The moon has always been a favourite subject in works of art and literature. Poets often depict the celestial body in both prose and poems, both for its beauty and change. During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese people believed that the moon radiated an energy flow, otherwise known as ‘Qi’.
This month, the Mid-Autumn festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival in Malaysia, will be celebrated by Chinese communities all over the world on the 22 September. The festival dates back over 3000 years to China’s Shang Dynasty. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese calendar when the moon shines at her fullest and brightest.
Ancient History To Modern Celebration
There are many versions of the ancient origins of the festival. One story goes that the earth once had ten suns that burned the crops. The Emperor then ordered an archer by the name of Houyi to shoot down the suns. Only one is left to benefit the earth. Houyi was then made King. However, he ruled with an iron fist and was despised by his citizens. One day, he stole the elixir of life from a Goddess. His beautiful wife Chang’e took it from him and drank it to protect her people from her own husband. The potion made her float to the moon, where she stayed ever since. Although he was cruel, Houyi didn’t have the heart to shoot down the moon where his wife resided.
Another version takes us back to the 14th Century and the Yuan Dynasty. The festival commemorates an uprising of the people against the Mongols, where they hid pieces of paper in mooncakes with a message to strike on the day of the Mid-Autumn festival. Thousands of moon cakes were distributed and on the night of the celebration, the rebels successfully attacked the Mongols and overthrew the government.
Today, the Chinese celebrate the mooncake festival with gatherings with family members to admire the full moon. On this bright night, tanglungs or paper lanterns lit with candles are carried by children and adults alike, casting shadows and a warm glow. Lanterns shaped like dragons, fish, rabbits, roosters and butterflies float all through the night.
The Mooncake Festival is not complete without its customary food – the mooncake, of course. The intricate, baked delicacy has a dense, sweet filling of lotus paste or red bean with an egg yolk centre, which represents the moon. Traditional mooncake are printed with Chinese characters that translate into ‘longevity’ and ‘harmony’. The choices of flavours are endless so take your pick!