Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival / Zhong Qiu Jie Kuai Le / 中秋节快乐

This September 22, families in China will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie/中秋节) to mark the 15th day of the 8th month on the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditional folk tales about the festival tell of immortals, longevity pills, 10 suns, Hou Yi, Chang’e, and her rabbit (see below for the full story). One of the special features of the holiday in China is the frantic gifting of mooncakes, from friend to friend, boss to employee and customer, children to parents and back again. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is also known for poetry about the moon, particularly by Li Bai and Su Dong Po. The festival is very important in Korea, where it is called Chusok, and has been compared to harvest festivals such as Thanksgiving in North America. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a time for family and friends to look up at the moon and reflect on our place in the world in relation to each other as we all focus on the same object, the Moon. Note that this year’s holiday is 3 days long (September 22-24) and the extra 2 days are compensated for by making Sunday the 19th and Saturday the 25th official working days in China.

Chinese Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

Information on the legend of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (from Wikipedia)

One version of the legend states that Houyi was an immortal and Chang’e was a beautiful young girl, working in the palace of the Jade Emperor as an attendant to the Queen Mother of the West (the Jade Emperor’s wife). Houyi aroused the jealousy of the other immortals, who then slandered him before the Jade Emperor. Houyi and his wife, Chang’e, were subsequently banished from heaven. They were forced to live on Earth. Houyi had to hunt to survive and became a skilled and famous archer. At that time, there were ten suns, in the form of three-legged birds, residing in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea. Each day one of the sun birds would have to travel around the world on a carriage, driven by Xihe, the ‘mother’ of the suns. One day, all ten of the suns circled together, causing the Earth to burn. Emperor Yao, the Emperor of China, commanded Houyi to use his archery skill to shoot down all but one of the suns. Upon completion of his task, the Emperor rewarded Houyi with a pill that granted eternal life. Emperor Yao advised Houyi not to swallow the pill immediately but instead to prepare himself by praying and fasting for a year before taking it. Houyi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter. One day, Houyi was summoned away again by Emperor Yao.

During her husband’s absence, Chang’e, noticed a white beam of light beckoning from the rafters, and discovered the pill. Chang’e swallowed it and immediately found that she could fly. Houyi returned home, realizing what had happened he began to reprimand his wife. Chang’e escaped by flying out the window into the sky. Houyi pursued her halfway across the heavens but was forced to return to Earth because of strong winds. Chang’e reached the moon, where she coughed up part of the pill. Chang’e commanded the hare that lived on the moon to make another pill. Chang’e would then be able to return to Earth and her husband. The legend states that the hare is still pounding herbs, trying to make the pill. Houyi built himself a palace in the sun, representing “Yang” (the male principle), in contrast to Chang’e’s home on the moon which represents “Yin” (the female principle). Once a year, on the fifteenth day of the full moon, Houyi visits his wife. That is the reason why the moon is very full and beautiful on that night. This description appears in written form in two Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) collections; Shan Hai Jing, the Classic of the Mountains and Seas and Huainanzi, a philosophical classic.

Relevant Links:
Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on About.com
Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Wikipedia
Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on China Page

Photo Credit @ Capital Mandarin

Be Sociable, Share!