Mid-Autumn Festival 2010 Clarke Quay, Singapore River

Mid-Autumn Festival

On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival or Zhong Qiu Jie (中秋節). It was first called Zhong Qiu Jie in the Zhou Dynasty. Also known as the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival, it usually falls around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a time for family members and loved ones to congregate and enjoy the full moon - an auspicious symbol of abundance, harmony and luck. The festival also seeing people indulging in mooncakes and tea, another familiar sight is that of young children playing with lanterns. The moon is believed to be at its brightest and roundest on this day. This festival began as a harvest festival and was later given a mythological flavour with legends of Chang'E.

Mooncakes

The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake (月饼), of which there are many different varieties. Mooncakes are offered between friends and as gifts to senior relatives. It is also used for offerings to ancestors. To the Chinese, the round shape of mooncakes symbolises family unity. Each mooncake is about the size of a human palm. They usually come in a box of four and are packaged in tin boxes with traditional Chinese motifs.

Among the popular varieties are the black bean paste (tou-sha), brownish lotus paste (lien-yung), yellow bean paste (tou-yung). Usually the paste contains the yolk of a preserved duck's egg to enhance the flavour. The traditional pastry has a flaky skin with a lotus seed paste and a whole egg yolk in the center (to symbolize the moon). However, lotus seed is very expensive so red bean paste is often substituted. These mooncakes are quite filling, meant to be cut diagonally in quarters and passed around. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.

Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for "longevity" or "harmony" as well as the name of the bakery and the filling in the moon cake. Imprints of the moon, the Chang'E woman on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit (symbol of the moon) may surround the characters for additional decoration.

Chang'E


Taoist deity Chang'E who stole the elixir of immortality.
Creator: Taiso, Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892, artist.

The most popular legend is that of Chang'E (嫦娥), the Moon fairy. Around 2170 B.C., during King Yao's rule, 10 suns appeared in the sky, scorching the earth with their heat. The earth was saved when a strong archer, Hou Yi, succeeded in shooting down 9 of the suns. One day, Hou Yi stole the elixir of life from a goddess. But to save the people from his tyrannical rule as an emperor, his wife, Chang'E drank it and flies to the moon with her pet rabbit. Hence there was this legend of the lady in the moon with her Jade Rabbit. There are many variations to this legend.

Zhu Yuan Zhang

In the 14th century, the eating of mooncakes at 'Zhong Qiu Jie' was given a new significance. In 1280 AD, the Mongolians destroyed the Song Dynasty and controlled China during the Yuan Dynasty, 元朝, (1280 - 1368). Under Mongolian rule, Chinese people were oppressed, persecuted and treated like slaves.

The Chinese patriot Zhu Yuan Zhang plotted to overthrow the Yuan dynasty. Zhu needed to find a way of uniting the people to revolt on the same day without letting the Mongolian rulers learn of the plan. Zhu's close advisor, Liu Fu Tong, devised a brilliant idea. Liu sought permission from Mongolian leaders to honor the longevity of the Mongolian emperor by giving gifts to friends and family. The gifts to be given out were mooncakes. The Chinese planned to overthrow the Mongolians by sending secret messages in mooncakes. The moon cakes were then distributed only to the Han people. When the Han people cut the cakes open, they found a message, "Revolt on the fifteenth of the eighth moon".

On the night of the moon festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. To remember this victorious revolt against the Mongolians, eating mooncakes has become an important part of the celebrations.