Few days back it was the mooncake festival and we all know that were all so fattened up bythe stuff but most of us dont know why they exist and what are we eating it for.
Amongst all traditional Chinese festivals, Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) can be said to be the second most significant festival to the Chinese worldwide, after Chinese New Year (农历新年). This festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month annually in the Chinese Lunar calendar, which is usually within the months of August or September in the Gregorian Solar calendar that we usually use everyday. It coincides with the autumn equinox in the Gregorian Solar calendar. On this night, the moon is at its fullest, brightest and roundest. This festival is not only celebrated by the Chinese in China, Taiwan and throughout the global Chinese Diaspora, but it is also widely observed in Vietnam and Japan as well.
To the Chinese, this festival is known as Zhong Qiu Jie (中秋节), or literally, Mid-Autumn Festival. However, it is also known as Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival to the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. In Vietnam, it is known as Tet Trung Thu, while in Japan, it is known as Tsukimi Festival (月見), which literally means ‘moon-viewing.’ This festival is widely observed in Japan since the Nara (奈良) and Heian (平安) Periods (710 – 1185 A.D.).
The Mid-Autumn Festival is highly significant to the Chinese. This festival traditionally marks the end of the summer harvesting season and provides a means for family members, relatives and friends to gather together under the bright moonlight of the full moon. In modern times, its agricultural significance has, to a certain extent, faded but its familial and social significances still remain. For families and friends, this day is a day of reunion and gathering, whereby they enjoy each other’s company, share stories and experiences as well as have fun under the full moon. It is also perceived to be a romantic night by some, as couples enjoy each other’s company and love under the bright moonlight, viewing the beauty of the full moon together and perhaps even confessing feelings for one another amidst the romantic atmosphere of the night. It is frequently said by the Chinese that “when the moon is full, mankind is one.”
Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in many ways by the Chinese. Some of the customs of this festival include viewing the full moon together, eating mooncakes and pomeloes under the moonlight, gathering dandelions leaves and distributing them to others, as well as performing fire dragon dances. All these activities are done under the full moon of the night. On this night, children often carry bright lanterns and walk around with them under the moon, as it is believed that the brightly-lit lanterns are able to scare away demons and evil spirits.
A notable thing in this festival is the presence of the special Chinese delicacy known as the mooncake (月饼). As the name suggests, it is round in shape so as to resemble the full moon. These mooncakes are made only during the month of this festival and cannot be seen in any other parts of the year. Some families buy ready-made mooncakes for the festival while others prefer to make these mooncakes themselves. Mooncakes are made mainly of bean paste, with melon seeds, lotus seeds, almonds or nuts embedded within the paste. Some mooncakes have extra flavourings added in the bean paste, which enhance their taste and sometimes even change their colours. A salted duck egg yolk is added in the centre of the mooncake, while flour is used to make the golden brown crust of the mooncake. The upper surface of the mooncake is frequently stamped with Chinese characters carrying good wishes and messages of prosperity, longevity and happiness. Indeed, without this delicious Chinese delicacy, the Mid-Autumn Festival is rendered incomplete and somewhat insignificant.
Emperor Hongwu (洪武帝) (Reigned 1368 - 1398 A.D.)
The popularity of eating mooncakes dates back to many centuries ago in Imperial China, throughout many dynasties. A popular folklore pertaining to mooncakes during this festive season involves the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty (元朝) (1271 – 1368 A.D.) and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (明朝) (1368 – 1644 A.D.). The period of the Yuan Dynasty saw the rule of China under the Mongols, which created great dissatisfaction amongst the Chinese people, having to live under the rule of a foreign power. During the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongol rulers had banned all forms of public or group gatherings so as to prevent the Chinese people from grouping together to plan and stage a rebellion.
Kublai Khan-founder of Yuan dynasty
At that time, the Chinese rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty was led by Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋), with his faithful and wise advisor Liu Bowen (刘伯温). According to the folklore, Liu Bowen thought of staging the rebellion during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Since the Mongols did not eat mooncakes, he decided to distribute mooncakes widely to the Chinese people. He obtained permission from the Mongol authorities to do so, on the grounds that he and the Chinese people wished to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor on the special day. Many Chinese people in the cities received the mooncakes, but each found a piece of paper hidden within each mooncake, written with a short message:
“Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th Moon.”