Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Haiku: China Moon

over all the land
the moon bestows her soft light
making the heart glad


Image above: "Full moon rises above the Chinese stone lions at Beijing" (Photo by Li Peng)
This week's haiku is in celebration of the Chinese Moon Festival.

*   *   *

 Full moon rises over Barkol, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur (China Daily photo)


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Chinese Moon Festival

View of the full moon against an ancient building in Shaoxing, East China's Zhejiang province. (Photo from China Daily)

It's not dark yet because the Chinese Moon Festival is almost here! The Autumn Moon Festival is one of the most joyful times of the year for the Chinese, and we are in that season right now. It is always held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the full moon associated with the autumn equinox is in view.  September 24 is the actual day for the Moon Festival this year.

A Long History

The season is celebrated by sharing moon cakes to symbolize prosperity and family togetherness. Paper lanterns are made to carry outside at night when the day finally arrives.  The Chinese Moon festival dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-246, B.C.).  There have been many legends associated with the Moon Festival, which may indicate how different aspects of Chinese culture have been incorporated into the holiday.

One legend is that Chang E, the Chinese Goddess of the Moon, in order to protect her husband’s elixir of immortality, ate it and flew to the moon. (To read more about the legends of Chang E, go here. An interesting side note: the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program is named for the goddess Chang E.)

 Other connections are a Taoist tale about Wu Gang chopping a self-healing tree in order to become immortal. The tree kept healing and growing back, so it became an endless cycle (like the Greek myth of Sisyphus). Another Moon festival connection involves the Jade Rabbit Pounding Medicine (the Chinese, when looking at the full moon see a rabbit, unlike the Western notion of a “man in the moon”).

Another Moon Festival tale, probably more legend than fact, is the story of a political uprising against Mongolian rule. Written messages were supposedly placed inside moon cakes that were distributed telling the date of an organized rebellion. Ate any rate, many aspects of Chinese culture can be found in the Autumn Moon Festival.

A Personal Encounter

(Photo by Jacky Ngo Kok Foong)

I had never heard of the Chinese Moon Festival until I moved to Hong Kong in 1983. I loved walking up from my apartment to Kowloon Park to see families gathered with their different colored paper lanterns shining in the night. In addition to small family gatherings in restaurants and informal meetings in neighborhood parks, there are also larger celebrations involving traditional Chinese lion dances and dragon dances.

(Photo from Hong Kong
Tourism Board)
I was also intrigued by the moon cakes and enjoyed sampling a variety of them. The traditional moon cake is round like a full moon, and about the size of the palm of one’s hand. They come with a variety of fillings, often with red bean paste or lotus seed paste. Sometimes they are filled with seeds and nuts and sometimes they have more exotic fillings (such as durian, also known as “stinky fruit”). Many will have the yolk of a salted duck egg. To serve a moon cake, it is usually cut into quarters and shared, often with tea. With that first cut to half the cake, if it contains an egg yolk it will present as an image of the full moon.

I have been away from Hong Kong for many years now, but I am delighted to find that moon cakes are available in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. I have found them at the Asia Super Market on Valley Avenue as well as the Home Town Market on Green Springs Highway. I am glad for the growing diversity of the city which brings its own cultural enrichment to all of us. 

More Highlights

To give you an idea of the traditional Chinese festivities, I am posting some photos below that I took in Macau during Chinese New Year in 1982. I also have included a short video produced by China to introduce the Moon Festival.  

Traditional Dragon Dance on the streets of Macau
(Photo by Charles Kinnaird)

Traditional Chinese Lion Dance in Macao
(photo by Charles Kinnaird)

A Chinese dragon flows along in the parade
(Photo by Charles Kinnaird


Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Music: Rainy Night in Georgia (Brook Benton)

"Rainy Night in Georgia," was written in by Tony Joe White (who also wrote "Polk Salad Annie") and originally released on his 1969 album, Continued. It was Brook Benton's recording in 1970, however, that became an instant hit.

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