Living Appropriately: Musings From a History Teacher in Colombia

Today was the official celebration of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival here in Taiwan. It’s one of the most important days on the calendar here and an official national holiday. Although most of my local friends here were traveling over a long weekend holiday, we unfortunately did not get any time off for the occasion (which I can’t complain about too much, seeing how school just started a week ago and we get 7-10 days off for the Chinese New Year). It’s a time where most people get together with their families, eat moon cakes (yue bing 月饼), and gaze at the full moon after having an outdoor BBQ.

The full moon has long been a symbol of unity and peace throughout Chinese culture. There is a mythical tale associated with this holiday that, in a very short version, goes something as follows: once long ago there was a champion archer named Hou Yi (后羿) who helped save the people from misery (from heat exhaustion, presumably) by shooting down 9 out of the 10 suns that had appeared in the sky. The gods admired him for this and gave him an immortal elixir. But his wife, Chang’e (嫦娥) ended up drinking the elixir, somewhat unintentionally gained immortality, and was thereafter banished to the moon, never to see Hou Yi again. So when people gather together with their families to this day, the story goes, they are offering up sacrifices and good thoughts to Chang’e to console her on the moon.

Chang'e, the goddess of the full moon

Chang’e, the goddess of the full moon

One of the Chinese language blogs that I read mentioned the Moon Festival the other day and claimed that the following poem was one of the best and/or most famous for summarizing feelings about the holiday. I will post it here for anyone interested, and hope that everyone had a great Moon Festival this evening:

 

Thoughts on a Still Night

by Li Bai

Before my bed,
The moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

 

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Andrew Leniton