China has been an agricultural country, so many of its customs and festivals revolve around the agricultural calendar. While mid autumn is the time of the year when farmers expect harvest, farmers in ancient times worshipped the Earth God to thank him for a good year and celebrated the harvest with their family.
Another perspective of Mid Autumn Festival is from Chinese people’s fantasy to the moon. In Chinese culture, full moon is a symbol of peace and prosperity, and its roundness symbolizes wholeness and togetherness. The Chinese proverb “人月兩團圓” is oft
en used to describe the reunion of family on the full moon night during the Mid Autumn Festival, underlying the wholeness of family and the roundness of the moon simultaneously reach their fullest.
The most famous Chinese poem relating the moon and reunion is “Prelude to Water Melody” by Su Shi (1037 – 1101), a poet of Song Dynasty). The poem is about remembering his brother, Su Che, on Mid-Autumn Festival and later on composed as a modern Mandarin song in the early 80’s. Enjoy!
“Prelude to Water Melody” – Su Shi
How rare the moon, so round and clear!
With cup in hand, I ask of the blue sky,
“I do not know in the celestial sphere
What name this festive night goes by?”
I want to fly home, riding the air,
But fear the ethereal cold up there,
The jade and crystal mansions are so high!
Dancing to my shadow,
I feel no longer the mortal tie.
She rounds the vermilion tower,
Stoops to silk-pad doors,
Shines on those who sleepless lie.
Why does she, bearing us no grudge,
Shine upon our parting, reunion deny?
But rare is perfect happiness–
The moon does wax, the moon does wane,
And so men meet and say goodbye.
I only pray our life be long,
And our souls together heavenward fly!
(Translation by Lin Yutang)