Yesterday afternoon in class I ate half a mooncake (or should that be a half-moon cake?) and drank tea made from an extraordinary unfolding flower, and was told the story of the hero HouYi and his wife Chang’e, immortal moon goddess by a student wearing the traditional Qipao. Quite a lesson.
It is of course the Chinese Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival as it is sometimes known, and my student, Amy, decided we should honour it with some cake and tea. The cake is well-known but remarkable – lotus seed paste in pastry encasing a salted egg-yoke, which you can just make out in this picture:
More remarkable still was the tea which Amy brought – a tightly-wrapped pellet about half the size of a golf ball which, when dropped into boiling water, slowly unfurled, releasing a flower. The resultant tea was delicious.
While we drank the tea and chewed our way through the cake to the egg, Amy recounted the legendary tale of the Moon Festival, more or less as follows:
In the ancient past, there was a hero named [Hou] Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang’e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang’e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng Meng broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang’e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang’e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.
And, to cap the experience, Amy was wearing the traditional Qipao. She was a llittle reluctant to have herself photographed in it, but later she sent me this photograph of the dress: