What is Mid-Autumn Festival?

Every year, on August 15 of the Lunar calendar, Chinese families get together, eat mooncakes, and play the dice game to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Mooncake Festival, Moon Festival, or sometimes, the Lantern Festival. The moon is at its fullest and most beautiful form during this time of the year. It’s not unusual to hear in Chinese dramas a man telling his lover (whom he’s leaving behind) to look at the sky so that when she sees the moon, she will remember that he, too, is looking at the same moon. This means that even though the two are apart for some reasons, by looking at the same moon at the same time, they are actually together in spirit. It may sound corny to Chinese people like me since we hear those lines most of the time. But if you’re not a Chinese or have never heard of it, and if you’re going somewhere far from your beloved, you can try telling it to him/her. Maybe he/she would be impressed upon hearing it.
As a kid, every time I see a full moon, I would always look for the figure of a beautiful woman. She is none other than Chang’e, a woman who is as popular as Cinderella to Chinese kids. Her story has been taught in Chinese schools, including the school I’ve attended in the Philippines (I’ve probably missed the part saying that it was merely a myth). Now that I’ve grown up, I learned that there’s no such woman on the moon, and if ever I did spot a human figure, that was probably an astronaut.
Chang'e with Hare
Credit: Rainy Kua

The Story of Chang'e

Chang'eCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chang%27e_flies_to_the_moon_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15250.jpg

Chang'e being chased by her husband
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The story of Chang’e has many versions. I’m going to share only one version, the one that I remember being taught to me in school. Chang’e was a beautiful woman married to Houyi. At that time, the earth had ten suns. The earth was getting unbearably hot. Being the great archer that he was, Houyi was summoned by Emperor Yao to shoot the nine extra suns with his arrows. Houyi succeeded and won himself a pill, the elixir of life. The emperor told him not to take the pill unless he had fasted and prayed for a year. So he hid it in his home, not even telling Chang’e about it. However, while he was away, Chang’e discovered the shining pill. As she was examining the pill, her husband got home. Surprised, she accidentally swallowed the pill and started flying. Houyi tried to go after her, but she got lighter and lighter, until she reached the moon where she stayed. She found a hare who kept her company. The pill made Chang’e immortal, and since then, she lives on the moon, forever. It was believed that when you see a woman’s silhouette on the moon, that is Chang’e with her rabbit. Oh, I’d love to have that immortal rabbit as my pet!


The Hidden Message in Mooncakes

MooncakeCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G%C3%A2teau_de_lune.jpg

mooncakes were used to overthrow the Mongolians
during the Yuan Dynasty
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

During the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolians ruled the Chinese people. The people were persecuted and were treated as slaves. To end their sufferings, the Chinese decided to overthrow the Mongolians by sending secret messages. They decided to hide the messages in the mooncakes, knowing that the mooncakes would remain untouched by the Mongolians as they disliked eating them. The mooncakes were sent to the people and they were told not to eat the delicacy until August 15. The message was this: slay all the Mongolians after the Mid-Autumn Festival. After the festival, the Chinese had successfully overthrown the corrupt government. This marked the start of Ming Dynasty where Zhu Yuan Zhang, later known as Emperor Hong Wu, became the ruler. Zhu Yuan Zhang, together with his advisor Liu Bo Wen, was the mastermind behind the revolution.


Mooncake Dice Game

The fun part and sometimes, the most anticipated part about Mid-Autumn Festival is not the eating of the delicious mooncakes, but rather the Mooncake Dice Game. Families, companies run by the Chinese, Chinese associations, and Chinese schools play this game during Mid-Autumn Festival. The mechanics of the game are simple: you throw a set of six dices into a large ceramic bowl. If you get any of the six winning combinations, you win a prize. The number “four” is the most important number in this game. Here are the six winning combinations:
6th place: one 4
e.g. 2, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
5th place: two 4’s
e.g. 6, 3, 4, 5, 4, 1
4th place: four similar numbers EXCEPT 4
e.g. 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 4 (note: this combination also contains a single 4, which is the sixth place; but since it also has four similar numbers, the 4th place prize is awarded)
3rd place: three 4’s 
e.g. 4, 4, 4, 1, 3, 2
2nd place: no similar numbers OR two sets of similar numbers
e.g. 4, 1, 5, 3, 6, 2
3, 3, 3, 5, 5, 5
1st place: four 4’s OR at least five similar numbers
e.g. 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 2
2, 2, 2, 2, 6, 2
5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
The higher the “place” you get, the greater the prize you’ll win. The players will keep on playing until all the prizes have been taken. Prizes may range from candies, pens, and snacks to appliances, gadgets, and money. The prizes may or may not be solicited by the players. This is a very exciting game with lots of laughing and screaming from the players. My hands usually get cold and sweaty whenever I play the dice game. I’d have to wipe my hands on my pants before throwing the dices; otherwise, the dices will stick to my hands. I got zhung wan (1st place) a few times before. However, there were times that I’d only won a couple of sixth- or fifth-place prizes. I guess it’s just a matter of luck. 

Final Words

The moon means different things to different people. To the Americans, the moon symbolizes the impossible dreams; to the moon worshippers, the moon is their god; to the scientists, the moon is a planet’s natural satellite; to the werewolves, the moon is a curse; and to the Chinese, the moon represents the Mid-Autumn Festival. Despite all these differences, one thing’s for sure: the moon holds a special place in our hearts.
© Rainy Kua 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Listen to a very popular 1970's song by Teresa Teng