The Origin of Mid-Autumn Festival – “Zhong Qiu Jie”

By Cathy Huang

“Zhong Qiu Jie”, which is also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated in China and Vietnam on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. It is a time for family members and loved ones to congregate and enjoy the full moon – an auspicious symbol of abundance, harmony and luck. Adults will usually indulge in fragrant mooncakes of many varieties with a good cup of piping hot Chinese tea, while children run around with brightly-lit lanterns.

“Zhong Qiu Jie” probably began as a harvest festival. The festival later gained mythological connotations with legends of Chang’E, the beautiful lady in the moon.


According to Religions of the World : A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices (which is in the Gale Virtual Reference Library), the earth once had ten suns circling over it. One day, all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat. The earth was saved when a strong archer, Hou Yi, succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns. Yi stole the elixir of life, but to save the people from his tyrannical rule, his wife, Chang’E, drank it. Thus started the legend of the lady in the moon to whom young Chinese girls would pray at the Mid-Autumn Festival.A1880C_Melton.indd

In the 14th century, the eating of mooncakes at “Zhong Qiu Jie” was given a new significance…

During the Yuan Dynasty (A.D.1206-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung Dynasty (A.D.960-1279) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and plotted how to coordinate a rebellion without it being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Packed into each mooncake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Hence today, Zhong Qiu Jie and the eating of moon cakes also commemorates the overthrow of the Mongolians by the Han people.

Further information on Mid-Autumn Festival can also be found in the following GVRL eBooks –

Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations. Ed. J. Gordon Melton. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011
Holidays Symbols and Customs. Ed. Helene Henderson. 4th ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2009
Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. Ed. Karen Christensen and David Levinson. Vol. 4. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002

If you would like to find more information about Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, or any other eBooks in the Gale Virtual Reference Library please apply for a free trial of GVRL today!

About the Author

I joined Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, in August 2015, as a new member of our China team. I’m very happy to work together with the team and it feels like a family. I’m very willing to contribute my skills to help increase awareness of Gale resources and hope more and more researchers worldwide discover Gale’s rich Primary Source collections.