Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mooncake Festival

Tomorrow is the long-awaited Mooncake Festival! Children are always the most excited ones, because they get to light lanterns and participate in a long procession. I hereby wish everyone a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Now let's refresh our memories of the legend of Chang'e and the mooncake festival!

chang er

The Legend of Chang'e

Chang'e was a beautiful young girl working in the Jade Emperor's palace in heaven, where immortals, good people and fairies lived. One day, she accidentally broke a precious porcelain jar. Angered, the Jade Emperor banished her to live on earth, where ordinary people lived. She could return to the Heaven, if she contributed a valuable service on earth.

Chang'e was transformed into a member of a rich farming family. When she was 18, a young hunter named Houyi from another village spotted her, now a beautiful young woman. They became friends.

One day, a strange phenomenon occurred—10 suns arose in the sky instead of one, blazing the earth. Houyi, an expert archer, stepped forward to try to save the earth. He successfully shot down nine of the suns, becoming an instant hero. He eventually became king and married Chang'e.

But Houyi grew to become greedy and selfish. He sought immortality by ordering an elixir be created to prolong his life. The elixir in the form of a single pill was almost ready when Chang'e came upon it. She either accidentally or purposely swallowed the pill. This angered King Houyi, who went after his wife. Trying to flee, she jumped out the window of a chamber at the top of palace—and, instead of falling, she floated into the sky toward the moon. King Houyi tried unsuccessfully to shoot her down with arrows.

In contrast to the first version, her companion, a rabbit, does not create elixir of life. Aside from the rabbit, the moon is also inhabited by a woodcutter who tries to cut down the cassia tree, giver of life. But as fast as he cuts into the tree, it heals itself, and he never makes any progress. The Chinese use this image of the cassia tree to explain mortal life on earth—the limbs are constantly being cut away by death, but new buds continually appear.

Meanwhile, King Houyi ascended to the sun and built a palace. So Chang'e and Houyi came to represent the yin and yang, the moon and the sun.


Mooncake Festival / Mid-autumn Festival

The festival is intricately linked to the legend of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. According to “Li-Ji”, an ancient Chinese book recording customs and ceremonies, the Chinese Emperor should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn. The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is the day called “Mid-Autumn”. The night on the 15th of the 8th lunar month is also called “Night of the Moon”. Under the Song Dynasty (420), the day was officially declared for Mid-Autumn Festival.

db65d4d9.jpg image by 5blackdogsII

Because of its central role in the Mid-Autumn festival, mooncakes remained popular even in recent years. For many, mooncakes form a central part of the Mid-Autumn festival experience such that it is now commonly known as 'Mooncake Festival'.

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Virginia E. Berry said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting history! Delightful. I should venture into Chinatown in Boston tomorrow to look for mooncake!

Mary in Wonder said...

Haven't commented for a while! Sorry!
Is it only me who can't see your layout properly?
This is how what I see when I scroll doooooown: http://picasaweb.google.hu/lh/photo/hIqdp-JV-qD3QywksjFA9CV3y0tsF0vQT24pH4lyhRg?feat=directlink

So weird >.<

Aik said...

Hi Mary, a few of my friends complaint about the same thing. Maybe it's because my template is a xml version.

Angela said...

Thanks for sharing this, Aik. I didn't know the legend behind all those yummy mooncakes.