Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Moon, Poetry and Tea

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar.


There are many legends about this festival, the best known one being the legend of Chang'e:


As with many ancient Chinese legends that were originally orally transmitted, there are many different versions of the same story.  The version that is depicted in the clip above differs slightly from the ones that Tiger learns from the books or from the ones I heard as  a child:


I asked Tiger for a narration of the various legends about the festival and he rattled off three superb narrations of the various stories he has read.  I was so amazed by his new-found willingness to provide a long narration that I forgot to type them out as he spoke, so unfortunately I have no record of them but at least I now know that Tiger is able to narrate beautifully when he can be bothered to.

After his narrations, I told him the different versions of the legends that I learnt as a child.  Using these different versions, we discussed about the beauty and drawbacks of the ancient oral tradition to transmit knowledge and wisdom.  I also told Tiger about the lesser known, related stories of:
(1) the only other human occupant on the moon (besides Chang'e), Wu Gang (吴刚), and his divine punishment of having to chop down a self-healing osmanthus tree, and
(2) the Jade Rabbit (玉兔).

These two stories are beautifully depicted below:


As with all major Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival is to celebrate family togetherness with specific symbolic foods.


The food that is specifically tied to the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake (月饼), so called because of its traditional round shape that symbolises the moon, union, and togetherness.

Our double-yolk and walnut mooncakes with date paste.  Yum!

There are many varieties of mooncakes, depending on the regions in which they originate.  The type that is most widely available in the West is the Cantonese type.  Other varieties of mooncakes are explained in the clip below.


Other than the traditional custom of consuming the mooncake as a symoblic festive food, there is also a more political association in medieval Chinese history.  In the 14th century, the ethnic Chinese used the mooncake to conceal revolutionary messages that led to the toppling of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, and the subsequent establishment of the Ming dynasty.


Besides the mooncake, the other symbolic item of the Mid-Autumn festival is the lantern.


In a similar fashion to the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节) that marks the end of the Chinese New Year, lanterns are lit and displayed at the Mid-Autumn Festival, with riddles to be solved.  However, the difference is that the public display of lanterns at the Mid-Autumn Festival encompasses all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours.  Moreover, Chinese children in the Southeast Asian countries also have the additional practice of carrying lanterns in a procession.


The traditional custom is to sit outside in the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival to admire the moon whilst enjoying tea and mooncake.

We stood outside for a short while to admire the full moon and the very bright moonlight.

It has been very chilly in the evenings here so we decided to alter the tradition slightly to suit our circumstance by having a Chinese version of poetry tea in the afternoon instead.


The format follows that of our usual English version of poetry tea, except that:
  • we ate mooncakes instead of scones or biscuits;
  • we drank rose tea instead of peppermint tea;
  • we used our traditional Chinese tea set instead of an English tea set;
  • we worked on Chinese classical poetry instead of English poetry.

I used this opportunity to show Tiger the proper procedures of using the Chinese tea set and to some of the Chinese tea etiquette:


An additional aspect of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the poetic connection, which lends itself very well to the format of poetry tea.  There are many classical Chinese poetry about the moon and the feeling of home-sickness associated with not being able to be with one's family at this particular time of the year, the most basic of which is Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思):


I taught Tiger to recite the poetry, followed by discussing about its structure, rhythm and rhyme, as well as the poet's choice of words.  Naturally, we also worked on its meaning. 


The final piece of work Tiger was to do was to write the pinyin (phonetic tones) for every character of the poem and to write below each verse its English translation in coherent sentences without losing the poetic meaning of the original verses.  He was given the tasks prior to my showing him the clip above so he was pleased to see that he has completed the tasks correctly.  After some practice (and a few pieces of mooncake), Tiger is able to recite this poem fluently in Mandarin as well as translate it instantly.  This poem is now part of his daily memory work. 


Since we have learned this poem, it makes sense to know a bit more about the poet, Li Bai (李白), the 'immortal poet' from the Tang dynasty.


The Mid-Autumn Festival is such a poetic time that this post will be incomplete without leaving you with another beautiful depiction in sand art:


The song that accompanies the clip above is set to verses from another classical Chinese poetry (水调歌头) by Su Shi (苏轼), a famous poet from the Song dynasty.  These verses are more complex than Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思) so we will only learn them in a few years' time, after Tiger has acquired sufficient knowledge of the Chinese language to meaningfully appreciate the sentiments described in the verses.



http://www.hiphomeschoolmoms.com/2014/09/hhms-featured-posts-hip-homeschool-hop-91614/


This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/9/14
  2. Finishing Strong #28
  3. History and Geography Meme #133
  4. Collage Friday - Classical Education: Making the Transition in Our Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one in which I have a kid who's not a teen
  6. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  7. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #19

21 comments:

  1. This is really interesting. There was a piece on the PM programme today with a little bit of information about mooncakes and the current political issues around them in China. This fills in much for of the background of the festival-thank you.

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    1. You're welcome, Sarah. I'm glad you've found the post interesting and useful. Do you remember which programme it is that you watched/listened to? I'd like to know what the current political issues around the mooncakes too!

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  2. I've so missed Marie's Chinese posts and this is the perfect antidote, so thank you for that.
    I simply love your idea of a Chinese version of a poetry tea! I guess one could do that with any cultures being studied at a particular time. Another great idea I'm sure to steal in the future.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Claire. I've missed Marie's Chinese posts too. They are so well done, aren't they?

      You're right. I think the poetry tea can be done with any culture. It's the format and intention that are important, rather than the specific foods or books that are studied.

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  3. Wow, that is quite impressive work on the poetry.

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    1. Thank you, Phyllis. I think the mooncakes helped to increase Tiger's motivation to learn the poetry. :-)

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  4. What great video clips. I really enjoyed seeing your lesson.
    Blessings, Dawn

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    1. I'm glad you've enjoyed it, Dawn. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend!

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  5. Argh! I have missed an event - oh dear me.
    This is a wonderful post and full of excellent info which I will be tapping into this week (all be it a little late).
    I really enjoyed reading this.
    Thank you

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    1. You're welcome, Prudence. I'm really glad you find this post useful. Hope you'll enjoy doing something about the festival. It's better late than never! :-)

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  6. Thanks for all the detail! A Chinese friend was telling me about making her moon cake and I didn't know anything about it before.

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    1. You're welcome, Hayley. I'm glad this post is able to fill in the missing bits from what your Chinese friend has already told you. :-) Thanks for stopping by and have a good weekend!

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  7. Mmm, mooncakes look delicious. This was really interesting to read. Now I know why we saw Chinese lanterns in the sky this week! I love the idea of themed poetry teatimes. We did a Spanish one before we visited Spain earlier this year. I hope you're having a lovely weekend!

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    1. I've not seen Chinese lanterns in the sky here. How unusual, and how very lucky of you! The themed poetry tea idea just fell into place by itself because of what we were learning, but it seems that it's a workable idea from now on. :-)

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  8. Oooh, we love Harvest Moon too!
    have you seen this book?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/We-Gather-Together-Celebrating-Harvest/dp/0525476695/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410716526&sr=8-1&keywords=we+gather+together

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    1. No, I haven't seen this book but I'll have a look right now! Thanks for stopping by and for the recommendation. Have a good week! :-)

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  9. Mid-Autumn Festival was always one of my favourite holidays when I lived in Asia. I like the activities that you did to celebrate.

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    1. Thanks, Beth. :-) The atmosphere in Asia for this festival is much greater than in the West, so you must've had a memorable time there. :-)

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  10. We just loved celebrating the Mid Autumn moon festival last year, and were a little disappointed not to have the opportunity this year with guests here - we've decided to do it during the next full moon! (Hopefully it won't be too cold) Love the videos, will be looking at a few to bring us back.

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    1. Tiger says it's his second favourite Chinese festival (after the Chinese New Year) because of the delicious mooncakes. I agree! :-) I looked at your Mid-Autumn Festival posts from last year to get many ideas. I hope you'll have a really lovely time celebrating this festival at the next full moon!

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