In poetry, food and traditions through the generations, the full moon has inspired Chinese people all over the world, as a reflection of unity, tranquility, abundance and fortune. Just as we humans experience sadness and joy; separation and unity; the moon has darkness and clearness, as it waxes and wanes. And when it grows full and beautiful, it reflects a harmonious balance which gives hope to humanity. I myself have Chinese heritage and remember playing around in the garden with my flickering lanterns and watching fire dragon dances. Every year, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, my family joins the hundreds of millions of Chinese families coming together in thanksgiving to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival中秋節 (zhōng qiū jié).
Tasty secret weapons:
During the festival, you can’t miss feasting on mooncakes 月餅 (yuè bǐng)! Zhu Yuan-Zhang (朱元璋) and his rebels overthrew the Yuan dynasty and retook power from the Mongolians… but can you guess where they hid their messages? Inside their mooncakes! That’s right – instructions of the outline of the attack were hidden inside, and the attack was successful, overthrowing the Mongolian government and establishing the Ming Dynasty. These messages are sometimes commemorated today by an egg in the center of the cake. So, they’re more than just a delicious snack; there’s history behind the dough!
The beautiful voice:
Poetry is at the heart of Chinese culture and acts as the perpetual bloodstream of a passionate nation. This beautiful poem by Zhang Jiuling (張九齡 / 张九龄) of the Tang Dynasty reflects how the moon festival has touched the hearts of many:
VIEWING THE MOON, THINKING OF YOU (望月懷遠 / 望月怀远):
As the bright moon shines over the sea, from far away, you share this moment with me.
海上生明月，天涯共此時。 / 海上生明月，天涯共此时。
For parted lovers, lonely nights are the worst to be. All night long I think of no-one, but thee.
To enjoy the moon, I blow out the candlestick. Please put on your nightgown, for the dew is thick.
I try to offer you the moonlight – so hard to pick – Hoping a reunion in my dream will come quick.
The festival today:
Nowadays, China comes alive for the Mid-Autumn Festival with oceans of bright lanterns painting the sky with their fiery colours. In the Qing dynasty, Hong Kong fishermen would put up lanterns on their boats. In Vietnam, the festival is also known as ‘the children’s festival,’ as Vietnamese children enjoy lantern parades and lion dances. In Taiwan, friends and families enjoy barbecues. Further overseas, the festival spreads to many other countries such as Sri Lanka, and other Chinese families outside of China, celebrating with firey dragon dances. But most importantly, the heart of the busy hustle and bustle of the modern Chinese people beats still for a moment, whilst friends and families gather together to celebrate unity, completeness, tradition and the richness of their cultural heritage.
Wishing us a long life to share the graceful moonlight, though thousands of miles apart.
但願人長久，千里共嬋娟 / 但愿人长久，千里共婵娟
(Dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ, qiān lǐ gòng chán juān)
I wish you peace and good fortune for this happy Mid-Autumn festival, and hope you join me in eating lots of moon cakes as you look up at the sky!