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Cultural Significance of Mid-Autumn and Double Ninth Festivals

Chinese Fortune ©️ Jing / Public Domain / Pixabay

On the 21st of September, China celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, with the Chong Yang Festival being celebrated later on the 14th of October. The Mid-Autumn and Double Ninth Festivals are listed as important festivities in a circular issued by the Central Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture. (Xinhua, 2005).

Researcher on traditional Chinese customs, Li Hanqiu, said, “Chinese culture, values, ethics, and every festival that stemmed from the rhythms of nature would be integrated with the essence of social ethics” (Xinhua, 2018). Festivals in China reunite families as well as the country. For Li, this reunion “is the deep-lying psychological structure of Chinese people’s family-based patriotism, as well as one of our spiritual resources nowadays to realize the ‘Chinese Dream’”(Xinhua, 2018).

China has more than fifty different ethnic groups and languages, and thus festivals play an important role in the unity and construction of China’s identity “as a gigantic community” (Xinhua, 2018). With the celebration of festivals, traditions and values are honored and passed on to the new Chinese generation. During the Lunar New Year greetings in 2015, the president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, said “Chinese traditions and virtues of family, harmony, and affection should not be forgotten so as to ensure that the young grow up healthily and senior citizens are taken care of” (China Daily, 2018).

The Moon Festival has a legendary origin and, as is often the case, is the result of a love story and the drama that arises from it. In early China, there was a system of paying tribute to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn.

This festival has its origin in the celebration of the harvest. The full moon represents fullness, prosperity, brightness, and beauty. Moreover, Autumn is the season when the sky is clear and the air is pure. Farmers actually look at the moon to see if the harvest will be good or not: a bright moon means a good harvest, peace, and happiness.

If the moon is green, it is a sign of famine. In the documents of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC), one can find inscriptions on "mid-autumn". Later, imitating these inscriptions, nobles and men of letters admired the full moon, paid homage to it, and expressed their feelings to it on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. This custom was passed on among the people. It gradually became a tradition by the Tang Dynasty (618-907) where the Mid-Autumn Festival became regular; by the Song Dynasty (960-1279) where the event became more solemn; and by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) leading to it becoming one of the major festivals in China.

Here is a collection of the best Mid-Autumn Festival greetings, wishes, and messages for you to send to your loved ones all around the world :

  • Chinese: 中秋快乐!

Pinyin: Zhōngqiū kuàilè

English: Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

  • Chinese: 祝你和你的家人中秋快乐

Pinyin: Zhù nǐ hé nǐ de jiārén zhōngqiū kuàilè :

English: Wish you and your family a happy Mid-Autumn Festival

  • Chinese:但愿人长久,千里共婵娟

Pinyin: dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ, qiān lǐ gòng chán juān

English: We wish each other a long life so as to share the beauty of this graceful moonlight, even though miles apart

For the Mid-Autumn Festival, various colourful legends are told about the moon.

The story of Chang'e is the most well-known:

A long time ago, ten suns appeared in the sky, all of them shooting their fiery rays together. Because of this scorching heat, the seas boiled, the mountains crumbled, the land became larded and the vegetation yellowed; the human race was threatened with extinction. Then a man named Houyi, a skillful and courageous archer shot nine arrows, which knocked down nine suns, leaving only one in the sky.

One day, the Queen of Heaven (西王母 Xīwángmǔ),gave Hou Yi a bottle of elixir that could make Hou Yi become immortal, but the elixir was only effective for one person. Hou Yi wanted to become immortal. Instead, Hou Yi chose to stay with his beautiful wife Chang'e, refusing to drink the elixir and choosing to rather ask his wife to keep it for him.

Hou Yi became more and more famous after slaughtering the nine suns and more and more men became disciples of Hou Yi.

Feng Meng, one of his students, wants to get hold of his elixir. One day, Hou Yi goes hunting with his students, but Feng Meng pretends to be ill and stays at home. Instead he goes to Hou Yi's house and tries to force Chang'e to give him the elixir. Chang'e understands that she cannot defeat Feng Meng, deciding to drink the elixir immediately. This makes her immortal and begins ascending to the sky. Finally, she stops on the moon and begins to live there, making her the moon goddess.

Another festival is celebrated in October is the Double Nine Festival(双九节). The Chong Yang Festival (重阳节), from its Chinese name the Double Yang Festival, is celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth moon. The origins of this festival are much questioned and can be traced back to the period of the Western Han Dynasty.

In fact, several rites are associated with this festival, including the function of protection against misfortune and a connection with the ancestors, hence the fact that in some Chinese regions tombs are visited on this day.

Indeed, during this festival day, people perform several practices, the most important of which is to have a picnic on a hillside and to drink chrysanthemum wine as a prophylaxis. Also, people eat a steamed cake called (重阳糕)’chóng yáng gāo’, decorated with a paper flag. In Chinese, '重 chong' means double. The number nine is pronounced in Chinese in the same way as the character, meaning 'longevity': 'jiu'. This holiday is therefore considered to be particularly auspicious. It is also linked to the celebration of the autumn harvest. Nowadays, the Chongyang Festival is also dedicated to the elderly, as a way of paying special tribute to their achievements for society. It is an opportunity for the Chinese to pay their respects to their elders and for the latter to get out of their homes and celebrate (Chinatoday, 2019).

The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival (中秋节) remains the second most important festival after the Chinese New Year. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar calendar. On this day, the full moon is the brightest and largest of the year, symbolizing family unity and togetherness. Traditionally, the Chinese use this mid-autumn festival to gather around the family table (like in Thanksgiving) and share mooncakes. Once the meal is over, families go out to admire and worship the moon by presenting her with offerings. Children carry brightly colored paper lanterns. It is customary for the family to get together to share these famous mooncakes (月饼, yuèbǐng) while admiring the moon shining in the sky. Moon cake is the traditional Chinese pastry that every Chinese person enjoys during the Mid-Autumn Festival. A traditional dessert of the Mid-Autumn Festival (the second most important festival in China), the mooncake has a round shape reminiscent of the full harvest moon of Mid-Autumn Day. In traditional Chinese belief, these little delicacies also symbolize happiness. To represent the full moon, the cake usually hides a fermented duck egg yolk at its core.

Nowadays, it is possible to find all kinds of mooncakes:

-Guangzhou mooncakes: the most common, often very rich and sweet.They are recognizable by the inscriptions on the upper crust. It is recommended to accompany them with a strong tea such as Tieguanyin, Oolong tea, or Ginseng tea.

- Taiwanese mooncakes: the outer surface is both smooth and crispy. The taste is fresh and light. It can be combined with Tianwu tea or Dongding tea.

- Suzhou mooncakes: These mooncakes are crispy, soft, and pleasant to the palate. Being very sweet and hearty, it is recommended to eat them while drinking jasmine tea.

Several legends explain the link of the mooncake with the Mid-Autumn Festival. One of them states that the mooncake played an important role in the Chinese rebellion against the Mongols at the end of the Yuan dynasty between 1280 and 1368. Zhu Yuanzhang was a rebel and came up with the idea of distributing small cakes to the Chinese population, into which he slipped a message calling on his compatriots to raise their arms on the 15th day of the eighth moon. The plan worked and the leader became the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (Foodicles, 2021). In fact, the custom of the mooncake goes back even further in history according to another explanation. Emperor Taizong, who ruled from 626 to 649, received a gift of cakes on the occasion of a victory over nomadic tribes in Central Asia on the 15th day of the eighth moon. The leader is said to have shared the gift with his ministers and made it a tradition (Chinatown, 2021).

The Chong Yang Festival(重阳节), also known as the Double Ninth Festival, will be celebrated in China on the 14th of October. The 9th day of the 9th month of the killing of a monster highlights two significant explanations to the festival: the number 9 is a Yang character and double ninth’s pronunciation is identical as ‘forever”, making this day a festival of cleansing and for ancestors. Since the day is more Yang without any Yin, the activities during the day are for the cleansing of the physical body by climbing mountains and the cleansing of the soul by having chrysanthemum. (Pang, 2021).

Eating cakes and drinking wine is also part of the tradition of the festival:

  • The Chongyang cake is also known as the flower cake, chrysanthemum cake, and five-color cake. The history behind this cake is as the Double Ninth Festival started, “people put a piece of cake on the forehead of their children while murmuring auspicious wishes”(Beijing Tourism, 2020). The Chongyang is generally a nine layers cake with two lambs on top of the cake for the homophony of Chongyang is also ‘two lambs’. Others put on top of the cake a red paper flag and a candle as ‘candle cake’, which is a homophone for ‘climbing high’ (deng gao) (Beijing Tourism, 2020).

Chrysanthemum wine is the drink of the Festival. Poet and politician Tao Yuanming (365-427), was the first to drink chrysanthemum wine on the day of the Festival. Drinking this wine became a tradition during the festival, yet chrysanthemum is not exclusive to this festival alone, as it is now a well appreciated plant more generally.(Kelly Pang, 2021).

Najoua Chetioui is a Master's student in Management and International Business, specialized in exchanges with Asia, at le Havre Normandie University. Moreover, she is passionate about Chinese culture and language. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

Prisca Mirchandani has currently finished her trilingual master’s degree of Global Security and Analysis (French, English, and Chinese) at the University of Bordeaux, France. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the University “Lumière” Lyon 2, France, studied the Chinese language with the University, and participated in language exchanges with students coming from China to study in Lyon. She is passionate about China- EU relations, China-France relations, and China Hong Kong’s history. You can find her on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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