Home / China / China

Sweet celebrations of the harvest moon

By Pauline D. Loh | China Daily | Updated: 2015-09-08 08:37

The excitement is settling with the dust stirred up by the impressive convoy of armored vehicles rolling past Tian'anmen Square during the V-Day parade on Sept 3. Up in the sky, the colored clouds trailing China's mighty military jets are also fading.

The next time most Chinese will look up into the sky again is when the harvest moon shines clear and bright in a couple of weeks.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important one in the traditional Chinese calendar, second perhaps only to Spring Festival in importance.

Like Spring Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for reunion, the roundness of the moon signifying fulfillment and a full cycle where relationships are concerned. Just as Western songwriters laud the moon in romantic ditties, traditionally the lunar orb has brightened many love songs and poems in China, too.

But the Mid-Autumn Festival is best represented by little pastries called, appropriately, mooncakes. They have always been eaten for as long as the Chinese can remember, but it was not until the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) that they became a significant symbol.

The Han Chinese, discontented with Mongolian rule, pressed little notes of rebellion into the mooncakes and forwarded the messages as gifts.

Not long after, the Mongolian invaders were vanquished. To this day this little round pastry is not commonly a Mongolian favorite.

For the rest of China, however, mooncakes are definitely a delicacy of the season and from north to south there are innumerable regional preferences.

In the north, where sweet things used to be relatively rare, they like their mooncakes stuffed with jujube puree, red bean paste or a mixture of candied fruits.

Further south, in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang area where the art of making delicate snacks is a necessary skill, the skin becomes flaky and fillings even more varied. Mooncakes here can be stuffed with anything from olive kernels and melon seeds to subtly flavored minced meat.

In fact, xianrou yuebing or meat mooncakes are popular all year round in Suzhou and Shanghai.

For me, as a true-blue southerner, the only mooncake that can satisfy my harvest moon cravings is made with silky smooth lotus seed paste with two whole salted egg yolks buried inside.

The mooncake filling is often freckled with little watermelon seed kernels.

When you cut the cake open the salted egg yolk glows within the lotus seed paste like the moon in the night sky, while the tiny specks of melon seeds are like distant stars.

There was a time when China was enjoying its newfound economic boom, and the yearly gifting of mooncakes reached decadent heights.

The packaging became so elaborate that the poor little pastries were often lost in the wrappings.

Thankfully, as the pendulum swings, things are now back to more sensible levels with major hotels, restaurants and bakeries subscribing to a greener, more organic trend.

One thing, however, has not changed. These little sweet round cakes signify and represent our desire for peace and happiness.

Contact the writer at

Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349