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Moonstruck: Fallout from the Mid-Autumn Festival

JDM061009moon.jpg
1. Tradition.
In an opinion column in The Beijing News, Liu Haiming, a teacher from Sichuan, asked "Must we wear traditional dress and venerate the moon god on the Mid-Autumn Festival?"

Some may say that on traditional Chinese festivals, why not wear traditional dress to show respect for the traditional holiday? I don't particularly agree with this view. The choice to wear traditional dress is of course an individual right, but wearing traditional dress does not imply that one is continuing traditions or carrying forward traditional culture. Hanfu is the attire of a particular time period, designed for people living in a slow-paced era, and not necessarily appropriate for people in a fast-paced society. During the National Day holiday, on the streets of Dujiangyan, I saw a woman wearing traditional dress on the arm of a man in western dress. I asked my girlfriend, does she look good? She shook her head. Traditional dress today is better suited as a stage costume rather than dress for normal life. The continuation and propagation of tradition is a spiritual inheritance rather than a play-acting-like imitation or restoration. If contemporary Chinese wear traditional dress, will there be revival for traditional Chinese culture, will there be no obstacles to the continuation of traditional festivals? This is obviously not the case.

Moving to rites for the moon god. The reverence toward and sacrifices offered for spirits for the ancient Chinese had little religious flavor. Traditional Chinese sacrificial rites could more accurately be called prayer for oneself rather than an oblation to a god; while facing the heavens and mumbling words, one's heart is filled with the affairs of the world. As for the "moon god", it is said that Chang'e was born on the 15th of the 8th month, so the Mid-Autumn festival is also the birthday of the goddess of the moon. However, in our country, the moon of the Mid-Autumn festival symbolizes family reunion rather than a birthday party for Chang'e.

2. Technology.
The brightest moon of the month occurred the night following the Mid-Autumn Festival. For revellers who couldn't wait that long, the city of Beijing stuck up an artificial moon over the Marco Polo Bridge to recreate one of the famous "Eight Beijing Vistas" - the "Dawn Moon over Lugou" (卢沟晓月). Sure, it wasn't dawn, and the moon was really just a white balloon measuring 3 meters in diameter and shining with two 500-watt lightbulbs. But how often do you get to see two moons in the sky?

3. The Law.
Shops that marked down their leftover mooncakes following the Mid-Autumn Festival may be breaking the law.

According to regulations instituted in June, the cost of mooncake packaging is limited to no more than 25% of the total price. A mooncake priced at 100 yuan wrapped in 25 yuan worth of packaging is legal; that same mooncake sold at a discount has more than 25% of its price made up by the packaging and may well be illegal. Chengdu Daily learned from the department of commerce that clearance sales on mooncakes may incur a fine.

The regulations were designed to stop the use of mooncakes as bribes; in recent years it has not been uncommon for a 50-yuan mooncake to be packaged with thousands of yuan worth of 'extras.'

4. The Calendar.
There's a simple solution to all of this mess: get rid of the lunar calendar altogether. In an essay published in the Journal of Dialectics of Nature, Zhang Gongyao, a scholar at Zhongnan University, proposed junking the lunar calendar and calculating traditional holidays according to a solar model:

Old NameNew NameOld Date (lunar)New Date (solar)
Spring FestivalSpring Festival1st of the First monthFirst new moon after the Great Cold (~Jan 20)
Yuanxiao (Lantern Festival)Yuanxiao15th of the First monthFirst full moon after the beginning of Spring (~Feb 4)
Qingming (tomb sweeping)QingmingQingming (solar)Qingming (~Apr 5)
Duanwu (Dragon Boat Festival)Duanwu5th of the Fifth monthMay 5
QixiLovers' Day7th of the Seventh month2nd Sunday in August
Zhongyuan (Ghost Day)Zhongyuan15th of the Seventh monthFirst full moon after the start of Autumn (~Aug 7)
Mid-AutumnMid-Autumn15th of the Eighth monthFirst full moon after White Dew (~Sep 7)
Chongyang (Double Ninth)Chongyang9th of the Ninth monthSeptember 9

The call to abolish the lunar calendar was anchored on the "2033 Problem", an assessment that working out where to insert a leap-month in 2033 would create an unsolvable paradox. When commentators pointed out Zhang's mistaken assumptions and mathematical errors, he retreated from this position, saying that he had only come upon the 2033 problem after having written the core of his argument against the lunar calendar. His latest statement says:

To summarize, I advocate eliminating the lunar calendar based on the following three considerations (read my essay for a more thorough explanation):

1. Secular life does not need to be guided by two different calendar systems. "Two calendars coexisting" brings considerable societal confusion, of which the most serious are residential and personnel administration.

2. Preserving the lunar calendar provides a cultural foundation for superstitious activities like 8-character-based fortune-telling and divination of auspicious days.

3. The lunar calendar has no reliable astrological foundation; it is complicated and
its period is deficient.

Zhang also keeps a blog on Hexun in which he argues that Chinese medicine should follow the lunar calendar into the dustbin of history.

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There are currently 3 Comments for Moonstruck: Fallout from the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Comments on Moonstruck: Fallout from the Mid-Autumn Festival

Hey~It's wrong to say the slogan "中秋节过了,给大家拜个晚年" on the top of home page! The greeting of "拜个晚年"is only for the Lunar New Year.

[EDITOR'S NOTE (JDM): Thanks for your concern. We refer you to Mr. Han Qiaosheng.]

I am always a little annoyed when I read things like: "The Mid-Autumn Festival is on August 15." It is not on August 15. It is on the 15th of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar: 八月十五日. Although both August 15 and the 15th of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar are both translated into Chinese as 八月十五日, 八月十五日 should not be translated into English as August 15 if it is referring to the Chinese lunar calendar. The reason for this is simple: it is very confusing to native English speakers, because in English August is always the eigth month of the solar calendar. Oftentimes readers have no way of knowing which calendar system the author is referring to. Carrying out Zhang Gongyao's suggestion would certainly clear up the ambiguity that results from the two calendars in English.

Shouldn't a translation attempt to preserve the ambiguity present in the source text?

Actually, I considered using "15th day of the eight month" but used solar names since I didn't know beforehand if the table would fit. Then I forgot about it when I tweaked the formatting - maybe I'll go back and change it.

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