The Story Behind Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节
A time of celebration, mooncakes, and family reunions, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 30th this year. Coinciding with the autumn equinox, this major holiday is celebrated not only in China but all across Asia.
There are many stories about the origins of Mid-Autumn Festival, and the one most associated with the festival is the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e, which itself has multiple versions.
One version goes like this: Once upon a time in ancient China, ten suns hung in the sky. The heat of the suns caused a drought and the harvest began to shrivel up. The emperor of China asked his master archer, Hou Yi, to shoot down all but one of the ten suns.
Hou Yi climbed to the top of Kunlun Mountain, shooting down nine suns. The grateful emperor presented him with a pill that would grant him immortality. However, Hou Yi had a beautiful wife, Chang’e, and he did not wish to become immortal without her.
After Hou Yi was acclaimed as a hero, he stashed away the pill in a secret place. Feng Meng, a student of Hou Yi’s, discovered the existence of the pill. One day, when Hou Yi was away, Feng Meng tried to force Chang’e to give him the pill. Instead, Chang’e swallowed the pill herself, and she flew up into the moon and became immortal.
Missing his beloved wife, Hou Yi burned incense and food offerings, and the practice spread throughout China. It is said that during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chang’e and Hou Yi are reunited—which is why Mid-Autumn Festival is also an important day for families to come together.
During Mid-Autumn Festival, people traditionally eat mooncakes and look at the full moon. Mooncakes themselves have an interesting history behind them. Stay tuned for more—we’ll have a post dedicated just to mooncakes, the Chinese pastry that everyone loves to hate!
(For more information on Mid-Autumn Festival and other Chinese Festivals, check out our Festivals CD-ROM!)