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By the light of the Chinese moon

Every year, the Chinese community celebrates its Moon Festival. Obviously, in China, this is an autumn festival, as it is timed for the full moon which appears in mid-September – rather like the celebration of Christmas, when a northern hemisphere winter festival becomes translated into a summer event in Australia reports Dorothy McRae-McMahon in the South Sydney Herald of October 2008.

Part of the celebration for the Chinese community in Redfern/Waterloo is hospitality for anyone who chooses to come to a marvellous Chinese meal in the Waterloo Neighbourhood Centre. This year the ingredients for the meal were jointly funded by the Community Relations Commission and the Redfern Waterloo Authority. The labour-intensive preparations involved in the meal were given freely by members of the Chinese community, led by Mabel Cheng. Many locals accepted this hospitality with gratitude as they gathered around the tables, chatted with each other and ate the delicious Chinese food.

There are lots of stories around the Chinese Moon Festival. They extend over many centuries of Chinese life. This is probably the earliest one, which goes back to around 2170 BCE: “The earth once had ten suns circling over it, each took its turn to illuminate the earth. But one day all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat. The earth was saved by a strong and tyrannical archer Hou Yi. He succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns. One day, Hou Yi stole the elixir of life from a goddess. However, his beautiful wife Chang Er drank the elixir of life in order to save the people from her husband’s tyrannical rule. After drinking it, she found herself floating and flew to the moon. Hou Yi loved his divinely beautiful wife so much, he didn’t shoot down the moon.”

Mabel Cheng remembers a later story when she celebrates each year: “During the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368 CE) China was ruled by a very oppressive Mongolian king. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (960-1280 CE) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule and had to find a way of rallying the people without being discovered. Knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, the leaders ordered the making of special cakes. Within each moon cake they placed a piece of paper with a message about their plans. On the night of the Moon Festival, the people came out in support and the king was overthrown. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE). Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.”

On the night of the Festival, the people look at the moon. If it is clear and bright, they believe that the year will be good. If it is clouded over, they feel concerned for the future. They share moon cakes with each other, sing and party together and celebrate friends and family.

This is a rich and beautiful heritage which lies within the Chinese community of South Sydney and is generously shared with others.

Photo: Ali Blogg - Caption: Mabel Cheng and helpers

Source: South Sydney Herald October 2008