The Importance of Moon Cakes

“It is easy to dodge a spear you can see, difficult to guard against an arrow shot from hiding.” -Chinese proverb

Moon cakes were the arrows in hiding, the secret weapons behind a historical Chinese revolution. These dense cake-like treats are filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. People enjoy moon cakes during the mid-Autumn festival. The moon is supposed to be the largest and brightest during this time of year, and it’s an occasion for families to gather together.  This year, August 15th on the lunar calendar landed on September 19, 2013 on the Western calendar.

moon cake

Here is a true story showing the importance of moon cakes in history:

In the Yuan Dynasty, China was ruled by the Mongolians. Yuan Shu Zhang plotted to stop their cruel leadership, but communication between people was strictly monitored. How could he gather together the rebels to overthrow the government? One of his advisers suggested placing a secret message hidden inside moon cakes to start a revolution. The message was: “Revolution on the fifteenth of the month eight.” These specially encoded cakes were marked by a bright red dot (that is why some moon cakes today have a dot on their surface). The Han people who rebelled during this time were mostly farmers, so after receiving the message, they gathered the tools they had on hand (rakes, hoes, etc.) and successfully ended the Mongul Yuan Dynasty.

I found this fascinating story of the underdog Chinese people so exciting that I made this one of my first speaking presentations in elementary school. I remember feeling scared about being in front of my peers, who were mostly non-Asian (and possibly unable to relate to the story). I so enjoyed learning about my own history, though, that I wanted to share a little bit about my culture with them, too.

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  1. Nice! Our lovely Vietnamese student Helen returned to our home for another year of her private Canadian school and brought four of these little cakes as a prezzy from her mom. They were exquisitely wrapped in a beautiful jewel-like box. She explained the significance and together we had a little celebration with them. :)

  2. Lori Sailiata says

    I celebrated with a double yolk lotus cake, a Tibetan pear, and a pot of tea. Although I bought the cake in Honolulu’s Chinatown, I noticed it was baked in San Francisco. Thank you for the backstory! Intriguing, as always.

  3. Great story, jennifer. Now i know the story of this delicious treat.


  1. […] have a love-hate relationship with mooncakes. Some taste just okay, but I love the symbolism behind them. Usually eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, they’re circular, dense […]

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    […] Festival, when the moon is supposed to be big and bright. (It’s also a fun time to eat moon cakes.) The blood moon was just one more reason to take a peek last […]

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