The Mid-Autumn has many legends and mythical tales associated with it. Three popular legends include,
1) Chang'e (also known as Lady of the Moon)
It is said that in ancient China, that ten suns appeared in the sky one day. (Usually each sun take a turn each to be up in the sky but not all together at once). The presence of ten suns, scorched and burnt the lands, ruining crops and drying rivers. People on earth were suffering and dying from this catastrophe.
A hero by the name Hou Yi appeared with his bow and arrows. He climbed up to the peak of Kun Lun Mountain, used his mighty strength and archery skills to shoot down nine of the suns. Thus, saving the land and its people. Hou Yi was proclaimed a saviour. Many people sought to be his students to learn archery. Among his students, was a cunning and greedy man, called Peng Meng.
Hou Yi soon married a beautiful, kind lady called Chang'e. They were both admired and adored as a loving couple by the people.
One day during a journey travelling to Kun Lun Mountain, Hou Yi met the Jade Empress, a heavenly goddess. Who subsequently gifted Hou Yi with the elixir of life (the pill of immortality) as a reward for his good deed . This elixir she said to him, was able to transform a mortal into a deity.
Hou Yi upon his return home, passed the elixir to Chang'e for safekeeping as he was often away hunting with his disciples.
Peng Meng overheard news about the elixir and wanted it for himself. Thus, on the day when Hou Yi was away hunting, Peng Meng broke into their home and demanded Chang'e hand over the elixir to him. Chang'e unable to fight him off and feared that he would use it for evil purposes, swallowed the pill.
Instantly, Chang'e started to float up and out of the window. She flew higher and further away from earth and landed on the moon, the nearest heavenly land to earth. Thus, she has stayed there since.
When Hou Yi arrived home, the neighbours informed him of the sad incident. Hou Yi became distraught, cried calling out Chang’e's name. Looking skywards that night, he noticed the moon was brighter than usual. He also noticed a familiar shadow, resembling his beloved wife, Chang'e. It was then that he realised that Chang'e has become a deity (an immortal) on the moon.
To remember Chang'e, Hou Yi setup an alter with all of her favourite fruit and snacks under the moonlight. Soon people joined in to support this loving couple. Thus, it eventually became a practice during Mid-Autumn Festival to place offerings and pray for peace and happiness for all.
Chang'e's image usually appears in Mid-Autumn Festival drawings. Children are told that on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is bright, they are encourage to try their best to find the shape of Chang'e on the moon. If lucky, they might even see the image of the Jade Rabbit!
2) Jade Rabbit (also known as Moon Rabbit)
It is said that three immortals incarnated themselves as three hungry old men. They met the fox, monkey and rabbit. And asked for some food. Both fox and monkey gave food to the old men, but the rabbit unfortunately did not have any food to share. Instead, the rabbit offered to give himself by jumping into the fire. The three immortals were so moved by rabbit’s sacrifice they decided to save the rabbit and sent it to live in the Moon Palace as Jade (or Moon) Rabbit. Since then, Jade Rabbit has accompanied Chang'e on the moon and is constantly pounding ingredients to make the elixir of life.
Mooncakes are rich pasty filled with sweet red bean or lotus paste. Round mooncakes are symbols of great family reunion. Mooncakes are also available in different shapes (square and dome-shaped) and with various fillings.
Why do people eat Mooncakes during Mid-Autumn Festival?
This practice started during late Yuan Dynasty (A.D 1279 – 1368). Mass uprising against the tyrannical Yuan government was organised successfully using stuffed pastries. During that time, Yuan soldiers conducted very stringent checks on local people and made communication very difficult amongst rebel groups.
Liu Bo Wen, a strategist came up with a brilliant idea. He instructed the writing of the message,”八月十五夜起义” (Rebellion on the 15th day of the 8th month) on slips of paper to be stuffed into pastries. Boxes of pastries with this secret message with the date of the rebellion was successfully delivered to ally forces.
On the day of uprising, Zhu Yuan Zhang led the successful rebellion and eventually founded the Ming Dynasty. Since then, mooncakes are included in the Mid-Autumn festival celebrations to commemorate the event.