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ZhongQiuJie: Mooncakes


Chinese Characters (Simplified): 中秋节
Chinese Characters (Traditional): 中秋節
Romanization: zhōngqiūjiě
Transliteration: Middle – Autumn – Holiday
Free Translation: Mid-Autumn Festival

Text + Context:

Q: Was there a point as a kid where you first started celebrating or learned about it?

A: Oh ever since I can remember things, it’s always every year that way. We go to relatives homes they come to our home we eat mooncake. And in China there are many different type of mooncake, like made by fresh ground pork, and uh and you know they have different style, cantonese style, SuShe I don’t know how they call in English, is basically the uh the place near Shanghai they have some kind of special SuZhou is the city close to Shanghai, small one. They have a particular way to make mooncake.

Q: Would you usually eat a particular type of mooncake? Is there a particular one in Shanghai?

A: We have both, either they call sushe guangshe, I mean it’s Shanghai so they have everything. shushe is a little less expensive, guangshe is a little cheaper. But when people come to our home, as guests, they bring a gift? Usually they bring Guangshe gift, just because it’s uh it looks a little nicer and costs a little bit more. But I remember my uncle, because uh, come to our home, since our mom is his older sister. He would always come and um bring gifts um bring moon cake. bring mooncakes. And my aunt, my mom’s older sister, 3 sons they would go to they would bring the mooncake to my mom. Up to now, even last year they give to bring the mooncake. 

Q: Is it expected to bring mooncakes to relatives, and is it older relatives? 

A: It’s uh kind of expected if you go to relatives you always bring some small gift, but if it’s moon cake I mean mid fall festival, then it’s just, people just naturally bring mooncake as a gift.

A: I have never done that because I left the country very early. I just never got the chance to do that.

Context of performance: collected from an in-person conversation.

Personal Thoughts:

In Chinese culture, it’s expected for a guest to always bring a small gift when they visit. In turn, it’s expected for a host to play some 客气 (kèqì, literally means polite), which is a game of the host pseudo refusing the gift by calling the guest too generous. It’s interesting that for this particular day about reuniting with relatives, people just tend to bring mooncakes. For one thing, 中秋节 is always on the Harvest Moon, so being called a mooncake makes sense. In addition, the moon has a particular meaning linked with reunion. Overall, it’s fascinating to see a specific food with a specific intention for a specific festival.

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.


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.


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?