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Admiring the Moon During China’s Mid-Autumn Festival

During China’s Mid-Autumn Festival people pour out of their houses to admire the moon.

“Hey, are you out admiring the moon?” I asked a friend over the phone.

“I think I’ve seen it before,” he replied. “It’s a little bit yellow, it’s round, and I believe it’s in the sky, right?”

He didn’t seem interested.

But the thousands of Chinese people who were sitting and standing in tight phalanxes on the beach down below me definitely were. I sat on my balcony and looked out at the scene below then up at the full moon — a super moon — above. The massive, shining sphere was rising over the sea, blazing a trail of sparkling water from Kinmen Island across the narrow straight to the beaches of Xiamen.

It was the climax of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Chinese were out doing what they’ve done on this holiday for thousands of years: they were out with their families admiring the full moon. Many had gathered on the eastern edge of the island as this was one of the best vantage points to watch the lunar show. They were out on the beaches snapping photos and taking videos with their mobile phones of the colossal glimmering orb as it slowly rose up over the Pacific.

mid-autumn-moon

The Mid-Autumn Festival is China’s harvest celebration. It is the point when one part of the yearly cycle ends and another begins. Worship of the moon, which is associated with rejuvenation and rebirth, is traditionally an integral part of this festival.

From my balcony I could hear the sound of dice tinkling in porcelain bowls and laughter as families had their yearly bobing matches. Everything was incredibly still, relaxed, there was no rowdiness, no mothers beating children or wives screeching at husbands. Everybody was just hanging out, playing, and looking at the moon. I poured myself another glass of Spanish wine, and looked out at the moon, too. There was nothing else to do, and this was good.

I am living among a culture that is breaking apart at the seams, the divides between rich and poor, modern and traditional, international and domestic have created ever-widening chasms throughout the society. One part is obsessed with riches, a culture that, even by its own admission, “knows nothing but money.” They spend their days tinkering on their mobile phones, shopping for overpriced apartments, driving luxury cars, hanging out in clubs, perusing through shopping malls, toying around in Apple stores. All while the country’s enormous working class and rural population subsist beyond the fringes of this melee. But everybody is doing the same thing tonight. They are all standing outside, looking at the moon. As much as this society changes, it is still firmly kept in place by a tight framework of tradition that modernization and internationalization have yet far only tweaked the surface of. The modern Chinese still worship the moon, albeit by taking photos of it with smartphones.

It’s nice. It’s nice being in such a technologically advanced city in such a rapidly rising country where the people still take the time to walk out of their homes to follow an old custom, appreciate something that is so everyday, and simply admire the moon.

Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;
I drink alone. No one close to me.
I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;
facing my shadow, together we make three.
The moon doesn’t know how to drink;
and my shadow can only follow my body.
But for a time I make moon and shadow my companions;
taking one’s pleasure must last until spring.
I sing — the moon wavers back and forth.
I dance — my shadow flickers and scatters.
When I’m sober we take pleasure together.
When I’m drunk, we each go our own ways.
I make an oath to journey forever free of feelings,
making an appointment with them to meet in the Milky Way afar.

-Li Bai

Filed under: Celebrations, China, Culture and Society

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3548 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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