Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: I am Amber. And today our segment is ‘General Tso’s China’ where we feature momentous bits of Chinese culture, tradition or history and we go deeper and talk about its impact on society today. Because today is a very momentous day, very important day in Chinese culture; it is…
Victor: It’s the all important Mid-Autumn Festival.
Amber: Also known in Chinese as…
Victor: 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié). Right. So, let’s start this show by wishing everyone a Happy 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié) today.
Amber: What do you say? Merry 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié)? Happy 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié)? How do you say in Chinese?
Victor: 中秋节快乐 (Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè)
Amber: Happy. So, what is the Happy 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié) made up of, Victor? What kinds of things are in store for us today?
Victor: Let’s just backtrack a little bit to give a little background about this holiday.
Amber: Yeah. Exactly what it is and is important as well.
Victor: 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié) is one of the four most important traditional holidays in China and it is according to the Lunar Calendar. It falls on the 15th of every eighth month.
Amber: So, does this term 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié)… what does it mean literally in Chinese?
Victor: It literally means Mid-Autumn Festival because the eighth month in the Lunar Calendar is usually considered the fall.
Amber: In the Chinese calendar.
Victor: It’s not usually the Western calendar. So, it usually falls later like this time on the 3rd of October. So, as right in the middle of the eighth month which is supposed to be the fall month.
Amber: Okay. And what we want everyone to do at this moment is no matter where you are on the Earth right now, look up in the sky and look at the Moon. Hopefully, it’s the time.
Victor: Well, wait until 9.
Amber: But you’ll notice something is that the moon is at its roundest today. And that’s significant because this festival is also sometimes known as The Moon Festival or The Mooncake Festival.
Victor: Right. And that has a great significance in Chinese culture because the word for the round shape is 圆 (yuán), and the word 圆 (yuán) is also in the word 团圆 (tuányuán). So, as a whole of families getting together that has great meaning in that sentence. And because of that, like I said, 圆 (yuán) means “round” and also means 团圆 (tuányuán). When people get together… in a way, it’s like the Western Thanksgiving.
Amber: It’s like the Chinese equivalent of Thanksgiving.
Victor: Right. Where families get together.
Amber: Except you don’t carve a turkey. You carve a big Mooncake.
Victor: Which brings us to the next topic: what you eat on this holiday.
Amber: Exactly! If any of you have ever been in China or around Chinese people for a Mid-Autumn Festival, you’ll notice there is a lot of this certain type of cake. I mean the first time I saw, I didn’t know it was edible. I thought it was made of plastic.
Victor: It’s kind of carved on the outside a lot, right?
Amber: Yeah. It’s a shiny. It’s called a mooncake.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And this is the traditional food of this holiday.
Victor: Right. It is called the 月饼 (yuèbǐng). It literally means a mooncake or a moon pie but you know, we translate it as mooncake.
Amber: Yeah. And one thing I notice about celebrating a Mid-Autumn festival in China is that the mooncakes get gifted and re-gifted and everyone’s giving you like, “Who did this come from?” Like someone’s boss gives them this one, they give it to their friends. I’m sure if you can put a tracer on the mooncakes, they have probably been passed around many times.
Victor: You know what? One thing I noticed in China about Mid-Autumn Festival is it’s so traditional and, although it’s kind of like Thanksgiving, it’s not as serious or as important where people actually go home. It’s more symbolic because the moon is the roundest at its time of the year. So, you’re supposed to go home but not many people do actually. It’s not as serious as Chinese New Year where everybody goes home.
Amber: Okay. So, this brings us to the history, of course, of this festival because we know every Chinese festival has some deep poetic story behind it, usually involving things in the sky and people floating and like, looking for elixirs of life and such. So, this was no different actually. It’s about some tyrannical ruler named Hou Yi and he basically got the key to immortality, some elixir by shooting nine suns out of the sky. So thankfully, he did that because now there is only one sun. Nine suns would have been a bit much. But, they said that what happened was his wife, Hou Yi’s wife, she thought that people’s lives would be totally miserable forever if this guy, Hou Yi, lived forever. I guess he must have been a bad dude. So, she drank the potion instead and then she floated up to the moon. And so, Chinese people think of the moon as the home of Chang E. Is that how you say her name?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Well, that’s his wife. Thankfully she sacrificed herself by killing herself.
Victor: I think there are actually different versions of that story but the general characters are the same. So, by legend, people believe that there is like this lady-figure up in the moon by herself.
Amber: Yeah. It’s kind of romantic.
Victor: Yeah. And traditionally, like we said before, it’s not really celebrated as seriously as other holidays. This is more symbolic. That’s why there is the re-gifting and gifting of the mooncakes and stuff. But traditionally, people would sit outside at night, enjoy the cool autumn weather and drink wine, eat mooncakes and look at the moon.
Amber: Yeah. And there are some other traditions that are associated with this. There is a lot of people who carry lanterns. It is quite beautiful. The traditional I particularly like is the one putting pomelo rinds on one’s head. Victor, you ever done that? Because I have never seen a pomelo big enough to cover your head.
Victor: No.
Amber: I’ve seen one that’s slightly small but you can actually slice them over and they make a cute little helmet. I love pomelos. I know these things. But people would do it because it’s kind of the harvest time for pomelos around this time as well.
Victor: So, you’ve seen people doing that?
Amber: Yeah. The thing is I guess you have to find some use for these wonderful pomelos rinds. They are very thick and they are very head shaped and it just came naturally I guess.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So, some people do that. Some people also will do things like, for an instance, to deities including this Chang E lady.
Victor: Right. Or their ancestors or things like that.
Amber: Yeah. Sometimes you’ll see dragon dances. Of course, every holiday we know in China is an excuse for fireworks, so you’ll probably see some of that as well.
Victor: Overall though, I think it’s a pretty chill holiday.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: It’s mostly just enjoy the weather because it’s kind of cool now.
Amber: And those mooncakes are so heavy on the stomach. I don’t think there is much you can do.
Victor: How did you like the mooncakes?
Amber: Well, let’s talk about more about the mooncakes because there is different varieties. The first very mooncakes I ever had, a very traditional flavors. The traditional type will be basically a flaky pastry, kind of dense and inside, they’ll have different fillings like a lot of traditional Chinese flavors, one being red bean which I actually really like, maybe green bean, lotus seed paste, taro. If any of you is listening in to this and not heard any of these, it’s because every flavor of desert in China is nothing you’d imagine. Everything that we would never put in desert is what Chinese people put in deserts. Salty egg yolk…
Victor: Yeah. The egg yolk, right? I’ve shown it to my wife and friends. They all get grossed out but I actually like it.
Amber: You get used to it. It’s not so bad.
Victor: It’s not really salty though. It has a taste to it but it’s not really salty anyway.
Amber: Yeah. But some of them are small. Some of them can reach one foot in diameter. I picture those being the ones that they carve like a turkey for Chinese Thanksgiving. They’re huge.
Victor: So, traditionally I think the cake is only supposed to be two or three inches in diameter. It is not really, really big but of course right now, people have really just developed all sorts of different features or different versions of this cake. Sometimes it’s really small. Sometimes it’s really big. They have developed different versions of this cake.
Amber: Yeah. And traditional mooncakes will always have an imprint on the top which is usually Chinese characters for longevity, or harmony, some kind of a wish, a lucky wish. Or sometimes, it’s the bakery. They also put their imprint of their bakery name on top. Even now, a lot of my Chinese friends don’t really like mooncake. They don’t find them really pleasing to the palate. But of course, Chinese people being so entrepreneurial. They have taken on other flares, the mooncakes. Like for example, last year in Shanghai, Mooncake festival came around and the boss gave… usually the bosses will give their employees a box of mooncake. But rather than that, they got gift certificates for Haagen-Dazs. They have ice cream mooncakes! I was really mad because all the Chinese people got the gift certificates and the Western employees didn’t. I was like, “What’s up with that?” So, I never get to try it. I mean, anything for Haagen-Dazs. I don’t care what shape or form. I think they fill it with ice cream. Anyways, now you can also see there is like new flavors. For example, coffee mooncake, chocolate, nuts, even fruits, and of course the ice cream. So yes, the mooncake has soared to great new levels, Victor, in the last few years since you left China.
Victor: And it’s true. It’s usually not something you’d eat a lot. It’s only a piece or two and it’s kind of sweet and that’s fine because it’s pretty dense.
Amber: You probably wouldn’t go on a binge, you’ll get really sick.
Victor: Or you’d get sick.
Amber: Okay, last Victor, how did your family celebrate Moon Festival?
Victor: Like everybody else. Getting together, eating mooncakes. It’s more about the sense of getting together. That’s what it’s all about.
Amber: Yeah. So, we hope if you’re in China, you’re going to be gifted many mooncakes. I’m pretty sure you will. You’ll probably get more than you will eat. But it’s nice and you can always re-gift them, remember, and everyone think you’re very festive in the spirit.
Victor: Right. And if you live in the West, of course go to Chinatown.
Amber: It will be happening there too.
Victor: A lot of them.
Amber: So, please come to the site and share your 中秋节 (Zhōngqiū jié) experiences, how you enjoyed it, what happened with you, or if you put a pomelo rind on your head or how did you celebrate the holiday.
Victor: We’re getting take for mooncakes. And have a nice, happy Mid-Autumn festival.
Amber: Yes. Victor: 中秋节快乐 (Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè). So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com. We have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).