festival’s moonis biggest and roundest.
Nónglì - 农历 - Chinese Lunar Calendar
Nǐ zhīdào zhōngqiū jié de nónglì shíjiān ma?
Do you know when Mid-Autumn Festival is on the Lunar Calendar?
Cháng é bēnyuè - 嫦娥奔月 - Chang E Flies to the Moon
*The famous legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival
The two main characters are:
Hòu yì - 后羿 - Hou Yi
Cháng é - 嫦娥 - Chang E
If this has got you interested in learning more Chinese, well, we have professional 1-to-1 online Chinese lessons just for you. Sign up today and get your free trial. What are you waiting for!