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Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese Traditional Culture

Chinese Traditional Culture and the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節 (Zhōngqiū jié)

In 2021, Chinese people celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival, also called Mooncake or Moon festival. The celebration starts on the 19th of September and lasts until the 21st, and it is a National Holiday. Traditionally in mid-August, there is the time rice is supposed to mature and be harvested. Therefore, people celebrate the harvest and worship their gods to show their gratitude.

The moon has great cultural importance for the Chinese. Firstly, almost all Chinese festivals are based on the ancient lunar calendar. The Chinese people believe that the moon is a full moon on the fifteen-day lunar calendar every month, symbolizing togetherness and reunion in Chinese culture. On the fifteenth day of the eight-month, the moon is fullest and brightest, and the Mid-Autumn festival begins. Families express familial love by eating dinner together and appreciating the moon. The celebration includes the eating of the mooncake 月饼 (Yuèbǐng). The round shape of the mooncake evokes an image of the full moon.

Mooncakes contain a traditional filling such as red bean or white lotus seed paste. In some provinces, mooncakes can contain a preserved egg yolk in the middle as a symbol that resembles the round moon in the sky. However, more recently, mooncakes can have more contemporary fillings such as chocolate, coffee, green tea, or even ice cream.

The harvest moon is believed to be the brightest of the year.

The word 满 (Mǎn) means complete or whole. The word has a symbolic meaning during the Lunar New Year in particular. The rice container, as an example, should be filled to the brim, symbolizing abundance.

A baby’s first-month 满月 (Mǎnyuè) is a momentous occasion. The celebration includes distributing Chinese snacks and red eggs (hard-boiled eggs that are dyed red) to friends and relatives so that they too can share the joy.

However, fullness is considered less desirable in education or knowledge and is not to be encouraged. The Chinese have a proverb such as 满招损, 谦受益, (Mǎn zhāo sǔn, qiān shòuyì) which means, literally “if you think you know everything, you invite loss; if you are humble, you will benefit.”

Chinese Phrases

满分 (Mǎnfēn) full marks
满腹牢骚 (Mǎnfù láosāo) full of complaints
满门 (Mǎnmén) the whole family
满面 (Mǎnmiàn) the whole face
满面春风 (Mǎnmiànchūnfēng) a face that shows happiness
满腔热情 (Mǎnqiāng rèqíng) full of enthusiasm
满身 ( Mǎn shēn) the whole body
满意 (Mǎnyì) fully satisfied
满载 (Mǎnzài) fully loaded
满载而归 (Mǎnzài’érguī) to return home from shopping with a full load
满足 (Mǎnzú) fully contented

The Cultural Meaning of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The moon plays a central role in the ancient myth of Chang-e 嫦娥 (Cháng’é), a period between 475-221 B.C. She is said to have swallowed the pill of immortality that belonged to her husband and then flown to the moon, where she was condemned to a lonely existence, and the Jade rabbit 玉兔 (Yùtù) accompanies her. 

A newer version of the legend describes Chang-e as a model of feminine beauty and elegance. She ingested the elixir only to prevent it from falling into the hands of an evil person. She then chooses the moon as her immortal abode to be close to her beloved husband. Yi makes sacrifices to his departed wife that feature cakes and fruits. The local people sympathize with him and also start making the same offerings. 

To this day, Chinese people continue this tradition, making mooncakes in commemoration of the goddess as they make wishes or pray for familial unity and harmony.

Dr. Rhea Du

Dr. Rhea Du

International Shaolin Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Shaolin Temple Yunnan