Friday, October 13, 2006

中秋節, aka Moon Festival, aka Mid-Autumn Festival

中秋節 or Zhong Qiu Jie is something like the Chinese Thanksgiving. I got most of the following information from an email which in turn was quoting from Taiwan Magazine. I edited it a bit to suit my needs.

The Mid-Autumn Festival fell on the 6th of October this year. It is typically characterized by family reunions, moon gazing, jubilant festivities and abundant moon cakes.

I spent the holiday with my girlfriend and her family in Penghu, which is a group of small islands off the Southwest coast of Taiwan.

We had a delicious dinner, and then went outside and barbequed oysters for a couple hours.

It seems like that is fairly typical in Penghu.

Here is a link to all the photos I took over the weekend: Penghu Photos.

Background of Moon Festival
The festival shares with all Chinese festivals a selection of rich historical legends that weave the intricate web of Chinese culture. Origins of this festival can be traced back to two stories: one a legendary tale, the other linked to an important historical event.

Lady Chang 0 and the Jade Hare
Among the oldest folklore, reaching back to 2000 B.C. is the legend of Lady Chang 0, the unrivaled beauty and bride of Ho Yi. In their time 10 hot suns appeared in the sky, scorching the earth, destroying crops, and threatening to wipe out all humanity. Ho Yi took up his bow and arrows and shot nine of the suns down, restoring the earth to its normal temperature and allowing life to flourish again. To reward him, the goddess gave him a magic pill of immortality.

Ho Yi became emperor after shooting the nine suns out of the sky. Wealth and power soon consumed Ho Yi. He treated his people badly and even thought of preserving his rule by eating that magical pill of immortality. Chang 0 attempted to save the people from his tyranny by stealing the pill from her husband. However, when she ate the pill she floated to the moon.

But she is not alone. The Jade Hare is there too, standing on his hind legs as he eternally pulverizes medicines for the gods with his mortar and pestle. Look carefully, and you can see his profile in the dark spots on the moon.

Wu Kang, the Chinese Sisyphus
Yet another legend holds that there is a giant cassia tree on the moon, along with an unfortunate immortal named Wu Kang (who has been sentenced to chop it down as punishment for a crime). Every time he gets it cut almost through, a dog snatches his lunch basket and runs off with it; Wu Kang gives chase, and by the time this Oriental Sisyphus recovers his lunch and returns, the tree has grown whole and he has to start all over again.

Aside from myth, the most profound origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival derives from an historical event. In the 14th century the Mongols ruled China. Security was tight, yet the Chinese resistance cleverly devised a way of communicating their plans for revolt. Secret messages detailing the day of the rebellion were hidden, inside moon cakes and passed between families as part of customary celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Unaware of this deception, the Mongols were taken by surprise and later overthrown.

Whether you believe theses stories, or prefer to trace its origins to ancient harvest celebrations, the Moon Festival is a great time to catch up with friends and family. It is also a good opportunity to sample Taiwanese moon cakes. You never know what you may find inside!

Mooncake (from Wikipedia)

(Simplified Chinese: 月饼, Traditional Chinese: 月餅; pinyin: yuèbĭng) is a Chinese confection that is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, although they can be eaten at other times of the year as well. Typical mooncakes are either round or rectangular puck-shaped pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. They have a relatively thin crust (2-3 mm), which surrounds a thick pasty filling and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are typically rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. It is usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.

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