The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Zhongqiu Festival, or in Chinese, Zhongqiujie, is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people and Vietnamese people (even though they celebrate it differently), dating back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China's Shang Dynasty. It was first called Zhongqiu Jie (literally "Mid-Autumn Festival") in the Zhou Dynasty. In Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival. Mid Autumn Festival 2011 is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties.
Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival 2011 is strongly associated with the legend of Houyi and Chang'e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality. Tradition places these two figures from Chinese mythology at around 2200 BCE, during the reign of the legendary Emperor Yao, shortly after that of Huangdi. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang'e simply lives on the moon but is not the moon per se.
There are many variants and adaptations of the legend of Chang'e that frequently contradict each other. However, most versions of the legend involve some variation of the following elements: Houyi, the Archer, an emperor, either benevolent or malevolent, and an elixir of life.
One version of the legend states that Houyi was an immortal and Chang'e was a beautiful young girl, working in the palace of the Jade Emperor (the Emperor of Heaven, as an attendant to the Queen Mother of the West (the Jade Emperor's wife). Houyi aroused the jealousy of the other immortals, who then slandered him before the Jade Emperor. Houyi and his wife, Chang'e, were subsequently banished from heaven. They were forced to live on Earth. Houyi had to hunt to survive and became a skilled and famous archer.
At that time, there were ten suns, in the form of three-legged birds, residing in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea. Each day one of the sun birds would have to travel around the world on a carriage, driven by Xihe, the 'mother' of the suns. One day, all ten of the suns circled together, causing the Earth to burn. Emperor Yao, the Emperor of China, commanded Houyi to use his archery skill to shoot down all but one of the suns. Upon completion of his task, the Emperor rewarded Houyi with a pill that granted eternal life. Emperor Yao advised Houyi not to swallow the pill immediately but instead to prepare himself by praying and fasting for a year before taking it. Houyi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter. One day, Houyi was summoned away again by Emperor Yao. During her husband's absence, Chang'e, noticed a white beam of light beckoning from the rafters, and discovered the pill. Chang'e swallowed it and immediately found that she could fly. Houyi returned home, realizing what had happened he began to reprimand his wife. Chang'e escaped by flying out the window into the sky.
Houyi pursued her halfway across the heavens but was forced to return to Earth because of strong winds. Chang'e reached the moon, where she coughed up part of the pill. Chang'e commanded the hare that lived on the moon to make another pill. Chang'e would then be able to return to Earth and her husband.