中 秋 節 Moon Festival
Every year on the 15th of the eighth moon, Lunar calendar (農曆) was the
Moon Festival. Usually there were lantern processions by the kids at night.
People helped their children to make all kinds of lanterns in the forms
of birds, dragons, fish, dragonflies and many other forms. However, the
most common ones were in the shape of fish. Moon cakes were used to pray
to the heavenly god. After the processions the children adjourned to their
homes and ate moon cakes (月餅), pomelos (柚子), Leng Jiao (稜角), peanuts,
persimmons, sweets and candies and drank tea. The adults and children enjoyed
An ancient story about "Chang E (嫦娥) the Moon Lady"
The ancient Chinese believed that the universe was divided into three worlds:
the heaven, the earth and hell. Heaven was a place of paradise and presided
over by the Jade Emperor. Immortals, good people and fairies lived in heaven.
Then you have earth on which ordinary people, like you and I live. At the
bottom of the scale was hell – to which people of evil, criminals and sinners
Working as a lady-in-waiting in the palace of the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝
) was a beautiful young girl. One day, she accidentally broke a very valuable
porcelain jar which she had been cleaning. She was summoned to appear before
the Jade Emperor who asked her to explain why and how she broke the jar.
All she could say was that she broke it by accident. Unhappy with her answer,
the Jade Emperor banished her to earth and erased her memory of life in
heaven. However, the Jade Emperor promised that she could return to live
in Heaven again if she could contribute a great valuable service for humanity
She was assigned to be re-born in a family of a poor farmer by the surname
of Chang in a country called You Qiong (有窮國). She was named E which meant
graceful or elegant. Chang E grew up as an ordinary peasant girl like all
other girls in her village.
One day, eighteen years later, a young hunter by the name of Hou Yi (后羿
) went hunting in the hill near Chang E’s village. He was from another village
and an excellent marksman with the bow and arrow. While on his way home
he passed through Chang E’s village. He saw a beautiful girl attending to
the fowls in front of her house and was attracted immediately to her beauty.
She was none other than Chang E
The next day, under the pretext of returning from hunting, Hou Yi deliberately
traversed the village again, hoping to see the beautiful girl he had seen
the day before. Chang E was nowhere to be seen and Hou Yi loitered in the
village for a long time. When the subject of his attention finally appeared,
Hou Yi wasted no time in introducing himself and a friendship was immediately
Then, one day a very strange phenomena happened. Ten suns rose in the east
instead of one. The blazing suns beat down intensely upon earth. Everything
on earth became very hot and was drying up. Masses of people died of dehydration
and people were resigned to a certain death.
Fortunately, Hou Yi had an idea on how to save the world. He went up to
a very high mountain and with his bow and arrows shot down nine suns. The
weather on earth gradually returned to normal. Hou Yi was hailed as the
hero by the people. In gratitude for saving their lives the people elected
him as their King. King Hou Yi married Chang E and their life together was
Hou Yi realised that man was not immortal and, like his fellow beings, he
could not live forever. He became obsessed with the desire to seek immortality
and relied more and more on superstitions. He employed in his palace many
sorcerers whose jobs were to report to him the activities of any itinerant
fairy or immortal who travelled about around the country.
There was a most prominent sorcerer whose reports were more reliable than
those of the rest. He told Hou Yi that he could make elixir of longevity
by way of alchemy. For his process he needed many children to be used as
fuel. The process could only produce one elixir tablet and no more. Hou
Yi agreed and was willing to supply him with as many children as he required.
Chang E was totally against the idea which she thought to be cruel but,
being the simple wife that she was, Hou Yi had his way.
The sorcerer started on the project and Hou Yi ordered his army to round
up and bring to the palace all the children in the land they could find.
Families were grieving for their lost children and the people became very
angry. Hou Yi was less and less mindful of the welfare of his subjects and
his troops continued to plunder the land in search of more children.
A month later and after many children had been sacrificed the tablet of
elixir was about to be finished. One night Chang E stole into the production
chamber which was located at the top of the palace. She saw the nearly finished
product inside a big tube. Out of curiosity, she took it out to have a closer
look at it. Then the sorcerer suddenly came into the chamber. Chang E tried
to hide the tablet but could not find a place for it. So she put it into
her mouth. The sorcerer demanded that she returned the tablet and proceeded
menacingly towards her. In terror she accidentally swallowed the tablet.
The sorcerer raised the alarm and Hou Yi rushed into the chamber. Chang
E was accused of swallowing the tablet. Hou Yi was furious and demanded
the return of the tablet. Chang E became very frightened when the two men
chased her around the chamber. Eventually she ran out of the chamber with
the men in hot pursuit. Reaching a dead end at the top of the palace and
with no escape in sight, Chang E jumped out of an open window.
Strangely, she did not fall to the ground but instead went floating up into
the sky. The elixir tablet had immortalised her and she became a fairy.
She kept floating skyward. Hou Yi had the palace guards bring him his bow
and arrows. He launched a volley of arrows at Chang E but missed his target.
Chang E kept floating skywards until she arrived on the moon.
The Jade Emperor requested her to return to his palace. However, Chang E
refused and decided to live on the moon where she is still living.
Chang E is often depicted in a picture of a beautiful maiden against the
background of a full moon. The next time when you visit a Chinese grocery
or cake shop see if you can spot a picture of Chang E.
The story of the origin of eating Moon Cakes
The Moon Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie 中秋節 ) is of great significance to the
Chinese. Central to the festival is the traditional decoration, display
of lanterns and the making and consumption of moon cakes. The tradition
dates back many centuries.
In 1280AD the Mongols came from northern China and destroyed the Song Dynasty
( 宋朝 960AD to 1280AD). They established the Yuan Dynasty (元朝1280AD to1368AD)
. The Mongols treated the northern Han-Chinese as 3rd class citizens and
the southern Han-Chinese, 4th class citizens. Han-Chinese were oppressed,
suppressed, maltreated, persecuted, generally ill-treated and regarded as
nothing more than slaves.
The Han-Chinese had had enough of hardship under the Mongols. During the
years between 1348AD to 1353AD many groups of people were organized throughout
the country for the sole of fostering rebellion against the Mongols: Fang
Guo Zhen (方國珍 in Zhejiang (浙江) province; Liu Fu Tong (劉福通) in Anhui
(安徽) province; Li Er (李二) in Jiangsu (江蘇) province; Guo Zi Xing (郭
子興) and Zhu Yuan Zhang (朱元璋) in Hao Zhou (濠州) Zhejiang, Zhang Shi
Cheng (張士誠), who alter surrendered to the Mongols, in Jiangsu and many
others in other parts of the country.
In the beginning, rebel leader, Liu Fu Tong, a priest of White Lotus Sect,
could not find a secret place to convene a meeting with his followers as
all Han-Chinese were kept under very strict surveillance. Han-Chinese were
not allowed to convene any meetings and any gathering of people was forbidden.
Liu tried to set a date for an uprising against the District Officer in
Ying Zhou (穎州 present day Fu Yang 曲陽city in Anhui province), but there
was no way he could meet his followers. It was around mid-Autumn in 1351AD
and the moon would, in a few days, be very round, big and bright.
Liu finally devised an ingenious plan. He sought the permission of the Mongol
District Officer to allow him to give gifts to friends as a symbolic gesture
to bless the longevity of the Mongol Emperor, Shun Di (順帝) who reigned
from 1333AD to 1388AD). The District Officer gladly agreed as it would after
all be an occasion to celebrate the long reign of the Yuan Dynasty.
Liu made a great quantity of sweet round cakes shaped like the full moon
which he called Moon Cakes. Inside each of the sweet cake he inserted a
piece of paper with the words, "Kill the Tartars on the night of 15th of
the 8th moon". He gave every household a cake with the instruction that
it should be eaten only on the night of 15th of the 8th moon.
When the appointed night arrived the Han-Chinese started to cut and eat
their cakes. They were surprised to discover the clandestine messages inside
the cakes calling them to arms. During that night all the Mongols,including
the District Officer, in Ying Zhou were killed. Thus Liu Fu Tong laid the
foundation stone for rebellion against the Mongols.
The man who eventually exterminated the Yuan Dynasty was Zhu Yuan Zhang.
He established the Ming Dynasty (明朝 1368AD to 1644AD). To commemorate
and celebrate the event of the night of 15th of the 8th moon in 1351AD the
tradition of making and eating the round sweet cakes (Moon Cakes) was born
and carried on by Chinese in almost every part of the world.
Posted to asiawind.com
By CHUNG Yoon-Ngan (鄭永元)
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