Aside from the old legend and regional variations, the more recent story of the mooncake is a fascinating case study of a tradition which has survived and thrived through time, social and economic changes, mass commercialization and globalization. Unlike some other old traditions which have slowly faded out, the market for mooncakes have expanded much like other manufactured products since the economic boom in the 80s and 90s. Not only has the market grown over the years, established brands of mooncakes have ventured into bold diversifications of ingredients to suit ever changing needs: from those looking for something new, to the health-conscious, the newly rich, the urbanite. New flavours like “snow skins”, green-tea, chocolate, pineapple, and dates have got quite some attention.
In the past decade, multinational food companies have started to join in the fray with even more ideas such as the invention of ice-cream mooncakes. Most recently, Starbucks brought in its own interpretation of the pastry, which will be quite different from those hand-popped from the wooden mould by skilled traditional chef. Have we lost the tradition of mooncake through this craze of modernization? I would say no. If anything, it has enriched it and kept the tradition up to date. As much as the traditional cake, oozing with pig fat and richness, brings back fond childhood memories, I am glad that there is vegan mooncake now. Whatever its form, in its essence, the cake is something sweet to share with our family after a nice dinner, as red leaves start to fall and the night is cool, and the moon is full and bright.
It would be nice to end with this: For hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrants away from their hometown and loved ones, a poem written by famour poet SuShi (苏轼) in the Song Dynasty over nine centuries ago brings solace. This classical poem was made into a popular song in the 70s by composer Liang Hongzhi (梁宏志, 1957-2004 ）, and has since become a tune to represent this time of the year. The last few lines read:
(rén yǒu bēi huān lí hé yuè yǒu yīn qíng yuán què)
(cǐ shì gǔ nán quán)
(dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ qiān lǐ gòng chán juān)
“But rare is perfect happiness–
The moon does wax, the moon does wane,
And so men meet and say goodbye.
I only pray our life be long, And our souls together heavenward fly!”
Translated by Lin Yutang ( 林語堂 1895-1976) Author and translator
Happy Mid-autumn Festival on the 24th September, wherever you are, as long as we are enjoying the same moon! Video of the song 《但願人長久》 Teresa Teng on stage in Taipei in 1984: