Mid Autumn Festival, Moon Cake Festival

Mid Autumn Festival, or Moon Cake Festival and Lantern Festival in some South East Asian countries, is one of the most important festivals in Chinese tradition. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Amongst the many legends and tales regarding the Mid Autumn Fest, Chang Er's Moon Escapade is the most widely known story. Here are some that we've heard from our parents and teachers when we were little.

Chang Er's Moon Escapade

It was believed that long ago in ancient China, there were 10 suns in the sky that caused no river flowing and no crops growing. Hou Yi, a legendary hero who had incredible strength and great archery skill, shot down 9 of the hot burning suns. The remaining sun was ordered to rise and set daily, to benefit human being.

Hou Yi, became the leader of the nation, and married Chang Er - who was believed to be a great beauty. However, Hou Yi became a violent leader and was cruel to his people. He then obtained an elixir that was promised to give him eternity life. Chang Er, with a heart of gold, worried that the elixir was going to make the public suffer eternally, had decided to get rid of the elixir. However, her stealing act was caught red-handed by Hou Yi. Out of a panic, she swallowed the elixir and found herself starting to float in the air, whilst running away from Hou Yi's hunt. Chang Er continued to fly higher and higher, till she reached the moon, and spent the rest of her eternal life on the cold, lonely moon.

Another version of the twist was, Hou Yi's follower Feng Meng had tried to make Chang Er surrender the elixir in Hou Yi?s absense. Refused to do so, she swallowed it and escaped to the moon. There are, of course, many other versions of the fairy tale, but these are the two that are most often told.

The poem titled 'Chang Er', written by Tang Dynasty Poet Li ShangYin, is one of the most popular poems written about the legend. Here is a translation that's closest to its orihinal meaning.

The silhouette of the candle
strongly cast on the screen,
As the Milky Way sets,
the morning stars fade.
Chang Er ought to regret stealing the elixir,
As she pines in loneliness night after night,
amid the deep sea and blue sky.

The Chinese celebrate the festival by lighting colourful lanterns in all sizes and styles, indulge in festive food such as Moon Cake, sweets, desserts, and water caltrop (ling-jiau, a water chestnut that bears the shape of the head of a bull), whilst admiring the perfect moonlight (a ceremony to worship the moon, or Chang Er).

Moon Cake on its own, has a different history besides the Mid Autumn Festival. During the Mongolians' ruling of Yuan Dynasty, many Chinese were planning to rebel but due to the tight security, all gatherings were banned.

Liu Bo-Wen, the right-hand man of the rebel leader Zhu Yuan-Zhang, came up with the idea of distributing moon cakes (with an inserted note to overthrow the Mongolian government on the 15th day of the 8th month) to the Chinese public. The attack on the festival was successful, and the Mongolians were thrown out of the Midlands; after which the Ming Dynasty was formed.

Now the moon cakes come in all sorts of shapes and styles: Cantonese, Shanghainese, Bing-Pi (with glutinous rice pastry), etc; and various fillings: adzuki bean paste, lotus seed paste, mixed dried fruit and nuts, etc.

The autumn festival is also celebrated in both Japan and Korea, in different manners respectively. If you have a story to add on to ours, please do contact us. We will be very happy to hear from you.