Mooncake gambling odds-on festival favourite
The moon is becoming rounder and brighter - so the Mid-Autumn Festival must be just around the corner.
And people are surrounded by pile of mooncakes which would cost them months to consume.
Yet in Xiamen, a coastal city of East China's Fujian Province, you find a pack of six dice inside after opening every gaudily-decorated box of mooncakes.
Gambling? Right, but it is definitely legal. Because the stakes among the locals are mooncakes - and that is how this unique celebrating activity has got its Chinese name "Bo Bing." It is played only around the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and in this year it falls on Septemper 28.
For centuries, the Mid-Autumn Festival has encouraged family reunions, big feasts and enjoyment of a beautiful full moon.
But for people in Xiamen, their exciting games have just started.
Easy to play though, the games have quite complicated rules hard to remember. So it is thoughtful for some mooncake manufacturers to print the rules on the package.
All the "Bo Bing" game requires are six dice and a china bowl. Just throw the dice into the bowl - and the different pips you get stand for different ranks of awards you will win.
When walking along streets in this tiny island during this time, you will hear the pleasant silvery sound of the dice rolling. Cheers of winning or loss are everywhere.
The 300-year-old custom of mooncake gambling dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The inventor, Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), a general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), stationed his army in Xiamen. Zheng was determined to recover Taiwan, which was occupied by Dutch invaders since 1624.
When every Mid-Autumn Festival came, the soldiers naturally missed their families but fought with heroical determination to drive off the aggressors.
General Zheng and his lower officer Hong Xu invented mooncake gambling to help relieve homesickness among the troops.
The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized mooncakes as prizes.
From the lowest to the highest, the titles of six ranks are Xiucai (the one who passed the examination at the county level), Juren (a successful candidate at the provincial level), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination), Tanhua, Bangyan and Zhuangyuan (respectively the number three to number one winners in the imperial examination at the presence of the emperor).
Game players throw the dice by turns. Different pips they count win the player a relevant "title" and corresponding type of mooncakes.
The lucky player who gets the pips to make it the title of "Zhuangyuan," will be the biggest winner in the game, and gain the largest mooncake.
In ancient China, to win the imperial examination was the only way to enter an official career which was the dream of most learners, since the examination system was established in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618).
No wonder then, if a person won "Zhuangyuan" through the imperial examination, the success would bring great honour to both him and his family, followed with a high-level position and a great sum of money.
The game has something to do with the number "four." In mooncake gambling, the pips for most ranks of the awards are related to this number.
For instance, one die of four pips wins you "Xiucai" and the smallest mooncake. And if you get four or more dice of four pips, then congratulations - you win "Zhuangyuan."
The game provides 32 mooncakes for "Xiucai," 16 for "Juren" and the rest may be deduced by analogy. Only one player will win the lucky title "Zhuangyuan." That is why a total of 63 mooncakes are prepared for the game.
As a game well combining culture, folk custom and recreation, mooncake gambling soon got popular among troops.
So General Zheng approved of the soldiers playing the game in turn from the 13th to the 18th of the 8th month around the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Since then, "Bo Bing" has become a popular traditional activity among local people. On every Mid-Autumn Festival, family members gather to gamble mooncakes, deep in arguments about who will be the winner.
Also cake confectioneries will produce many kinds of gambling cakes to cater to the market.
Xiamen people believe that the person who wins "Zhuangyuan" in the game, will have good luck that year. And the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second important holiday in Xiamen besides Spring Festival.
Nowadays, the mooncakes are not the only kind of award. With the upgrade of people's living standards, daily necessities, household appliances and even money can also be won.
What's more, people add funny rules. If the dice read "six," then forget all those boring ranks. Turn off all the lights, and then seize as many prizes as possible in the darkness. It is a combination of good memory, high speed and a strong body.
Changes of prizes has made the game even popular among younger generations.
Jin Song, an IT manager, recently prepared the awards for his family's "Bo Bing" game on Mid-Autumn Festival of this year.
Like other families, Jin's family attaches great importance to the festival. It is a custom for him and his two sisters to share the expenses of the game.
After the big dinner on each Mid-Autumn Festival, Jin's families start their annual family game.
"Everyone is excited during the game," Jin said. "Even my parents are as happy as their grandsons.
"It's a way for us to show our filial piety. My sisters and I are very busy with our work. But we're trying to stay with our parents as much as we can. And the game always brings lots of fun during our family gathering on the festival."
As a traditional celebration activity, "Bo Bing" is highly welcome not only in local families but in official departments and companies.
When Mid-Autumn Festival comes, many companies organize various "Bo Bing" games and purchase rich awards as a benefit to their staff.
Now the widespread folk game has become a major highlight of Xiamen.
Sponsored by the local government, the First Mooncake Gambling Festival was held before the Mid-Autumn Festival last year at the well-known Gulangyu Island in Xiamen.
The month-long grand festival attracted thousands of participants from Fujian, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao as well as people from some Southeast Asian countries.
During the festival, along with "Bo Bing" game, a series of events were also held including a design contest, a forum on Xiamen's mooncake culture, a puppet show and other folk singing and dancing performances.
What's more, "Bo Bing"is now enjoyed by tourists. "I love the game," said Zhong Rui, a young girl now working in Xiamen after graduating from Nanchang University in East China's Jiangxi Province last July.
"I've never seen a game before like 'Bo Bing' which is so popular among people of all ages," she said. "It's fantastic!"
"I believe the 'Bo Bing' lubricates relations among our team members and unites us," Zhong said.
"The funny and exciting game distracts me from my homesickness," she added.
"Thanks to the game, the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival will never fade from
the minds of the young generation like me."