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Mid Autumn Festival or Moon Festival — Holiday of Reunion and Mooncake

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Zhongqiu Festival, falls on the 15th of August in the Traditional Chinese Calendar.


Among China's most ancient festivals, it is the time to celebrate reunion and the bountiful harvest that nature bestows.


During this auspicious occasion, families come together, sharing the warmth of togetherness, and the air is filled with the aroma of mooncakes.

Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes

When and How Did the Mid Autumn Festival Originate


In ancient China, sovereigns would hold grand ceremonies to worship the sun in spring and the moon in autumn, pray for blessings, and celebrate the good harvest.

Later, more legends concerning the moon became popular, and more rites and meanings were added to the full moon in the middle of autumn.

Until the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), the Moon Festival became famous, and most traditions and celebrating activities gradually formed.

Earliest Existing Silk Painting in China, from Ma Wang Dui Tomb

Sun, Moon, Auspicious Animals, and Deities in Silk Painting of Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD) — Hunan Museum


Legends of the Moon and the Mid Autumn Festival

Fairy Chang E

Chang E, the wife of hero Hou Yi, took an elixir and flew to the moon. Afterward, she became the Goddess of the Moon.

Her husband on earth, one day, saw her silhouettes on the moon. So, Hou Yi placed all his excellent foods on the table, hoping Chang E could share them with him and see his eternal love. 

Afterward, this date became Mid Autumn, also named the Moon Festival.

Chang E, Moon Rabbit and Moon Palace Guang Han Gong

Jade Rabbit

Jade Rabbit, also named Moon Rabbit, is a mythical animal that lives on the moon.


Some people believe that the Jade Rabbit is Chang E's pet that accompanies her in the cold Moon Palace. 

As a mythical creature, the Jade Rabbit kept pounding medicines to make elixirs. Gradually, the Jade Rabbit became a symbol of the moon.

Jade Rabbit Pounding Medicines Earring, Unearthed from Grave of Wanli Emperor

Jade Rabbit Pounding Medicines Earring, Unearthed from Grave of Wanli Emperor (1563 — 1620) — Dingling Museum

Wu Gang

Besides Chang E and Jade Rabbit, a giant Laurel stands next to the Moon Palace (Guanghan Gong). 

Wu Gang keeps cutting Laurel as a punishment for having made some mistakes. However, this magical laurel keeps growing too. 

Hence, Wu Gang would spread laurel seeds on earth during this period and could make tasty Osmanthus wine.

Osmanthus wine

Emperor Xuanzong of Tang

Li Longji (685 — 762), respected as Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, in some legends, had visited the moon once, with the help of two Taoists, or in his dream. 

During his trip, he was welcomed by Chang E, visited the Moon Palace (Guanghan Palace), tried a delicious moon-shaped cake and Wu Gang's Osmanthus wine, and was impressed by the fantastic music there. 

Later, he wrote the famous Nichang Yuyi (also known as The Feather Dress Dance or The Song of Enduring Sorrow) based on what he remembered from the music on the moon. 

This legend might not be real, but Nichang Yuyi is one of the most outstanding court music in Chinese history. 

His favorite concubine Yang Guifei (719 — 756), danced to it and impressed everyone with her astonishing beauty and dancing skills. 

Lacquerware Debris of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) Inlaid with Mother-of-pearl Made Moon Palace Picture

Lacquerware Debris of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) Inlaid with Mother-of-pearl Made Moon Palace Picture — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)


Customs, Traditions, and Celebrating Activities


  • Worship the moon using sacrifice offerings, including mooncakes and seasonal fruits.

  • Have a feast dinner with family.

  • Eat Mooncakes.

  • Make and hang up Lanterns and guess lantern riddles.

  • Appreciate the beautiful moon, drink Osmanthus wine, and chat with family.

  • Eat sweet-scented Osmanthus-made candy and cake.

sweet-scented Osmanthus candy

Mooncake in Mid Autumn Festival

Originally a type of sacrificial offering to the moon, Mooncakes were later made into the moon's shape and became the representative of the reunion since the Song Dynasty (960 — 1179).

Since the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), eating mooncakes at the Moon Festival became quite popular.


This is believed to memorize the uprising against the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) under the command of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1328 — 1398).

When Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder emperor of the Ming Dynasty, was planning to rebel, they needed to send info to those who hated the Yuan's reign and wanted to join. 

Under the strict surveillance of Yuan's government, Zhu Yuanzhang asked his soldiers to hide a note in many mooncakes, writing that "will rebel on the night of 15th of August". 

Zhu Yuanzhang's Rebellion Against Reign of Yuan Dynasty

After those mooncakes were sent to cities, they were successfully delivered to uprising armies, who participated and won that battle.

A few years later, the Ming Dynasty was established, and Zhu Yuanzhang became the Hongwu Emperor or Emperor Taizu of Ming.


To memorize his soldiers' braveness and their final success, Zhu Yuanzhang regulated mooncakes as the essential food of the Mid Autumn Festival. 

Since then, more exquisite mooncakes have been invented and popularized, including various crusts, fillings, flavors, regions, decorations, etc.

However, one thing that had never changed: it is the most important representative of the reunion. 

Mooncakes on Mid Autumn Festival the Zhongqiu
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