The traditional Chinese calendar is called the lunar calendar, a calendar system with an accurate length of months and an approximate length in terms of years. This fact alone highlights the importance of the moon in Chinese culture.
Normally, there are 12 months in a lunar year. In Ancient China, among the 12 days of the year with a full moon, there were
four festivals, and two of them are still very popular: the Lantern Festival (元宵节); and the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节).
The Lantern Festival takes place in the first lunar month of theyear, and the Mid-Autumn Festival takes place in the eighth. Both festivals have the symbolic meaning of the day of reunion. The origin of this is that Chinese people consider shapes of the moon as representations of separation and reunion. As the famous poet Su Shi (苏轼) wrote, “Humans have sadness and happiness, and separation and reunion; whilst the moon can be either cloud-covered or shiny, either round or waning.” (人有悲欢离合，月有阴晴圆缺。)
Nevertheless, the wish of a reunion is not always easily realised. We always have someone we miss in our lives. That is the reason why we celebrate these festivals – although you are not always able to be reunited with the people you miss, you know that someone, somewhere else in the world, is also admiring the moon and thinking of the days spent together with you. As the poet Zhang Jiuling (张九龄) wrote, “The glorious moon rises above the horizon, over the sea, and people all over the world are sharing this moment.” (海上生明月，天涯共此时。)
As mentioned above, the full moon and its round shape are related to the idea of reunion in Chinese culture. In the full-moon-related festivals, we eat special foods with round shapes: a typical dinner during the Lantern Festival is Sweet Dumplings (汤圆); and a popular dessert during the Mid-Autumn Festival is Mooncakes (月饼).
The moon is also a representation of eternity in Chinese culture. As the poet Li Bai (李白) wrote, “Ancient people and modern people change like running water, but all of them look up to the changeless moon.” (古人今人如流水，共看明月皆如此。)
Whether the moon is changeless or not, it is the eternal representation of homesickness for
By Tom Liao
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The UoB Linguist Magazine
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