From royal wishes for fer­tile crops to fam­ily re­unions, Mid-Au­tumn ac­tiv­i­ties have evolved over the cen­turies to mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By LIU XIANGRUI in agri­cul­tural and ru­ral devel­op­ment, and to help nar­row the ur­ban-ru­ral gap. Ef­forts should be made to make agri­cul­ture a promis­ing sec­tor, farm­ing an at­trac­tive ca­reer and ru­ral ar­eas bet­ter able to pro­vide com­fort­able and pros­per­ous l

De­spite the dif­fi­culty book­ing train tick­ets and the in­evitable huge crowds, Lin Xue­juan trav­els about 200 kilo­me­ters from Shen­zhen, where she works, to her home­town Shan­wei, Guang­dong prov­ince to spend the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val ev­ery year.

“It’s a rit­ual to go back home for such a tra­di­tional fes­ti­val,” says Lin, 28.

Since she started work­ing at a health ser­vice com­pany in Shen­zhen in 2010, Lin has rarely missed an op­por­tu­nity to at­tend fam­ily gath­er­ings, un­less she’s caught in work.

“Nowa­days we are al­ways busy with life and work, and rarely have time to meet and stay with fam­ily or friends far away. Such fes­ti­vals give us a good ex­cuse to re­con­nect with each other,” Lin says.

Ac­cord­ing to Lin, go­ing home for tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals like MidAu­tumn is im­por­tant, be­cause she wants to spend as much time as pos­si­ble with her grand­mother, who is in her 90s.

Like Lin, mil­lions of Chi­nese peo­ple travel home dur­ing the three-day break to spend the fes­ti­val — one of the most im­por­tant tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals in China — with loved-ones, and train tick­ets are usu­ally sold out long be­fore it.

In re­cent years, the Chi­nese govern­ment has been mak­ing ef­forts to re­vive tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing Mid-Au­tumn, which was made a pub­lic hol­i­day in 2008 and was listed as part of the na­tion’s in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage in 2016.

The Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val has

The term

a long his­tory, with lots of re­lated tra­di­tions that are passed down, along­side new trends that have grown up around it, es­pe­cially in the cities.

Ori­gin and evo­lu­tion

There are sev­eral pop­u­lar the­o­ries about the fes­ti­val’s ori­gin. Some his­to­ri­ans and ex­perts be­lieve that the early it­er­a­tion of the hol­i­day was re­lated to the an­cient cus­tom of moon wor­ship, which goes

back over 3,000 years.

An­cient Chi­nese em­per­ors wor­shipped the har­vest moon in au­tumn to wish for a plen­ti­ful har­vest the fol­low­ing year. The cus­tom was adopted by the masses and be­came pop­u­lar over time.

The term “Mid-Au­tumn” first ap­peared in Rites of Zhou, a clas­sic almanac writ­ten dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475-221 BC), although, it was only a ref­er­ence to the time of the sea­son.

In the early Tang Dy­nasty (618907), worshipping the moon was pop­u­lar among the up­per class, a prac­tice which, later in the dy­nasty, be­came more wide­spread among the pop­u­lace and was no longer just the pre­serve of just the rich mer­chants and of­fi­cials.

In the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279), the 15th day of the eighth lu­nar month was es­tab­lished as the “MidAu­tumn Fes­ti­val”, and of­fer­ing up sac­ri­fices to the moon be­came part of the fes­ti­val’s rit­ual.

Dur­ing the Ming and the Qing dy­nas­ties (1368-1911), the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val grew to be as pop­u­lar as Chi­nese New Year, with many dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day, such as burn­ing pago­das and per­form­ing the fire dragon dance.

There are also many leg­ends and po­ems re­lated to the oc­ca­sion that have been pro­duced and passed down through the gen­er­a­tions.

For ex­am­ple, the poem Pre­lude to Wa­ter Melody by fa­mous Song Dy­nasty poet and statesman, Su Shi, writ­ten to his brother after a par­tic­u­larly joy­ous Mid-Au­tumn spent drink­ing to­gether, is among the mostly widely known by Chi­nese peo­ple.

“May we all be blessed with longevity, though thou­sands of miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon to­gether,” wrote Su.

Moon­cakes as a sym­bol of re­union

Moon­cakes have be­come in­trin­si­cally linked to the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val.

In Chi­nese be­lief, the round­ness of the full moon, seen on the Mid-Au­tumn Day, means “to­geth­er­ness.” The moon­cake, so called be­cause it re­sem­bles the shape of a full moon, is also re­garded as a sym­bol of fam­ily re­union and good luck, ac­cord­ing to Wang Lai­hua, a folk-cus­tom ex­pert from the Tian­jin Academy of So­cial Sci­ences.

It is cus­tom­ar­ily of­fered be­tween friends or on gath­er­ings dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions of the fes­ti­val. In the cities, moon­cakes are of­ten pro­vided with other gifts by em­ploy­ers to their staff for the fes­ti­val.

Moon­cakes, typ­i­cally con­sist­ing of a thin and flaky pas­try en­velop­ing a sweet and dense fill­ing, used to be made at home as a fam­ily re­union ac­tiv­ity, but very few peo­ple do so nowa­days.

There are var­i­ous moon­cakes on the mar­ket, some are for home con­sump­tion, while oth­ers are ex­pen­sively pack­aged to be given as gifts.

Wang ob­serves that the name “moon­cake” was first recorded dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty, but it was still not a very pop­u­lar repast back then.

It was not un­til the Ming Dy­nasty that moon­cakes be­came the of­fi­cial food of the fes­ti­val, and their pop­u­lar­ity grad­u­ally spread. In fact, many de­scrip­tions about eat­ing moon­cakes dur­ing the fes­ti­val can be found in var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal records from the Ming Dy­nasty pe­riod.

Nowa­days, the va­ri­ety, fla­vor and de­sign of the moon­cake are con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing to both re­flect more ad­vanced cook­ing tech­niques, and to match mod­ern tastes.

The rou­tine

Tra­di­tion tran­scends time

Lin’s home­town of Shan­wei is dom­i­nated by the Teochew peo­ple, who mostly hail from He­nan and Shanxi, with a well-main­tained di­alect and tra­di­tional cus­toms de­rived from North and Cen­tral China.

Lots of old tra­di­tions for Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val have been pre­served, and quite a few prac­tices are re­lated to the lo­cal re­li­gious be­liefs, she says.

Since the be­gin­ning of the eighth lu­nar month, peo­ple start vis­it­ing rel­a­tives and friends to present tra­di­tional gifts, such as fruits, moon­cakes and cook­ing oil.

The point of do­ing so is to show love and re­spect to rel­a­tives and friends, es­pe­cially the el­derly, Lin ex­plains.

Dur­ing the day of Mid-Au­tumn, peo­ple will pre­pare hearty food and other of­fer­ings for their an­ces­tors. In the evening, the whole fam­ily will en­joy a re­union din­ner to­gether.

Then, they will wor­ship the moon. Fam­i­lies gather in their front yards to put moon­cakes, fruits, in­cense and can­dle­sticks on an al­tar or ta­ble. The younger gen­er­a­tion fol­low their el­ders in ex­press­ing their re­spect for the moon and their wishes for a bet­ter life.

Though the cus­tom of worshipping the moon and peo­ple’s an­ces­tors is far from as pop­u­lar as it used to be, Lin in­sists that it re­mains a key part of the fes­ti­val’s cul­ture.

“Some peo­ple may think it’s old­fash­ioned and un­nec­es­sary, but I be­lieve it’s very im­por­tant as it gives us a sense of be­long­ing and keeps us con­nected with our wider fam­ily, both past and present,” Lin notes.

Be­sides worshipping the moon and eat­ing moon­cakes, other cus­toms, such as drink­ing the os­man­thus flower wine dur­ing the fes­ti­val, are also pop­u­lar na­tion­wide.

How­ever, folk cus­toms for MidAu­tumn Day vary in dif­fer­ent parts of China, Wang ob­serves.

New op­tions for tra­di­tional fes­ti­val

Fam­ily re­unions for the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val can be a greater chal­lenge for many, com­pared with Lin.

Chen Yan­nan, a na­tive of Quanzhou in South­east China’s Fu­jian prov­ince, who now works for a Bei­jing-based me­dia firm, says she had to give up go­ing home due to the long dis­tance.

It would take Chen, 23, al­most a day to get home and would cost her more than a 1,000 yuan ($150). Given that she has just started her ca­reer last year and has to tackle the high liv­ing costs in the cap­i­tal, it is an ex­pense which she can ill af­ford.

“It’s only a three-day break. I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend only one day at home but two days on the road,” Chen ex­plains.

In­stead, Chen will spend this Midau­tumn hol­i­day with her vis­it­ing friend, and they plan to dine to­gether at a restau­rant to cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion.

“While our par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion sticks to the tra­di­tional prac­tice of cook­ing and eat­ing at home dur­ing the fes­ti­val, we young peo­ple pre­fer to eat out. It’s more con­ve­nient, and we can try to find some de­li­cious and novel dishes,” says Chen.

Ac­cord­ing to Chen, quite a few of her friends choose to stay, too, to avoid the has­sle and cost of re­turn­ing home.

How­ever, Chen ad­mits that she will still try to get the sym­bolic food that is as­so­ci­ated with the spe­cific fes­ti­vals, such as moon­cake in this in­stance, wher­ever she is.

“Hav­ing the tra­di­tional food on such oc­ca­sions helps to as­suage my home­sick­ness a lit­tle when I think of my par­ents are also hav­ing the same food,” Chen says.

Nowa­days, more peo­ple in the cities tend to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val with friends, din­ing out or tak­ing short trips to­gether.

In­stead of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the full moon, watch­ing the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val galas on TV are a pop­u­lar form of re­cre­ation for the fes­ti­val among younger peo­ple. Equally, elec­tronic greet­ing cards and dig­i­tal red pack­ets have started to usurp moon­cakes as the gift du jour.

Fam­ily at the core

With their forms and rit­u­als, tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals like Mid-Au­tumn are charm­ing as it of­fers a spe­cial op­por­tu­nity for Chi­nese peo­ple to throw off the shack­les of re­straint and freely ex­press their feel­ings and ut­ter their love for friends and fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to Chen.

De­spite not be­ing able to visit home, she will make a video call to her par­ents on the day of the fes­ti­val to send them her greet­ings and love.

On the other hand, Chen’s par­ents usu­ally send her some food from home by mail and give her some money to make sure she en­joys a good fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence while away from home — invit­ing her to buy her­self some nice clothes and good food.

“The routines may get less im­por­tant, but fam­ily al­ways is,” Chen says.

While cus­toms and tra­di­tions for fes­ti­vals like Mid-Au­tumn in­evitably evolve with so­cial devel­op­ment, the core of them will not change, ac­cord­ing to Guo Wen­bin, a writer and cul­tural critic.

“The goal of tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals is to in­crease peo­ple’s sense of be­long­ing and be­ing home,” Guo says.

“Even though many peo­ple can’t go back home dur­ing such im­por­tant oc­ca­sions, they still have other ways to cre­ate a fes­ti­val at­mo­sphere and find those feel­ings.”

Con­tact the writer at li­ux­i­an­grui@chi­


“Mid-Au­tumn” first ap­peared in a clas­sic almanac writ­ten dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475-221 BC).


The cus­tom of worshipping the moon and peo­ple’s an­ces­tors is far from as pop­u­lar as it used to be, but it re­mains a key part of the fes­ti­val’s cul­ture.


Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val lanterns are bright, col­or­ful, and come in many dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes.


Dur­ing the day of Mid-Au­tumn, peo­ple pre­pare hearty food and other of­fer­ings for their an­ces­tors.

al­ways is.of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the moon may get less im­por­tant, but fam­ily

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