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Mid-Autumn Festival
Midautumn moon festival.jpg
The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is also celebrated in Chinese communities such as the San Francisco Chinatown.
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 中秋節
Simplified Chinese 中秋节
Min name
Chinese 八月節
Vietnamese name
Quốc ngữ Tết Trung Thu
Chữ nôm
Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations in Victoria Park, Hong Kong
Mooncakes are often eaten during the festival.
Mid-Autumn Festival at the Botanical Garden, Montreal

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Zhongqiu Festival, or in Chinese, Zhongqiujie (traditional Chinese: 中秋節), is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese people (even though they celebrate it differently), dating back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China's Shang Dynasty.[1][2] It was first called Zhongqiu Jie (literally "Mid-Autumn Festival") in the Zhou Dynasty.[3] In Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the few most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Chinese New Year and Winter Solstice, and is a legal holiday in several countries. Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date. Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:

Shops selling mooncakes before the festival often display pictures of Chang'e floating to the moon.

Contents

Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival

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Houyi and Chang'e

The story of the fateful night when Chang'e was lifted up to the moon, familiar to most Chinese citizens, is a favorite subject of poets. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang'e simply lives on the moon but is not the moon per se. Tradition places Houyi and Chang'e around 2170 BC, in the reign of the legendary Emperor Yao, shortly after that of Huangdi.

There are many variants and adaptations of the Chang'e legend that frequently contradict each other. However, most legends about Chang'e in Chinese mythology involve some variation of the following elements: Houyi, the Archer, Chang'e, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality; an emperor, either benevolent or malevolent; an elixir of life; and the Moon.

One version of the legend states that Houyi was an immortal and Chang'e was a beautiful young girl, working in the Jade Emperor's (Emperor of Heaven) (玉帝 pinyin:Yùdì) Palace as the attendant to the Queen Mother of the West (wife of the Jade Emperor), just before her marriage. One day, Houyi aroused the jealousy of the other immortals, who then slandered him before the Jade Emperor. Houyi and his wife, Chang'e, were subsequently banished from heaven, and forced to live by hunting on earth. He became a famous archer.

At that time, there were ten suns, in the form of three-legged birds, residing in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea; each day one of the sun birds would have to travel around the world on a carriage, driven by Xihe, the 'mother' of the suns. One day, all ten of the suns circled together, causing the earth to burn. Emperor Yao, the Emperor of China, commanded Houyi to use his archery skill to shoot down all but one of the suns. Upon the completion of his task, the Emperor rewarded Houyi with a pill that granted eternal life, and advised him: "Make no haste to swallow this pill; first prepare yourself with prayer and fasting for a year".[6] Houyi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter, while he began healing his spirit. While Houyi was healing his spirit, Houyi was summoned again by the emperor. Chang'e, noticing a white beam of light beckoning from the rafters, discovered the pill, which she swallowed. Immediately, she found that she could fly. At that moment, Houyi returned home, and, realizing what had happened, began to reprimand her. Chang'e flew out the window into the sky.[6]

With a bow in hand, Houyi sped after her, and the pursuit continued halfway across the heavens. Finally, Houyi had to return to the Earth because of the force of the wind. Chang'e reached the moon, and breathless, she coughed. Part of the pill fell out from her mouth.[6] The hare was already on the moon, and Chang'e commanded the animal to make another pill from it, so that she could return to earth to her husband.

As of today, the rabbit is still pounding herbs, trying to make the pill. As for Houyi, he built himself a palace in the sun as "Yang" (the male principle), with Chang'e as "Yin" (the female principle). Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Houyi visits his wife. That is why, that night, the moon is full and beautiful.[6]

This description appears in written form in two Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) collections; Shan Hai Jing, the Classic of the Mountains and Seas and Huainanzi, a philosophical classic.[7]

Another version of the legend, similar to the one above, differs in saying that Chang'e swallowed the pill of immortality because Peng, one of Houyi's many apprentice archers, tried to force her to give the pill to him. Knowing that she could not fight off Peng, Chang'e had no choice but to swallow the pill herself.

Other versions say that Houyi and Chang'e were still immortals living in heaven at the time that Houyi killed nine of the suns, who were the sons of the Jade Emperor, and they were punished for Houyi's action by being forced to live on Earth as mortals. Seeing that Chang'e felt extremely miserable over her loss of immortality, Houyi decided to find the pill of immortality. At the end of his quest, he met the Queen Mother of the West, who agreed to give him the pill, but warned him that each person would only need half a pill to regain immortality. Houyi brought the pill home and stored it in a case. He warned Chang'e not to open the case, and then left home for a while. Like Pandora in Greek mythology, Chang'e became curious. She opened up the case and found the pill, just as Houyi was returning home. Nervous that Houyi would catch her, discovering the contents of the case, she accidentally swallowed the entire pill, and started to float into the sky because of the overdose.

Some versions of the legend do not refer to Houyi or Chang'e as having previously been immortals and initially present them as mortals instead.

There are also versions of the story in which Houyi is rewarded for killing nine of the suns and saving the people by being made king, however he grew to be a despot. Houyi gained the pill of immortality, either by stealing it from the Queen Mother of the West or by learning that he could make pills by grinding up the body of an adolescent boy every night for a hundred nights. Chang'e stole the pill and swallowed it herself, either to stop more boys being killed or to prevent her husband's tyrannical rule from lasting forever.

The Hare or The Jade Rabbit

A depiction of Chang'e and the Jade Rabbit

According to tradition, the Jade Rabbit pounds medicine, together with the lady, Chang'er, for the gods. Others say that the Jade Rabbit is a shape, assumed by Chang'e herself. The dark areas to the top of the full moon may be construed as the figure of a rabbit. The animal's ears point to the upper right, while at the left are two large circular areas, representing its head and body.[8]

In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men, and begged for food from a fox, a monkey, and a hare. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the hare, empty-handed, jumped into a blazing fire to offer his own flesh instead. The sages were so touched by the hare's sacrifice and act of kindness that they let him live in the Moon Palace, where he became the "Jade Rabbit".

Overthrow of Mongol rule

According to a widespread folk tale (not necessarily supported by historical records), the Mid-Autumn Festival commemorates an uprising in China against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty (1280–1368) in the 14th century.[9] As group gatherings were banned, it was impossible to make plans for a rebellion.[9] Noting that the Mongols did not eat mooncakes, Liu Bowen (劉伯溫) of Zhejiang Province, advisor to the Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang, came up with the idea of timing the rebellion to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival. He sought permission to distribute thousands of moon cakes to the Chinese residents in the city to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Inside each cake, however, was inserted a piece of paper with the message: "Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th month" (traditional Chinese: 八月十五殺韃子; simplified Chinese: 八月十五杀鞑子).[9] On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), under Zhu. Henceforth, the Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated with moon cakes on a national level.

Dates

The moon festival will occur on these days in coming years:[10]

  • 2010: September 22
  • 2011: September 12
  • 2012: September 30
  • 2013: September 19
  • 2014: September 8
  • 2015: September 27
  • 2016: September 15
  • 2017: October 4
  • 2018: September 24
  • 2019: September 13
  • 2020: October 1

See also

References

External links


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