It’s that time of the year again – to visit with your family for 中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié the Mid-Autumn Festival) and savor the 月饼 (yuèbǐng moon cakes). Moon cakes are typically of two varieties, the firm baked pastry moon cakes and the pliable ones made from steamed glutinous rice dough. How to make them? Be forewarned that it’s a time-consuming process (even if you purchase most of the ingredients in packaged, canned or bottled form) then read Christine’s write-up on Traditional Mooncakes. As a bonus, take a look at her Chinese version of the same recipe and try to figure out the Chinese terms with the help of the English version. If you don’t have the special mold for making moon cakes, you could use your palm to pat down the filled moon cake balls so they’re about the size and shape of a typical moon cake. If you have a cookie stamp handy, you could use it to imprint some patterns on the moon cakes before baking.
For those who are far away from their family, the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Festival may deepen the feeling of homesickness and nostalgia. This sentiment is best captured in a composition by one of the most talented literary giants in ancient China, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) of the Sung Dynasty. Following is the line from this composition that has been quoted so often that it has become a cliché:
Dànyuàn rén chángjiǔ,
Hope you and I will stay alive and well,
qiānlǐ gòng chánjuān.
so we may continue to share this beautiful moon though we are far apart.
但愿 (dànyuàn) means “I only wish that …” or “I wish …”. You could also say 希望 (xīwàng I hope), or 只希望 (zhǐ xīwàng I only hope).
长久 (chángjiǔ) means for a long time.
千里 (qiānlǐ) indicates a very long distance. 千里眼 (qiānlǐyǎn) is clairvoyance.
共 (gòng) is to share or to do something together, or to have something in common. This word can also be used as an adverb that means “altogether”.
Tāmen liǎnggè gòng hē le wǔ píng píjiǔ.
The two drank five bottles of beer in all.
婵 (chán) and 娟 (juān) both mean beautiful and graceful. 婵娟 (chánjuān) refers to the moon, or the beautiful fairy, 嫦娥 (Chángé), who is believed to live on the moon with her pet rabbit.
As a matter of fact, the expression 但愿人长久 (Dànyuàn rén chángjiǔ) is imbedded in the song titled 月满西楼 (Yuè mǎn xī lóu) – Click on this link to hear the song. The verses were written by the very popular romance writer 琼瑶 (Qióngyáo). The music was composed by 刘家昌 (Liú Jiāchāng). The performing artist is 甄妮 (Zhēn Nī). Click here for the lyrics in Simplified Chinese characters.
满 (mǎn) means full or to be filled with. It also means to be satisfied or conceited. 西 (xī) is the west side. 楼 (lóu) is a multi-storied building, or one of its stories. The 月 (yuè moon) in the title of this song refers to the moonlight that shines on and fills the western pavilion.
正是 (zhèngshì) means “precisely”. The setting for this song is right at the time when the flowers are blooming and the moon is full and round.
露 (lù) is the dew, and 湿 (shī) means wet or to dampen.
胭脂 (yānzhi) is rouge. It refers to the reddish color of the flowers. 初 (chū) means initial or initially. 透 (tòu) means to seep through or penetrate. Therefore, the second line of the verses describes how the dew is moistening the flowers that are just starting to blush.
殷勤 (yīnqín) means to be attentive to someone. 相守 (xiāng shǒu) means to stay close together with someone. 莫 (mò) is the formal word for “don’t”. It means the same as 不要 (bùyào). 让 (ràng) means to let, to allow, or to yield to. 消瘦 (xiāoshòu) is to waste away. So, if you love the flowers, then stay by their side and don’t let them wither away.
圆 (yuán) means “round”.
惜 (xī) is to cherish, as in 爱惜 (àixī), or to have pity on, as in 可惜 (kěxī). There is an error in the printed lyrics for the line: 惜月且殷勤相守 (Xī yuè qiě yīnqín xiāng shǒu). The sun is mentioned instead of the moon.
溜走 (liùzǒu) means to slip away.
似 (sì) is the formal word for “like”, “appear to be”, or “similar.” 这般 (zhèbān) means “such” or “like this”. 似这般 (sì zhèbān) translates to 像这样的 (xiàng zhèyàng de) in everyday speech. Some artists, like 甄妮 (Zhēn Nī), sing this line with 是这般 (shì zhèbān).
In the last line of the lyrics the second character is missing from 但愿 (dànyuàn).
良辰美景 (liángchénměijǐng) means a wonderful time in a beautiful setting. 蜜意绸缪 (mì yì chóumóu) describes how the lovers are sentimentally attached to each other. This brings us to the ending of the song:
“Oh! Such wonderful ambiance! Such sweet and tender feelings! May the flowers keep blooming, the moon stay full, and we be here forever to enjoy them!”
Have a happy Moon Festival!