Moon Article

by Susan Kao

Falling on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival) has finally arrived. Being one of the largest annual Chinese holidays, it has brought many worldwide to celebrate the upcoming full moon. This holiday honors the full upcoming moon, as rituals, sacrifices, food, and events take place to celebrate the festivities of the moon. This commemoration traces back to the Zhou Dynasty, when the ancient Chinese observed the moon’s close correlation with the seasons and prosperous agricultural production. To express their gratitude, the Chinese honored the moon during Autumn. They believed that offering sacrifices to the moon, would help them receive plentiful of harvest. As the custom continued in China, the tradition became popular over the course of dynasties. In the Tang Dynasty, appreciating the moon became a popular tradition in the elite class. The emperors and rich merchants held huge celebrations while common citizens prayed to the moon for good harvest. The Song Dynasty established the Mid-Autumn Festival, which soon peaked in popularity in ancient China. Mooncakes were soon produced around the Yuan Dynasty, to communicate against the unjust rulings of the Mongols. The strength of this popularity has continued to modern day. Countries, such as America, became popularized with mooncakes when the annual Moon Festival came around. Mooncakes are small dense pastries filled with lotus seeds, bean paste, or other ingredients that are traditionally associated with the Moon Festival. There are a huge variety of mooncakes: you can munch on some velvety red beans to sweet sesame mooncakes. These flavorful desserts are used as a delicacy to honor the moon, and eaten for good luck. It’s appetizing and prosperous mixed into one! Yumm!

Delving into this mighty bright festival, moon legends are commonly told on festival days. Since the Chinese play a prominent role in mythology, there are variety of legends told during the Mid-Autumn Festival. One popular myth that is continuously told amongst families, is Hou Yi and The Moon Goddess. There are many versions of this legend, but this one is no different. This commonly told myth goes like this:

There once lived the Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven, that had ten boisterous sons. One day, the mischief boys transformed themselves into ten suns, heartlessly scorching the Earth from high up in the heavens. The Jade Emperor’s inability to command his sons summoned Houyi, an immortal archer to teach his sons a lesson. As Houyi descended to Earth, he observed a desolated and agonizing community. Filled with righteousness, he shot his arrows at the suns. In the end, nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons were dead. Houyi left only one sun alive, to give the earth light and warmth. As the Jade Emperor heard the news, he was infuriated, banishing Houyi and his wife, Chang’e, from Heaven, stripping them of their immortality. They were left to settle on Earth as common citizens. They suffered and found human life hard and miserable. One day, Houyi decided to journey to the immortal Queen Mother of the West, who lived on Earth. She had a rare supply of elixir of immortality, that Houyi seeked in hopes of having his wife and himself return to Heaven. He soon reached her palace on sacred Mount Kunlun, in which she gave Houyi two things. She had given him the elixir and a warning. If Houyi drinks half the elixir, it will grant him an everlasting life, and if he drinks it all, he will ascend back to heaven as a full-fledged immortal. As Houyi goes back home and tells his wife the successful news, they were both thrilled. However, Houyi forgets to tell Chang’e the full warnings, so her eagerness of being immortal, led her to drink the entire elixir. As she drank it, she soon began to float into the sky against her will. As a banished deity, she could no longer return to heaven. With nowhere else to go, Chang’e went to the Moon, where she spent the rest of her days in a lonely palace accompanied by a white rabbit. She wept bitterly for her husband Houyi, who was condemned to live the rest of his days on Earth as a common man. To remember her, Houyi and others worshipped the moon with many offerings. The legend traces back to the origin of the Moon Festival, and why the Chinese celebrate it today.

The annual Mid-Autumn Festival carries many customs, legends, and history that makes it special in Chinese culture. Honoring the moon has been an important tradition in China, and continues to be celebrated every year. To learn more about this popular festival, be sure to drop by moon festivals in your local area to learn and experience more Chinese culture. If you have the chance, make sure to grab a mooncake along the way; you’ll surely receive a blessing from the moon itself!