Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rabbit in the Moon: The Moon Festival

Sunday, September 14th is date for this year’s the Moon Festival (also known as The Mooncake or Mid-Autumn Festival) In Catonese, this mid-autumn festival is "zhong qiu jie” in Mandarin and “Chung Chiu” in Cantonese..

What is it? According to Chinese tradition, it falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar when the moon is at its fullest and brightest for the entire year, an ideal time to celebrate the abundance of the summer harvest. It corresponds to the harvest festivals observed in Western cultures (In Hong Kong, it is held in conjunction with the annual Lantern festival)

In many ways, though, this holiday typifies Chinese Taoist philosophy- the union of man’s spirit with nature in order to achieve harmony.

Although many legends surround the origin of the Moon Festival, most involve the "Lady living in the moon" whom the Chinese refer to as Chang Er.

According to one version, Chang Er lived during the Hsia dynasty (2205-1766BC. One day ten suns appeared at once in the sky, creating havoc. The Emperor ordered her husband, General Hou Yi of the Imperial Guard, a famous archer to shoot down nine of them. As a reward, the Emperor gave Hou Yi great wealth. But the people were worried that the suns might reappear and dry up the planet so they prayed to Wang Mu, the Goddess of Western Heaven to make Hou Yi live forever. That way he could always protect the country.
Their prayers were answered and the Goddess rewarded Hou Yi with a pill or herb (depending on which version you read) of immortality. However, his wife, Chang Er grabbed it herself, put it in her mouth and either disappeared or was banished to the moon. When she got there she found a friendly rabbit under a tree. Because the moon is cold, she began coughing, expelling the pill from her throat. She decided to pound the pill into tiny pieces and scatter them on earth so everyone could be immortal. That’s why it is said there is a rabbit in the moon (referred to in Chinese mythology as the Jade Hare), pounding on the elixir of life. Chang Er built a crystal palace for herself and remained on the moon. During the Mooncake festival, her beauty is said to be greatest. Children are taught that she dances on the shadowed surface oft the moon.
The Chinese have a saying that marriages are made in heaven and prepared on the moon by an old man. According to another legend, this old man (Yueh Lao Yeh) keeps a written record of all the names of happy couples fated to marry and live happily ever after. During the Mooncake festival, people in China try to view the moon in the hope their happy futures are written there. In Hong Kong thousands of red candlelit lanterns made in all kinds of traditional shapes including rabbits, and butterflies, light up Victoria Peak and Morse Park in Kowloon. In Chinese mythology, the butterfly, like the rabbit is another symbol of longevity

Perhaps the most famous legend surrounding the Moon festival concerns its possible role in Chinese history. Overrun by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the Chinese threw off their oppressors in 1368 AD. Chu Yuen-chang, and his senior deputy, Liu Po-wen, supposedly devised a strategy to take a certain walled city held by the Mongol enemy. Dressed as a Taoist priest, Liu entered the besieged city bearing moon cake, which the Mongols did not eat. He distributed these to the Chinese, advising not to eat them until the Moon Festival When the people finally opened their cakes, their found hidden plans for a rebellion. Thus, the emperor-to-be ingeniously took the city and his throne. As a result the Moon cake became an integral part of the Moon festival. Whether this Chinese version of ancient Europe's "Trojan Horse" story is true, no one really knows.

What is a Mooncake:

Mooncake is a special kind of sweet cake (yueh ping) the size of a human palm and prepared in the shape of the moon. They are quite filling and meant to be cut diagonally in quarters and passed around. Traditional moon cakes are filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds and duck eggs. The salty yolk in the middle represents the full moon,
Because of the rabbit and the lady in the moon’s legendary importance, you will often find images of Chang-Er and the Jade Hare stamped on every mooncake. mooncake box, and Moon Cake Festival poster -.

Although mooncakes used to take as much as four weeks of preparation, today with automation, the process is much faster. Also, today’s creators of mooncakes may part with tradition by adding new ingredients like nits, dates, fruits- even Chinese sausages, A Southeast Asian variation known as “ping pei” or snowskin mooncake is cooked with glutinous rice flour. In some Asia markets you can find a line of ice cream mooncakes from Hagen Daz.
Because they are difficult to make, most people buy then from Asian bakeries beginning around mid-August.

So now you know why we titled our latest thriller, Rabbit in the Moon (by Deborah & Joel Shlian) !!

1 comment:

Justin said...

Hi, thanks for checking into Son of Shenzhen Zen!
I have to say I am in awe of your in-depth explanation of the Mid Autumn Festival and mooncakes and your mystery sounds quite promising.
Yes, I am a journalist in China but working as an editor at a State-owned English language paper called China Daily; not much of a paper though they like to think so but it's my ticket to China so to speak.
If you'd like to contact me though regarding anything Chinese as seen through expat eyes, I'd be happy to what I can (which may not be much, I admit. Anyway, you can reach me at average underscore guy26 at yahoo dot com. Name is Justin.