The Mid-autumn Festival or “Zhong Chiu Jie” [中秋節] in 2011 falls on 12 September.
A SHORT HISTORY OF MID AUTUMN FESTIVAL
Chinese culture is over 5000 years old, and moon worshipping, which became a prominent celebration during the Shang dynasty, is more than 3,000 years old. The ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the moon in the autumn, believing that the practice would ensure bountiful harvest the following year.
The appellative “mid-autumn” was coined during the Zhou Dynasty. People, from peasants to court officials to rich families, worshipped the moon on the 15th night of the eighth lunar month. This celebration continued during the Tang Dynasty and to the Song Dynasty. The elite typically held lavish parties and drank and appreciated the bright moon while the peasants prayed to the moon for good health, blessings and good harvest in the following growing season.
MOONCAKE — THE ART OF WAR AND FORTUNE COOKIE SMS
China, during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) was ruled by the Mongols. The Chinese Han people’s army wanted to overthrow the aliens. Cleverly, the Hans devised a smart war strategy to mass communicate their war plans, to enlist all Chinese to secretly revolt to overthrow the Mongols.
The moon-cake was the centrepiece of the Chinese uprising. It was disguised as a multi-faceted festivity sweet-cake.
a) the moon cake was an offering to the Moon;
b) the moon-cake was a panacea (preventive medicine), and
c) the moon-cake was ancient China’s fortune cookie, or like today’s s.m.s.
A wise military counsellor, Liu Bowen, capitalized the mid-autumn festival to enlist the masses to overthrow the Mongols. First, he instructed the Han soldiers to spread rumours that a certain epidemic disease would break-out during winter and eating the moon-cake would be their preventive medicine. With this thought, he contrived that a short message “Uprising. Night of Mid-Autumn Festival” to be embedded in the filling of specially made moon-cake. These moon-cakes were then sold to the Han people. How clever was this s.m.s. before we had mobile phones!
In 1368, when the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came, the Hans “opened” their “fortune cookie”, only to receive instructions to join the uprising. Under the disguise of appreciating the moon, they took to arms. Consequently, there was a huge uprising and the Mongols were defeated and driven out of China.
The Ming Dynasty followed. From then on, Chinese people eat moon-cake every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate their victorious uprising. No more “fortune cookies” but fillings are now predominantly sweet paste, with some variety including salted duck egg yolks.
Zhong Chiu Jie [中秋節] today would not be complete without lanterns to light up the night. Legend has it that once China was stricken with drought and hardships because 10 suns illuminated the Central Kingdom. The people suffered because their lands were scorched and crops failed. Widespread hardship and famine occured during the reign of Emperor Yao [尧 circa, 2356-2255 BC. He is also known as Tang Yao (唐堯)]. A country besieged by calamities, Emperor Yao commanded the country’s finest archer to shoot all the suns, save one.
The archer, Houyi [后羿] completed his task valiantly and with ease. He was rewarded a pill by the Goddess of the Western Sky to make him immortal. His wife, Chang-er [嫦娥]found out about the pill and ate it instead.
She became immortal and rose heavenwards. But, she chose the moon for her abode since it is nearest Earth. Chinese legend maintains that on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a silhouette of Chang-e could be seen on the moon. And, on this night, people lit and continue to light lanterns as remembrance to the suns which shone upon China a long time ago and to revere Chang-e. To day, Mid-Autumn Festival is synonymously known as Lantern Festival.
Did you know China’s first lunar probe rocket is co-incidentally named Chang-e No. 1 [嫦娥一号]? Here’s a part photo of the lunar polar landscape captured from Chang-e 1.
Lunar Polar landscape © Jan 2008 The Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, China., from Xin-Hua News Agency.
1. China Highlights: History and Origin of Mid-Autumn Festival
2. Chinese Culture: Mid-Autumn Festival
3. Wikipedia, Mid-Autumn Festival
4. Traveller Folio: Mid-Autumn Festival
5. Wikipedia: Emperor Yao, Houyi, Chang-e
6. Chang’e-1 captures pictures of moon’s polar areas
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