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Chinese Custom--022: The Culture Behind the Mid-Autumn Festival-- Sep 15, 2016
The fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month in Chinese calendar is the Mid-autumn Festival of China. It is usually on a day in the late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. The Mid-autumn Festival of 2010 is on September 22, but in 2016, it is today -- September 15.

The word “Mid-autumn” was used in Zhou Dynasty (C.1100-771 B.C.) first time. It became a festival in the early period of Tang Dynasty (618 -907) and be prevailed in Song Dynasty (960-1127), until Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it has been equally famous as New Year’s Day and became one of Chinese main festivals. Since 2008, the government of China listed to be a National Holiday and every Chinese resident has a 3 days’ holiday of Mid-autumn Festival.

Because it is in the autumn, lunar August and most of the activities of the festival are round of Moon and reunions, therefore, it is also called “Autumn Festival”, “August Festival”, “Moon Festival”, “Reunion Festival” and so on.

The origin of Mid-Autumn Festival basically because of three reasons:

-- The moon worship of ancient Chinese people.
-- The custom of singing, dancing and look for spouse in the moonlight.
-- The institution of China’s ancient monarchs ? to worship the Sun in the spring and to worship the Moon in the autumn.

The Main Food of Mid-autumn Festival -- Moon Cake:

Moon cake is the main food of Mid-Autumn Festival.

-- At the first, moon cake was used as the sacrificial offerings in the ceremony to worship of the Luna
-- It became the food to celebrate the victory of the army in Tang Dynasty (618 -907). During the Gao Zu emperor of Tang Dynasty, the chief general Li Jing made a victory in the war to the Xiong Nu (Hun) and led his army back to the capital on 15th of lunar August. At this time some business men who was from Turpan offered some cake to celebrate the win. The emperor picked up the box of the cake and took out of the round cake, pointed the moon and said, “We should invite the hoptoad in the moon to eat the cake together”. Then he gave the cake to the officials to eat.

--- In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), there was the first word of Moon Cake..

-- Until Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), just had some describe of people enjoyed looking at moon, while ate Moon Cake ? “The lunar 15th of August is called Mid-Autumn Festival. In the folk, people send moon cakes each other and wish the meaning of reunion.”   

-- In Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), there were many recordings about moon cake and the making styles were more refined.

Right now, Moon cakes have been developed many different styles, there are at least North style, Su style, Guang style, Chao Style and so on.

Moon cake is round, it means the reunion, therefore, it is the food that must be eaten. Meanwhile, in the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, people also enjoy eating watermelon, fruit with the round figure, such as apple, plum, grapes, to wish all of the family members to live in a happiness, sweet and safety.

In today’s China, moon cake eating just symbolizes that we have spent the mid-autumn festival. And most of Chinese people do not really eat it and we even not want to buy it at all.

Anyway, as a custom, people enjoy sending it to someone who is respected, elder people as a gift, instead of the best or close friends.

Our company has keeping sending moon cakes to the parents of every employee as a gifts of the company for years.

The Most Famous Legends of the Mid-Autumn Festival:

-- Chang E flew to the Moon: In 2170 B.C., the earth was around by ten suns, each sun took its turn to illuminate to the earth. One day, all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat. A hero archer Hou used his bow and arrows to shoot down the nine suns and left one of them in the sky.

The queen of the heaven rewarded Hou Yi a bottle elixir that could make Hou Yi become an immortal and the elixir was only efficacious for one person. But, Hou Yi did want to become an immortal for he wanted to stay with his beautiful wife Chang E more, so he didn't drink the elixir and asked Chang E to keep it for him.

Hou Yi was becoming more and more famous after he shot down the nine suns and more and more men wanted Hou Yi to be their master. But, one of his students, Feng Meng wanted to seize his elixir. So, he went to Hou Yi's house and tried to force Chang'e to give him the elixir when Hou Yi did not at home. Knowing she couldn't defeat Feng Meng, Chang E drank the elixir immediately. Did not realizing that the elixir made her become an immortal and fly higher and higher. Finally, she stopped on the moon.

Hou Yi loved his her so much, therefore, he didn't shoot down the moon. And since then, people pray to Chang E for fortune and safety and offer lots of foods to Chang E in the During the Mid-Autumn Festival.

-- Wu Gang Cut the Tree of Cherry Bay: Wu Gang was a woodchopper. He always wanted to become an immortal, but did not try his best to learn the necessary theurgy   always so that the Emperor of the heaven got angry and   wanted to punish him. So, the Emperor planted a huge tree of cherry bay, which was 1665 meters (5460 feet) high, in the moon and ordered Wu Gang to chop it down, then Wu Gang could become an immortal.

Wu Gang was very serious this time, but he could never finish his work forever, because the cherry bay healed every time that Wu Gang chopped it.

So, on the unclouded nights, people can see some obvious shadows on the moon. They are just made by the huge tree of the cherry bay.

-- The Jade Rabbit:Three of fairies who lived in the heaven came to the earth. They asked a fox, a monkey and a rabbit to find some food for them. The fox and the monkey found something soon, while the rabbit got nothing.

The rabbit felt very sorry for the three fairies. So, he jumped into them and said, "Eat me, please!" The three ones were so moved so that they decided to give the rabbit the title of "Jade Rabbit" and let him accompany Chang'e in the Moon Palace.

The Main Activities of the Mid-Autumn Festival: There are different activities in different places in China. You can find them via Internet easily, and I will also write something that I have seen and felt about it for you next year... :-)

I really hope that my effort will some of the help with you to learn Chinese culture.

If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, please write to shirley@ebridge.cn .You are welcome to publish your opinions in Message Board as well.

Shirley Zhang

Written and edited September 15,2016