death by paper cut

{October 4, 2009}   Mid Autumn Festival sheds some light on the origins and evolution of the chinese mid autumn festival. its origins involved the worship of the moon that can be traced to the xia and shang dynasties (2000 bc – 1066 bc). this practice began to concentrate around mid autumn in the zhou dynasty (1066 bc – 221 bc). it was only in the southern song dynasty (1127 – 1279 ad) that people began to send moon cakes to their relatives as gifts in expression of their best wishes of family reunion. this celebrations peaked in popularity in the ming dynasty (1368 – 1644 ad) and the tang dynasty (1644 – 1911 ad). the customs of burning incense, planting mid autumn trees and lighting lanterns sprouted on a grass roots level and varied in practice in different parts of china.

having a better historical perspective of mid autumn festival, i have a better appreciation of the sheer length of time this custom has been preserved on one hand, and allowed to evolve on the other. the pagan practice of moon worship does not cross anyone’s mind at all when consuming moon cakes. it is now an opportunity for networking, visiting and and plain consumption. but hey, if its yummy and does not come into conflict with my beliefs why not party on?

it was actually because of the geek and his invite to the jointly organised event by nhb and hua song museum at haw par villa that i participated in mid autumn festivities for the first time in all my adult life. to me, eating moon cakes does not count as having had taken part in the festivities.

the event at hua song museum was called “by the light of the lantern – a mid autumn celebration”. it was a free and easy programme where we could view the exhibits at hua song museum, stuff our face with dinner and moon cakes (free flow), get out names written in chinese calligraphy and make rudimentary lanterns.

we did all of them.

the organisers bought boxes of moon cakes from various hotels and bakeries and had them cut into smaller pieces for easier consumption. i can’t really tell one brand of moon cake from another. my personal favourite is snow skin, which was available in abundance!

Moon Cake Buffet 4 Moon Cake Buffet 8

this is the lantern that i made. i chose the rabbit patterns to associate the lantern and occasion with the chang’e and houyi mythology.

Lantern Making 1

egged on by the geek, i had my chinese name written in chinese calligraphy. this was my first time since my last chinese exam i.e. 10 years ago that i wrote anything in chinese. the geek kept the end product because i have no idea what to do with it. neither would i part with money to have it frame and displayed.  it was fun anyway. the calligrapher wrote my surname in old chinese and said my middle character was special. i still don’t know how it is special.

My Name in Chinese Calligraphy - GUO PEI

i quite enjoyed the permanent exhibits at hua song museum. “hua song” means, “in praise of the chinese”. the exhibits chronicles the phenomenal emigration of the chinese people from china to all parts of the world, their arduous journey, the search for roots and identity and their customs that are preserved till today.

it also locates the emigration of the various dialect diaspora. the cantonese people surpasses all the other dialect groups by far in this exodus.

Hua Song Museum 22 Hua Song Museum 23

despite the staggering number of chinese people who have resided, remained and integrated into other societies over more than two centuries, it was only in the last few decades that the concept of immigration has been accepted because departure from the ancestral land was always meant to be temporary.

Hua Song Museum 25 Hua Song Museum 67

so this begs the question: do chinese people in the world today still consider themselves as diaspora if they have no emotional or conceptual connection to china especially in the modern context of the national person? where does loyalty lie?

personally, my stake is first and foremost with humanity at large i.e. i identify myself as a human being with common and universal human needs and aspiration as much as the next person, and then my nationality of a singaporean with quirks and idiosyncrasies handed to me as standard issue upon birth in this country and then i identify myself lastly with my ethnicity.

i believe in a human heritage. i believe that all peoples had a hand in destroying our only home and share a responsibility to salvage it. i believe that all cultural heritage is worth preserving laterally and not hierarchically, and should never be wielded as tool for emotional blackmail or for divisive means.


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