Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節

Mid-Autumn Festival (zhōng qiu jié, 中秋節) a.k.a. Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival (do not confuse this Lantern Festival a.k.a. Yuan Xiao Jie with the one during Chinese New Year) falls on 19th September this year. Coinciding with the autumn equinox, this major Chinese festival is celebrated not only in China but among the Chinese community across Asia.

There are many stories about the origins of Mid-Autumn Festival, and the one most associated with the festival is the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e, which itself has multiple versions.

It’s story telling time! 🙂

Version One:

According to legend, Chang’e and her husband Houyi were immortals living in heaven. One day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor transformed into ten suns, causing the earth to scorch. Having failed to order his sons to stop ruining the earth, the Jade Emperor summoned Houyi for help. Houyi, using his legendary archery skills, shot down nine of the sons, but spared one son to be the sun. The Jade Emperor was obviously not pleased with Houyi’s solution to save the earth: nine of his sons were dead. As punishment, the Jade Emperor banished Houyi and Chang’e to live as mere mortals on earth.

Seeing that Chang’e felt extremely miserable over her loss of immortality, Houyi decided to journey on a long, perilous quest to find the pill of immortality so that the couple could be immortals again. At the end of his quest he met the Queen Mother of the West who agreed to give him the pill, but warned him that each person would only need half the pill to become immortal.

Houyi brought the pill home and stored it in a case. He warned Chang’e not to open the case and then left home for a while. Chang’e became too curious: she opened up the case and found the pill just as Houyi was returning home. Nervous that Houyi would catch her discovering the contents of the case, she accidentally swallowed the entire pill. She started to float into the sky because of the overdose. Although Houyi wanted to shoot her in order to prevent her from floating further, he could not bear to aim the arrow at her. Chang’e kept on floating until she landed on the Moon.

While she became lonely on the Moon without her husband, she did have company. A jade rabbit, who manufactured elixirs, also lived on the Moon. The mythologies of Japan and Korea also feature references about rabbits living on the Moon.

Another companion is the woodcutter Wu Gang. The woodcutter offended the gods in his attempt to achieve immortality and was therefore banished to the Moon. Wu Gang was allowed to leave the Moon if he could cut down a tree that grew there. The problem was that each time he chopped on the tree, the tree would instantly grow back, effectively condemning him to live on the Moon for eternity.

Version Two:

Chang’e was a beautiful young girl working in the Jade Emperor’s palace in heaven, where immortals, good people and fairies lived. One day, she accidentally broke a precious porcelain jar. Angered, the Jade Emperor banished her to live on earth, where ordinary people lived. She could return to the Heaven, if she contributed a valuable service on earth.

Chang’e was transformed into a member of a rich farming family. When she was 18, a young hunter named Houyi from another village spotted her, now a beautiful young woman. They became friends.

One day, a strange phenomenon occurred—10 suns arose in the sky instead of one, blazing the earth. Houyi, an expert archer, stepped forward to try to save the earth. He successfully shot down nine of the suns, becoming an instant hero. He eventually became king and married Chang’e.

But Houyi grew to become greedy and selfish. He sought immortality by ordering an elixir be created to prolong his life. The elixir in the form of a single pill was almost ready when Chang’e came upon it. She either accidentally or purposely swallowed the pill. This angered King Houyi, who went after his wife. Trying to flee, she jumped out the window of a chamber at the top of the palace—and, instead of falling, she floated into the sky toward the Moon. King Houyi tried unsuccessfully to shoot her down with arrows.

In contrast to the first version, her companion, a rabbit, does not create elixir of life. Aside from the rabbit, the Moon is also inhabited by a woodcutter who tries to cut down the cassia tree, giver of life. But as fast as he cuts into the tree, it heals itself, and he never makes any progress. The Chinese use this image of the cassia tree to explain mortal life on earth—the limbs are constantly being cut away by death, but new buds continually appear.

Meanwhile, King Houyi ascended to the sun and built a palace. So Chang’e and Houyi came to represent the Yin and Yang, the Moon and the Sun.

Version Three:

Chang’e was a human in the mortal world. She was a palace maid. Suddenly, 10 suns appeared in the sky and the earth became very hot. The king looked for a person with accurate archery skills to shoot down nine of the suns. A commoner called Hou Yi saw that the situation was getting bad. He took out his arrow and bow and shot down the nine suns with nine arrows. the King was pleased and wanted to reward him. Hou Yi was in love with Chang’e and wanted to marry her. The king gave her to him as a reward. The two lived happily until one day, a mysterious old man came and gave Hou Yi an elixir that could make him live forever. Hou Yi hesitated whether to take the pill. He was unsure and left the pill under his pillow on the bed. Chang’e found the pill. She did not know what it was and just swallowed it. Chang’e became immortal and flew to the moon. Hou Yi was devastated and died. People used lit lanterns to light up the earth so that Chang’e can see them on the Earth.

Version Four:

Once upon a time in ancient China, 10 suns hung in the sky. The heat of the suns caused droughts and there was nothing to harvest. The emperor of China asked his master archer, Hou Yi, to shoot down all but one of suns.

As instructed, Hou Yi climbed to the top of Kunlun Mountain and shot down 9 suns. The emperor was very happy and conferred Hou Yi a national hero. He rewarded the archer with a magical pill that would grant him immortality. However, Hou Yi had a beautiful wife named Chang’e, and he did not wish to become an immortal without her so he did not consume the elixir.

Hou Yi had a very ambitious apprentice, Feng Meng, who accidentally discovered the existence of the pill and knew his teacher had it. One day, when Hou Yi was away, Feng Meng confronted Chang’e and tried to force her to give him the pill. During the struggle, Chang’e pop the pill into her mouth and swallowed it. Immediately, she flew up into the moon and became immortal.

When Hou Yi returned home, he found his beloved wife missing. Learning from the servants what had happened, Hou Yi burned incense and prepared food offerings, and the practice spread throughout China. It is said that during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chang’e and Hou Yi are reunited, which is why Mid-Autumn Festival is also an important day for families to come together.

During Mid-Autumn Festival, people traditionally eat mooncakes and look at the full moon, hoping to catch a glimpse of Chang’e, the rabbit and the woodcutter.

P.S. On Mid-Autumn Day, the full Moon night of the eighth lunar month, an open-air altar is set up facing the Moon for the worship of Chang’e. New pastries are put on the altar for her to bless. She is said to endow her worshippers with beauty.

Mid-Autumn Festival is today and mooncakes (yuè bing, 月餅) are a must-have for the celebration.

The legend behind mooncakes is also an interesting tale: During the Tang Dynasty (1271-1368), Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋), a leader of the Han army, and his advisor Liu Bowen (劉伯溫), devised a plan to overthrow the ruling Mongol government. In order to covertly recruit the Han people for the rebellion, soldiers spread a rumor that the only way to protect themselves from a deadly disease come winter was to eat a mooncake (something Mongols didn’t consume). Cleverly hidden inside each mooncake was a paper message about the revolt that would occur during the Mid-Autumn Festival. This secret plot successfully led to the Mongol government being overthrown. Since then, mooncakes have been an integral part of the festival.

Mooncakes are typically round or square, measuring at 4 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. Traditional mooncakes are baked and have thin, soft and artfully decorated crust covering a sweet, rich filling, varying in flavors from the usual lotus seed paste, red bean paste, five kernels (Hainanese), and often with one or more (4 even!) salted duck egg yolks in the center, to modern flavours made with Snow Skin 冰皮, like fruits, flowers & tea infusions and ice cream fillings.

People don’t usually buy mooncakes for themselves, but to give their friends and relatives as presents. The exchange of mooncakes are done well in advance of the Mid Autumn festival. Hence, mooncakes are sold in elegant boxes for presentation purpose.

Most families stay at home for a “reunion” dinner and eat mooncakes afterwards. Children will carry lanterns while the adults enjoy mooncakes, together with some pomelo and Chinese tea with their mooncakes.

Traditional Mooncakes are baked.

Traditional Mooncakes are baked.

They can be without salted egg yolks or usually stuffed with one (up to 4) into the centre of the lotus paste.

They can be without salted egg yolks but usually people buy those stuffed with one (up to 4) into the centre of the lotus paste for relatives and friends, since those with yolks are more expensive and thus more presentable.

I like mine with one yolk. The "savoury" from salted egg yolk cuts the sweetness of the lotus paste.

I like mine with one yolk. The “savoury” from salted egg yolk cuts the sweetness of the lotus paste.

The Original Raffles Singapore Mooncakes. 8 pieces per box - S$68.

The Original Raffles Singapore Mooncakes.
8 pieces per box – S$68.

Snow-Skin Mooncake with Champagne Truffle & Ganache 冰皮香槟巧克力月饼 from "The Original Raffles Singapore Mooncakes" is the only mooncake my elder daughter will eat.

Snow-Skin Mooncake with Champagne Truffle & Ganache 冰皮香槟巧克力月饼 from “The Original Raffles Singapore Mooncakes” is the only mooncake my elder daughter will eat.

She's an ardent fan of Ping Pei 冰皮 and do not like the traditional baked type, neither is she a fan of salted egg yolks.

She’s an ardent fan of Ping Pei 冰皮 and do not like the traditional baked type, neither is she a fan of salted egg yolks.

The ivory-coloured treat, featuring an exquisitely handcrafted Champagne truffle that is delicately enclosed in velvety white lotus paste and enfolded in a duvet of tender snow-skin 冰皮, is a perennial favourite of hers.

The ivory-coloured treat, featuring an exquisitely handcrafted Champagne truffle that is delicately enclosed in velvety white lotus paste and enfolded in a duvet of tender snow-skin 冰皮, is a perennial favourite of hers.

Hand crafted Champagne truffle delicately swathed in creamy white lotus paste.

Hand crafted Champagne truffle delicately swathed in creamy white lotus paste.

Story credits and texts: Wikipedia and other Online sources.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!  中秋节快乐! 😀

P.S. I must apologise if some of the information given by me were wrong. In my excitment, I may have failed to listen attentively.

Advertisements
Comments
16 Responses to “Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節”
  1. BeWithUs says:

    中秋节快乐!

    Cheers!! 😀

    • Sam Han says:

      Hope you had a great time with family! Did you get a lantern? 😀

      • BeWithUs says:

        Thank you, my friend! 😀

        Nah..no lantern…LOL…but I did manage to have a piece of moon cake and a cup of duke tea …hehe…

        Have a great weekend ahead, always~ Cheers!!!

      • Sam Han says:

        Duke tea??? Something new! I only knew the Earl hahahha!

      • BeWithUs says:

        Haha…I just translated the Chinese name into English…not sure if its English name would be this…anyway, it is a type of English tea but my mom didn’t add in sugar…so it tasted like Chinese tea…not bad…but I prefer sugar and milk in it…hehe…

        Cheers!! 😀

      • Sam Han says:

        I used to have Chinese tea drinking session every afternoon when I was living in Malaysia. Very nice ritual. Like wine tasting. There’s an art to drinking it. Cheers!

      • BeWithUs says:

        Yes…have been to those ‘Cha Guan’ with my friends in the past…it was a very interesting experience indeed…

        Cheers!! 😀

  2. Lignum Draco says:

    Thanks for the stories. I find more than 1 yolk in a mooncake a bit much.

  3. Laura Lynn says:

    Such wonderful stories! You don’t have to worry about Chang’e giving you beauty as you already have so much. Lovely pics of the moon cakes. I wonder if we could find some over here. I’d like to try something with a salted egg yolk in it.

    • Sam Han says:

      Perhaps you may find some from a Chinese or Asian mart? One of my Canadian friend found some. He’ll let me know if he (and wife) likes them. Haha, I hope they do. 😀

  4. renxkyoko says:

    I have always wondered about the rabbit embossed on the mooncakes. Now, I know.

  5. Definitely choose the moon cake within salted egg yolk!
    we had the savuory taste too over here, it made of egg yolk, lotus seed and scallop and some pork…..
    pretty delicious

  6. Janet Rörschåch says:

    Love all the versions of the story. Thank you for sharing. Hope you had a wonderful festival!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s