Tag Archives: Moon Cakes

Legend behind Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

The following story was told to me by my friend:

So in China we have the Mid-Autumn festival, as I am sure you have heard of, the mooncakes are famous. But, what a lot of people do not know is the myth of how it came to be. It all became long ago. There is a princess who lives on the moon in her moon castle with her little bunny. And as it goes, on the full moon -the 15th day of the month on the Lunar calendar- the princess could see Earth at its fullest. Every full moon she would look down at earth and she would always look at this one farmer and she eventually fell in love with him from afar. So one day, she went down to Earth and disguised herself as a human. Her and the farmer fell in love and she was happy on Earth. Then one day her brother noticed she was missing, so he searched for her and found her on Earth having married a mortal human. Outraged, he came down to Earth, and took her from her lover since it was a disgrace that a god would marry a human and he took her back to the moon. There, he imprisoned her in her castle and she could no longer see her lover. Eventually, the other gods felt bad for her because she was so very sad. So they made the agreement that in Autumn on the full moon she is allowed to go down once a year to visit her lover. So, the festival happens on the full moon on the 15th in Mid-Autumn every year and it is all about reunion and time with loved ones. 

Background: 

The informant is ½ Chinese and ½ French. While she spent the first 13 years of her life in Paris, she moved to Shanghai for high School to reconnect with her Chinese heritage. This story is one of her all time favorite stories from Chinese culture that her grandmother would tell her. She holds it very close to her. 

Context: 

The informant is a good friend of mine, and the conversation was held organically as she was reminiscing about things she loves about her culture one night over dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. 

My thoughts: 

I found this to be such a cute and lovely legend to how the festival came to be. Another one of my friends loves the Mid-Autumn festival. He is from Vietnam though, and while he never mentioned this moon princess story, he also loves the festival and what it signified for him and his friends and family spending time together. I love how this festival brings up such good memories for many of the people I have spoken to and it shows such a wholesome lineage between cultures.

The Moon Festival

Main Text

Subject: I feel like The Moon Festival for us is like the lowest key of the holidays, I think because the activity is usually just like, eating mooncake? And my parents aren’t like, particularly handy with baking, so we always just like, buy it from the store…maybe like Ranch 99, or Sheng Kee (subject laughs). And then…we’ll like have, maybe like, two sets, and then we just like, have it our house, and like, we’re sneaking bites up until the holiday, and then, the night of, I think we just like, prop up a couple of chairs, and like, sit outside and observe the moon and my parents will like, tell the same stories. Um…and then, you like, go back inside.

So like the whole…the whole observing of tradition takes, maybe like an hour. But, I think, like having the mooncake in the house is like pretty common, like having it for two or three weeks before and after.

Background

The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. Her parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and celebrating Chinese festivals have been a family tradition since childhood.

The interviewer is a 21-year-old Taiwanese-American student in his third year at USC. As someone who is from the same folk group, he is familiar with most major Chinese festivals.

By “tell the same stories,” the subject is referring to myths about the Moon Festival. Previously in the interview, the subject was asked to retell the myth of Chang-E (嫦娥), the immortal lady in the moon. However, the subject was unable to tell the myth in full without the interviewer being requested to fill in several gaps in the story.

Context

Growing up, the subject considered the observance of Chinese festivals such as this one a normal part of life. She grew up in Sunnyvale, California, where there were many Taiwanese people also participating in the tradition of celebrating these festivals. For her, the tradition was analogous to a Catholic family going to mass—something that was specific to that family and its folk group, that not all families (especially those outside the folk group) did.

The subject thinks about her family’s observance festival within the greater context of her family having a tradition of observing major Chinese festivals. She values the comfort of how the annual routine of returning home to celebrate these festivals reaffirms the stability of her family’s dynamic, relative to other Taiwanese-American families she has grown up with. Over the years, she has witnessed the families whose children are closer in age experience dramatic shifts in parental dynamics, after the children have left for college. Because of those shifts, those families tend to be less consistent in maintaining festival observances.

Unlike other families whose children are closer in age, the subject has two younger sisters. The middle sister is seven years younger than her. Because of the children’s large age gaps, her parents have continued to stick to the same everyday routines, such as driving the kids to high school, that the subject has known growing up. In a way, the family’s annual festival observances parallel the seemingly timeless everyday routines that the subject has grown up knowing.

Interviewer’s Analysis

Despite the brevity of the festival observation described, there are several notable items of folklore within. One is the iconic mooncake, which, beyond visually resembling the moon, was historically used to convey secret messages during wartime. Some modern, factory-produced mooncakes still reference this tradition, by including paper messages inside the mooncakes themselves, or by printing Chinese text on the surface of the mooncake. The sharing of messages through mooncakes, once done in personalized privacy, has now become commodified and publicized. The fact that the subject’s family eats mooncakes while sharing traditional Moon Festival myths adds a postmodern twist to the sharing of mooncake messages. It is a repetition of stories from the past in a present where a family watches the moon in private, while consuming mass-produced mooncakes with mass-produced text inscriptions. Moreover, the parents repeat this tradition every year, telling the same stories, only for the subject and her siblings to continuously forget them, almost as if so they can be annually reminded of them again. Is this truly a preservation of tradition, or is this an observation of selective tradition decay?

Moon Cakes

The world used to have 10 suns, but a man took arrows and shot them down until only one sun was left. He had a beautiful wife that wanted to become immortal. One day, the wife found her husband’s medicine and ate it, turning into an immortal fairy. She flew away to the moon where all the fairies lived and the woman brought a rabbit with her. Even though the husband was angry, he did not shoot down the moon because he loved his wife so much.

Whenever my informants family buys mooncakes (the Chinese sweet cakes that are consumed on/around Chinese New Year), there is a picture of a lady included in the package. Neither he nor his family is quite sure how this story relates to mooncakes, but they all agreed that the lady in the image is the lady from this story. He first heard this story from his mother when he asked about the picture. Unfortunately, my informant did not remember many of the details from this story, so it is difficult to analyze it without explanations for why she left her husband, however it is worthwhile to note that this story serves as an origin story for the rabbit on the moon visible if you turn your head to the right.