That time again – Lunacy Festival!
Friday 20 September 2013, 5.50am HKT
10.35pm local time, 28°C (82°F), some rain patches
RIGHT ABOUT NOW, my funkless soulless siblings and niblings, it’s Midautumn Festival. That means the loonies are coming out of the woodwork tonight.
Let me tell you my own family’s understanding of this festival before everything goes to pot in the midst of time and Internet space.
(Shoutz and belated happy birthday to my longtime reader Ed H.)
Updates marked in red made on 2013-SEP-2013.
* * *
Today (Thursday, 19 September) is the actual feast day in the Chinese lunar calendar.
The formal Chinese name is Midautumn Festival 中秋節, pronounced Zhōngqiū Jié (Mandarin, rhymes with ‘Joan-Chew-Jess’) or Chung Chow Tsit (Cantonese).
It is sometimes called the Mooncake Festival or the Moon Festival, but more usually the Lantern Festival in China.
(Click some images for large pictures.)
Full moon over Hong Kong
Here, it’s simply “Mid-Autumn Festival” — hyphenated, because it’s
so terribly old-fashioned to use redundant hyphens — with no
Chinese-language reference in true Hong Kong fashion.
The Midautumn Festival occurs every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It is celebrated officially as a legal public holiday in China (only since 2008), Hong Kong (since 1900), Taiwan and Vietnam. Many other Asian countries also observe the festival on a de facto basis.
Perversely, Hong Kong observes the festival as a legal public holiday the next day, which is tomorrow (20 September).
In the pantheon of Chinese festivals, the Midautumn Festival is one of the three most important holidays for Chinese communities worldwide. The two other being Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival) and Ching Ming 清明 (Qing Ming, literally ‘Pure Brightness,’ the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean version of All Souls’ Day).
On this day (night, actually), people light up paper lanterns in the shapes of rabbits and other animals (hence Lantern Festival). Idiot kids lacking hand/eye coordination think it’s cool to melt down candles into lava-like pools of runny wax. Then they end up setting themselves on fire by accident — resulting in a hilariously hideous resemblance to firebombed soldiers fresh back from combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan (or Syria, if you want to be ultra-topical).
That’s what the date in Chinese also means — buttocks.
The Midautumn Festival for a long time was simply known by its date — “eighth month fifteenth day” 八月十五 (bā-yuè shí-wǔ in Mandarin, or baat yuet sup ng in Cantonese). As a phrase, that date is also a Chinese colloquial euphemism for the derrière.
So, if your eight fifteen is fully rounded, your booty must be pretty awesome.
Quality of life just improved knowing your butt is nicknamed ‘eight fifteen’…
The Eight Fifteen typeface
Note the coincidental buttocks in ‘E’
By the way, you cannot use ‘eight fifteen’ to mean going anal, which is a different ballgame altogether.
THE SURFACE STORY
Know that the legends plastered on Wikipedia and elsewhere are just the surface story.
Save yourself the trouble and instead read The Naked Listener’s highly condensed version below. It is the most widely understood story known to the most number of people.
And I’ll use English names for the characters to help you along understanding it.
In personis dramatis in dementia terminalis
Earth, and hopefully you too live on this one
Moon, if you’re trippin’ already
Hou-Yi 后羿 is Hughie, archer and leader of the Eastern China Seaboard
Chang-Er (Sheung Ngor) 嫦娥 is Seline, wife of Hughie (or just another chick)
Well-cleavaged Sheung Ngor and lucky-ass Bunny Wink-Wink
It’s not a flowing robe, they’re BDSM straps…
It was the year 2170 BC. Earth had 10 suns. (Linkin Park has ‘A Thousand Suns.’ Heh.) Each sun took roster duty to illuminate the Earth. In short, one sun for China, and the other nine spread out all over the world. (You can see the Chinese were already thinking about the Earth being a round ball.)
This was around the same time as chaotic Dynasty VIII in ancient Egypt. That’s 4,723 years ago, with actual Israelites in actual ancient Egypt but bizarrely pre-dating the Judeo-Christian creation of the world — wherez ur god nao, huh?
Oh wait, the Western solar year has 365 days, but only 360 for the old-style Chinese lunar year. That’s 64 years, 45 weeks and 4 days out. Okay, negligible in the general scheme of things.
[You're digressing. Get on with it.—Editor.]
One fine day, all 10 suns accidentally appeared together and were frying the bejesus out of the planet.
Out of selfish self-preservation, Hughie (despot, archer king and leader of the China Eastern Seaboard) yelled out “Ah mah chargin’ mah lazer!” — and wiped out nine suns with his Low-Orbit Ion Cannon.
Saved Earth. One sun left. Hunky-dory. Drinks all round.
But then Hughie the Sunbuster wanted immortality. He had to lie, thieve, assassinate and destroy to maintain his tyrannical rule because democratic elections haven’t been invented yet to be rigged.
So Hughie proceeded to pilfer the Elixir of Life from the Celestial Queen Mother. Guinness hadn’t been invented yet, but a hippier version of magic mushrooms was being grown at that time, so he fed some heavy shiz to the Celestial Queen Mum to keep her tripped up during the thieving process.
On came Seline, who was Hughie’s big squeeze. She came packaged with great
cleavage talent (SEE IMAGE) but she was also the high-maintenance type.
Anyway, Seline was pissed off with Hughie mistreating Earthlings and his arsehole way of getting things done. She drank Hughie’s elixir. Pretty soon, she found herself floating all the way to the Moon. Obviously, the elixir was prime-quality acid (LSD) and Seline was trippin’ big time.
Meanwhile, Hughie was livid and now trigger-happy itching to do the Pulp Fiction Low-Orbit Ion Cannon thing.
Bunny on the moon (via Wikipedia)
But Hughie figured it was still best to have Drama Camwhore Queen Seline play with those stupid jade rabbits up on the Moon and just hook up with her once a year on the 15th night of the 8th lunar month when her ‘eight fifteen’ was roundest and brightest.
(You really can’t escape the notion that Hughie’s really into anal with this eight-fifteen reference littered all over the place…)
With Seline bombed out of her mind on drugs and out of the way, Hughie reasoned he’d get 364 days (or 359 in old Chinese calendar) all to himself for R and R (wink! wink!) with other chicks. Lucky bastard.
Quality of life just improved for Hughie (and us) for not shooting down the Moon…
[That's enough storytelling. Get on with it.—Editor.]
The whole message behind the ’15th of the 8th’ boils down to three things:—
- the importance of regular family reunions,
- that family reunion is key to playing into imbibing and imbuing the younger generation with a sense of familial belonging, and
- that it’s the responsibility of the older generation to show the young that continuity is paramount for anything, not just for the family unit.
Family reunions, familial belonging and continuity are ideas that foster a cohesive society — which, paradoxically, Japanese society does far, far better than the Chinese.
For proof of THAT concept, look at the general Japanese conduct in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Great Fukushima Earthquake Tsunami Volcano Eruption Typhoon Nuclear Meltdown Disaster. People actually queued up for supplies. Younger victims helped older victims. Cancer-ridden ex-nuclear workers volunteered to clean up rather than have healthy workers do the job. Geeks lifehacked kerosene generators into phone charging stations, and nerds fast-tracked solar panels into the same. Food manufacturers invented and donated non-cooking ramen to victims.
If you’re Chinese, you’ll KNOW how Chinese will behave. If you’re not Chinese, you can imagine pretty accurately.
You can readily see that these three ideas are scarcely done well in the West, particularly in societies with Anglo-Saxon traditions. Indeed, the Americans and the British are particularly bad at being a cohesive society — despite their near-constant yakking about ‘traditions’ and ‘one country.’
We’re judged on what we actually do — not what we profess to believe in. Those three ideas show us that we can’t live Life on thank-you notes.
A person who isn’t into or doesn’t believe in (or simply doesn’t do) family reunions are not really the marriage or family type anyway. A person like that have no real sense of belonging either in a family or indeed any kind of grouping, I have found. A person like that also has a rather disjointed sense of continuity because it’s mostly self-referential that it makes the person unable to appreciate that his or her actions could impinge on the lives of others. They think logistically but unable to consider things in human terms.
If you’ve ever watched the black-and-white movie “Patterns” (1956, written by Rod Serling of “Twilight Zone” fame), you can see the hard-boiled character Walter Ramsey is lacking in all three of those qualities.
THE DEEPER MESSAGE?
On a deeper level, the symbolism of the Midautumn Festival perhaps boils down to six things.
1. Hou-Yi (后羿)
Yeah, we know people like Hughie already. Power corrupts and absolute crap craps absolutely, and all that jazz. No special message here — one good deed (wiping out surplus suns) doesn’t make up for all the other misdeeds (abusing others, theft, disinformation, etc). Every arsehole wants to be immortal because the world isn’t enough for them.
2. Sheung Ngor / Chang Er (嫦娥)
This chick really has an English name — well, Latin actually (Seline = moon).
Ming dynasty portrait of Sheung Ngor (via Wikipedia)
Seline has long been credited (erroneously) as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. She’s no diety. And she’s no innocent. She’s just another groupie chick who hung around a gothmeister (Hughie) and happened to live on the Moon because of being hopped to the gills trippin’ on high-quality Breaking Bad products.
Contrary to Wikipedia’s assertions, never once in the whole of Chinese history, mythology and/or mentality had Seline ever been considered the Chinese complement to the Western notion of the man in the Moon. Derp.
The colour is purple on olive oil, your assertion is groundless, Mr Wikipedia.
Helluva lot more interesting is that Seline is best known for being The Chinese Chick With The Best Cleavage.
(Please, I never bothered to ask Grandpa why that is so. So there.)
This chick personifies the idea that it isn’t necessary to adhere to our holy cows — valuable things in life aren’t necessarily things or inherently sacred. The ‘authorities’ (personified by king Hughie) and their negative manner of doing things (abusing others) sometimes require us to neutralise their most-wanted desires (drinking Hughie’s elixir). In other words, we need to do the right thing, using what we have at hand — if sex sells (Seline’s cleavage as a distraction), then use it for the greater good. That’s what it bloody means, Wikipedophilia.
Man in the moon — he ain’t no lady, that’s for dang sure (via Wikipedia)
3. Mooncake (月餅)
Pronounced yuè bǐng in Mandarin or yuet beng in Cantonese (sounds like “you’d bang”).
The mooncake was invented when China was under Mongol rule (1200s to 1300s). It was originally a disguise for military mobilisation orders for coup d’etat.
Updated:— Yes, mooncakes ostensibly started as containers for secret mobilisation orders. I say ostensibly mainly because, if we think about this, mass producing something like a mooncake to hide mobilisation orders probably would have a higher chance of being sussed out, considering the military and intelligence-gathering prowess of the Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries. Possibly much more in keeping with reality is that mooncakes were libationary objects of ancient harvest festivals (which the Midautumn Festival originally was). (2013-SEP-21)
Chinamen could tolerate mooncakes
Mongols shat bricks at the sight of them
You too would shat boulder-sized bricks if you knew that a 185-gramme (6½ oz.), double-yolked mooncake contains 1,200 kilocalories, mainly from fats and sugars. Instant effing diabetes.
The mooncake symbolises the need to have a plan or agenda for the foreseeable future, though not necessarily the need to carry it out. It’s kind of like having a plan in stock if and when circumstances call for its implementation.
I don’t know how to explain this properly, other than by the German words Auftragstaktik (mission-type tactics: ‘mission command’ in the USA and UK) as opposed to Normaltaktik (‘order-type tactics’) or even Befehlstaktik (‘command-and-control tactics’). (Updated 2013-SEP-21)
Learn German and talk to me. Jawohl, Herr Leutnant.
4. Mooncake, part II
The mooncake — now highly overpriced — is also a metaphor for the need to be inconspicuous or innocuous in your efforts to achieve something or to surmount some difficulty. The modern translation that I personally favour from Grandpa was (his words to the effect):—
If you need to get your game up, you need to do it
quietly, nicely, agreeably, in an all-round package,
not half-baked or half-hearted but solid action.
5. Lotus seed paste
This is the god-awful brownish gunge inside the mooncake. It’s oily and gooey — too bloody sweet. It’s made from lotus seeds, roughly two dozen of which are encased in the thick rind of each lotus head. It takes a helluva job to remove those seeds, and even more hard work to cook them into a paste.
Lotus seeds in raw state (via Wikipedia)
The trite and banal metaphor here is that great difficulties or hardship surround small, precious successes or treasures.
The real message is this:—
You yourself is the thin red line between success and failure.
In other words, it is YOU who defends your own best interests.
There is a secondary message too:—
Sweating through the aggro is NOT your objective,
but getting through to what you want IS.
Clear enough for you lot out there?
6. The euphemism
Perhaps this is a bit of a modern take from my folks, but “baat yuet sup ng” 八月十五 (buttocks, remember?) could be taken as:—
You can sit on your butt all night,
admiring the buttocks of the moon,
then end up missing the whole next day
because you overslept
because you were wasting your time
ADMIRING SOMETHING YOU CANNOT REACH.
* * *
Why observe the festival the day after and not on the actual day itself?
Part of the
lunacy lore of the Midautumn Festival is to loll around at night in the family porch and admire the moon. Which is why The Naked Listener calls it the Lunacy Festival.
When you’ve got this lunar fetish of stalking the moon, you need the next day for oversleeping — and time for your body to turn back from werewolf form.
Ergo, next day’s a holiday.
You’ll also need holiday the next day for your kids. You’ll need it to try to salvage whatever few living body parts of the morons that pass for your kids after they set fire to themselves with molten wax the night before in a bid look like chemical war veterans from Iraq, Afpak and Syria.
Update:— The ‘official’ reason that Hong Kong makes the next day a legal public holiday is that most of the festivities take place in evening time. (2013-SEP-21)
The legend you told isn’t the one I knew. What gives?
At least three different storylines figure in the lore of the Midautumn Festival. The permutations of details and characters vary with the localities in China or some other country. But the storyline recounted above is the most widely known.
C’mon, they’re legends — we can’t be accurate with stuff like that.
There’s a version that has a shifty lumberjack by the name of Wu Kang (“Wolfgang”) trying endlessly to fell a gigantic, unchoppable cassia or cherry tree planted on the moon by the King of the Universe as punishment for Wolfgang’s desire to be immortal.
Another disturbing, brain-damaged version has it that some stupid rabbit offered its own flesh to three sages or fairies pretending to beg for food. Touched by the rabbit’s altruism — and mentally disturbance — the rabbit was let lived in the Moon Palace with an eternal lifetime employment contract to produce herbal medicine.
(So ancient China was already hip to the pharmaceutical industry coming out with rabbit medicine peddled by snake-oil salespeople.)
But the Hughie/Seline story is much better because SEX SELLS. Evil dark lord, chick with cleavage, action-packed doomsday scenario, thievery, drugs, hookups — the stuff of blockbuster action movies.
You might be interested to know that the Midautumn Festival is also (but rarely) known as the Festival of the Meeting. That’s another ‘sex-sells’ reference to Hughie’s annual ‘servicing’ of Seline and her bunny fetish.
With a story like that, who cares about a lumberjack or a rabbit stew?
How do you know all this? How do we know if all this is true?
My folks told me. They could be lying, of course, but I see no reason that they should.
If something makes enough sense, it goes into the collective cultural database — as all legends do. Legends are about sense, not truth, mister.
If you want the truth, trying singing to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” in a public place — and see what kind of ‘truth’ that’ll get you.
How well do Chinese people know the meaning of this festival, as you seem to?
Each year I’m surprised by the total lack of ability among my Chinese students to explain just exactly what this festival is. If I were to simply repeat their answers, all we would know is that the Midautumn Festival involves something called a mooncake, watching the moon (weather-permitting) and seeing family. Even after four years of asking classes of students, this is pretty much all I’ve managed to nail down from conversations with my Chinese friends.
If we want to know the meaning behind the Midautumn Festival, we need to ask a Hong Kong Chinese of 50 or older.
It’s no surprise, really. Very few American or British children could explain Halloween, for example. Even Easter has a lot of people struggling.
With the differences in ability to explain things like these, I wonder how relevant or irrelevant these traditional holidays might be in modern China (as you said, Hongkongers over 50 years old)?
Honestly from what I’d seen, I reckon the meaning and nuances of the Midautumn Festival (and other festivals too) become practically meaningless for most Chinese mainlanders (as well as for Hongkongers) by the 1980s, around the time when China started opening up.
The sad truth in my mind’s eye is that, for whatever the reasons, the government (Beijing as well as Hong Kong) has made it impossible for those meanings to carry on in schooling and education. Which is why you couldn’t get much of an answer from your students in China — or me from most Hongkongers under 30.
Isn’t this festival originally a harvest festival?
Tell me what festival anywhere in the world isn’t a harvest festival originally.
Updated:— Think of it this way — in olden days, to survive a season without starving to death is something worth celebrating. (2013-SEP-21)
Got another name for this Midautumn Festival?
The Great LSD Lunar Bunny Fetish Bootycall Hookup Trippin’ Festival
This post was inspired by a post about the Midautumn Festival on Seeing Red in China. A previous version of this post appeared on 14 SEP 2011.
Images (except those already indicated):— Chinese calendar by the author ♦ Full moon over Hong Kong via Along The Way ♦ Eight Fifteen typeface via Kevin and Amanda ♦ Sheung Ngor and Bunny via Homestay Global ♦ Hou-Yi and Chang-Er via China Highlights ♦ Jade rabbits on the moon via Wikipedia ♦ Dr Who meme via advicedoctor1.tumblr.com ♦ Moon footprint by NASA via Stanton Warriors.
© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13305)
Updated 21 SEP 2013 (fixed typos, added updates and tags)