Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival: The Origin of Mooncakes

Main Piece:

The following was transcribed from an interview between the informant and the interviewer.

“So usually in the fall time there’s a holiday called the mid-autumn festival or sometimes people call it the mooncake festival because the thing that people eat during this festival is called a mooncake. It’s basically like this um, roundish like, very dense um, pastry, and on the inside there’s like different fillings. So sometimes like mixed nuts as a filling, red bean paste, or loaded bean paste, or these like different things. And um there’s like a legend about why we celebrate the mid-autumn festival or the moon festival. And it’s like basically the story is that a really long time ago, like in ancient times, there were actually ten suns on earth, um, and, it was like really hot, and it made people’s lives very difficult ‘cause it was super, super hot all the time. And then there was this guy who was a hero, and he wanted to help people because they were struggling under the heat of the ten suns. So, he like used a bow and arrow and his great strength and he shot down nine of the ten suns (laughs). Um so, after he like did this, he became a big hero, everybody loved him. And then, as all stories go, he like met a princess, and he married her. And they were living happily ever after. Um, but then, the hero, he like didn’t want to die, so then he was looking for a way to live forever. And then, this like magician gave him a potion which would cause him to go to heaven and become a god. But then, instead of drinking it because he wasn’t sure, he took it home and gave it to his wife. Um and she was just supposed to keep it, but basically, she drank it. And then the moment that she drank it, she flew out of the window and ascended into the sky. And then she lived on the moon, so the princess that lived on the moon that’s why it’s the moon festival. And then we eat these cakes to like remember her.”

Context: I collected this piece of folklore during an over the phone interview. My informant is a Chinese American who resides in California. Her family has participated in the Chinese holiday called the mid-autumn festival or the mooncake festival.. When the mooncake is made with an egg yolk inside it is meant to represent the moon. This legend that my informant told me is meant to be the reason why they celebrate the holiday.

My Thoughts:

Even though this story is of Asian descent and not European, there are many similarities with this tale and the formula that Propp discovered that fits most Europeans tales. However, there is a twist with this Chinese legend. As in most European tales a hero identifies a need (in this case he wants to save the people from the ten suns by destroying most of them), he battles the villain (in this case the villains are the suns), the need is resolved (people no longer are struggling from overheating), the hero returns and there is a wedding. The part of this legend that is different than European tales is after there is a happy ending, the story keeps going. I find it interesting that the story ends with the hero’s wife becoming immortal and ascending to be a god which then becomes the person that is remembered through the festival. You would think the festival would be to honor the guy who slayed nine suns for human’s continued existence, but instead it’s his wife, who just so happened to drink a potion at the end of the story. This legend kind of makes being a hero seem not worth it.