Midautumn Festival a.k.a. Lunacy Festival

Wednesday 14 September 2011, 7.49am HKT


THIS POST is inspired by a post about the Midautumn Festival on Seeing Red in China.

Somebody said it might be a good idea that I record my own understanding of the festival in case that gets lost in the midst of time and Internet space. This is an amended version of my comment at Seeing Red in China.

(Click images for larger pictures.)

* * *

The Fest

YESTERDAY (13 September) was the observance holiday of the Midautumn Festival (中秋節) in Hong Kong. The actual feast day was 12 September. It is pronounced Zhōngqiū Jié (Mandarin) or Chung Chow Tsit (Cantonese).

Hong Kong simply calls it Midautumn [Mid-Autumn] Festival with no Chinese-language reference, in typical Hong Kong fashion.

The festival is sometimes called Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival or Lantern Festival.

Midautumn Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month every year. It is celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese worldwide. It is a national holiday in China (officially only since 2008) and in Hong Kong (since around 1900), Taiwan and Vietnam. It is one of the three most important holidays for Chinese worldwide:

  1. Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival)
  2. Midautumn Festival
  3. Ching Ming (清明 or Qing Ming: “Pure Brightness”): the Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean version of All Souls’ Day

It is also on the 15th of the eighth when people light up paper lanterns in shapes of rabbits and other animals (hence, Lantern Festival) — and idiot kids set themselves on fire by accident when they melt down candles into pools of runny wax so that they (literally, frighteningly) resemble firebombed soldiers fresh from combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I’ll skip the ‘factual’ details of the festival because all of us can read it on Wikipedia and places like that.

The ‘eight-fifteen’

For a long time, Midautumn Festival has been known simply as 八月十五 (“eighth the fifteenth”: bā yuè shí wǔ in Mandarin, baat yuet sup ng in Cantonese).

八月十五 also happens to be a Chinese colloquial euphemism for buttocks / bum, in case that should interest you. For instance, if your 八月十五 is fully rounded, then your “eight-fifteen” must be pretty awesome. Quality of life just improved by knowing your butt is nicknamed eight-fifteen.

'Eight Fifteen' typeface: note the coincidental buttocks

(By the way, you cannot use “eight-fifteen” to mean “going anal,” which is a different ballgame altogether.)

The surface story

The stories and legends plastered on Wikipedia and elsewhere are just the surface story. Save yourself the trouble and read the highly condensed version below instead. It is the most common story known to the most number of people (and I’ll use the characters’ English names for easier reading).

PERSONAE DRAMATIS

Earth = you live on this one (hopefully)
Lord Darth Hughie = Hou Yi 后羿, archer and leader of the Eastern China Seaboard
Seline = Chang Er 嫦娥 a.k.a. Sheung Ngor = Hughie’s wife (probably just chick)

THE LEGEND

Oh hai thar. It’s year 2170 BC. Earth had 10 suns. (Linkin Park has A Thousand Suns.) Each sun took roster duty to illuminate the Earth. In other words, one sun for China, the other nine spread out all over the world — and you can see the Chinese were already thinking about the Earth being a round ball.

(This was around the same time as Dynasty VIII in Egypt. That’s 4,721 years ago — pre-dating the creation of the world — so where’s your god now, huh? Oh, wait, the Western solar year has 365 days, but 360 for the Chinese old-style lunar year. Work out your own sums.)

One fine day, all 10 suns appeared together by accident, and they were frying the bejesus out of the planet.

Despot archer king Lord Darth Hughie, out of self-preservation, 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.

But Darth Hughie the Sunbuster wanted immortality — a time extension for his tyrannical rule — so he pilfered an elixir of life from the Celestial Queen Mother. (Guinness wasn’t invented yet, you see.) Hughie had to do it this way because direct elections haven’t been invented yet to be rigged.

Seline (Hughie’s big squeeze) came packaged with great cleavage talent (see image above) but she was the high-maintenance type. Anyway, she was pissed off with Hughie’s way of getting things done and generally mistreating Earthlings. So Seline 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.

Now, Hughie was itching to do the Low-Orbit Ion Cannon thing, this time to the Moon. But he figured it was best to leave Drama Queen Seline playing with those stupid jade rabbits up on the Moon, hook up with her once a year when Seline’s 八月十五 (buttocks) were at they’re roundest and brightest, and get the rest of the 364 days to himself for (wink! wink!) “R and R.”

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 message

Like I said on Seeing Red in China, the whole message behind “the 15th of the eighth” boils down to three things:

  1. the importance of regular family reunions;
  2. that family reunions play into imbibing and imbuing the younger generation with a sense of familial belonging; and
  3. that it is the responsibility of the older generation to show the young that continuity (for the family or anything else) is paramount.

Family reunions, familial belonging and continuity are ideas that foster a cohesive society — which, paradoxically, Japanese society does far, far better than Chinese society.

Look at general Japanese conduct in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and the Great Fukushima Earthquake Tsunami Volcano Eruption Typhoon Nuclear Meltdown Disaster 2011 for proof.

You can readily see that these three ideas are not particularly well done in the West — not by societies with Anglo-Saxon traditions, to be sure. American society is particularly bad at being a cohesive society, and more recently British society comes in second.

The deeper message?

On a deeper level, the symbolisms of Midautumn Festival perhaps boil down to five things:

1. Sheung Ngor / Chang Er (嫦娥)

Ming dynasty portrait of Sheung Ngor

This chick really has an English name — well, Latin actually (Seline = moon).

Seline has long been (but erroneously) credited as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. Fact is, she’s no deity — she’s just a groupie chick who hung around a gothmeister and happened to live on the Moon because of some serious trippin’ on high-quality narcotic products.

FACT: 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.)

Contrary to Wikipedia’s assertions, never once in the whole of Chinese history and/or mentality had Seline ever been considered the Chinese complement to the Western notion of a man in the Moon. Derp.

The message: This chick personifies the idea that it isn’t necessary to adhere to our holy cows, meaning that valuable things in life aren’t necessarily or inherently sacred. That’s what it bloody means, Wikipedophilia.

Man in the moon (West) vs. chick in the moon (East)

2. 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 to overthrow the Mongols. Chinamen could tolerate mooncakes — Mongols shat bricks at the sight of them.

(You too would shat bricks if you knew a 185-gramme (6½ oz.), double-yolked mooncake contains 800 to 1,200 kilocalories, mainly from fats and sugars. Instant diabetes.)

The message: It symbolises the need for a plan or agenda for the foreseeable future, although not necessarily meaning that there’s also a need to carry it out. It’s kind of like having a plan in stock if and when circumstances call for its implementation.

Like I said on Seeing Red in China, I can’t explain this other than by the German words Auftragstaktik (mission-type tactics) as opposed to Normaltaktik or even Befehlstaktik (command-and-control tactics). Learn German and talk to me. Jawohl, Herr Leutnant.

3. Mooncake (cont.)

The mooncake (now highly overpriced) is also a metaphor for the need to be inconspicuous or innocuous in your efforts to surpass or achieve something.

The message: The modern translation 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.”

4. Lotus seed paste

This is the god-awful gunge inside the mooncake. It’s oily, gooey and too bloody sweet. The thick rind of the lotus head is one helluva job to remove, but it surrounds two dozen precious seeds. That’s the metaphor that great difficulties or hardships are all around small, precious successes or treasures.

The message: The ultimate primary message is “You yourself is the thin red line between success and failure.” (In other words, it is you yourself who defends your own interests.) The secondary message is “Sweating through the aggro is not your objective, but getting through to what you want, is.”

5. The euphemism

Perhaps bit of a modern take from my own folks, 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 ending up missing the whole next day because you overslept
because you were wasting time admiring something you cannot reach.”

* * *

QUESTION TIME

Why observe the festival the day after and not on the actual day itself?

Part of the lore of Midautumn Festival is to sit around at night 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 the next day as holiday, as you try to salvage what’s left of your idiot kids who set fire to themselves with molten wax the night before in a bid to look like Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans.

But the legend you told isn’t the one I knew. What gives?

At least three different legends figure in the Midautumn Festival, each with different permutations depending on your locality in China or some other country. But the one recounted above is the most widely known of the three. C’mon, they’re legends — you can’t be accurate with stuff like that.

One version 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 an immortal.

Another version is about some stupid rabbit that offered its own flesh to three sages or fairies pretending to beg for food. Touched by this altruistic (but highly brain-damaged) act, the rabbit was let lived in the Moon Palace to make herbal medicine.

But the Hughie/Seline story is much better because sex sells. Evil dictator, chick with cleavage, action-packed doomsday scenario, thievery, drugs, hookups — the stuff of blockbuster action movies. Who cares about a lumberjack or a rabbit stew?

You might be interested to know that Midautumn Festival is also (but rarely) known as the Festival of the Meeting because of Hughie’s annual ‘servicing’ of Seline and her bunny fetish.

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. But if it makes enough sense, then it goes into the cultural database — like all legends do. Legends are all about sense, not truth, mister.

If you want the truth, trying singing “Fly Me To The Moon” in a public place — and see what kind of ‘truth’ you’ll get then.

Isn’t this festival originally a harvest festival?

Tell me which festival anywhere in the world isn’t a harvest festival originally.

Got another name for this Midautumn Festival?

Try this:

The Great LSD Lunar Bunny Fetish Bootycall Hookup Trippin’ Festival

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: Sheung Ngor and Bunny via Homestay Global ♦ Eight Fifteen fount via Kevin and Amanda ♦ Hou-yi and Chang-er via China Highlights ♦ Rabbit on the moon via Wikipedia ♦ Man in the moon via Wikipedia ♦ Ming portrait of Sheung Ngor via Wikipedia ♦ Mooncakes via Wikipedia ♦ Lotus seed head via Wikipedia.

8 Responses to “Midautumn Festival a.k.a. Lunacy Festival”

  1. Ed Hurst said

    Prime Time T&A. What’s not to like? Let’s see: sex and drugs, all we need is the rock-n-roll.

    Like

    • Rock n’ Roll’s kinda hard for the Chinese (especially the mainlanders) – they missed the boat in the 50s and 60s with their internal revolutions. Mind you, punk rock might actually be doable – most Chinese ‘indie’ bands in Peking and other cities do a very creditable impersonation/cover of Britpunk, e.g. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols. Who knew!

      Like

  2. Yaxue C. said

    Srsly (guess where I ‘srsly’ learned), will you be willing to consider telling us the story of your grandpa? We the readers hope you will share this interesting man with us. Please?

    Like

  3. Yaxue C. said

    I am delighted to hear that!

    We CAN wait (not indefinitely though), since we know it’s going to be fascinating.

    Like

  4. Yaxue C. said

    I will kick it off today if I know the man myself; but I don’t know the man and it’s not my fault that I don’t know the man :)

    Like

  5. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 said

    Grandpa Rocks! That’s for sure! Please share a little about him.

    Like

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