Today the Chinese community will be celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. According to the lunar calendar, the festival falls on
15th day of the Eighth month, and the moon will be the brightest and clearest.
One special feature of the festival the "mooncake" made during this period. For the whole month before the festival, we can see
the cakes sold everywhere, in shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Even though the custom was inherited from mainland China,
mooncakes have become part of the multicultural scene in Malaysia.
In recent years, there are also "halal" mooncakes produced to cater for our multiracial consumers. The cake is so popular that
the Mid-Autumn Festival is often referred to as the Mooncake Festival.
Actually I was never quite keen with mooncake. The only time I appreciated the mooncake was during my first year of studying
in Australia. I and several other study mates were so homesick when we had to spend our Mid-Autumn Festival away from
home. We wanted to have mooncake to celebrate but couldn't afford the price.
We waited until the day after the festival so that we could one piece of mooncake for a discount price. We cut the cake into
eight pieces and shared among eight of us. Despite the sweetness of mooncake, I cried in my blanket at night.
Since then I have never bought anymore mooncake in my life. However I like the novelty of celebrating the festival. I began to
enjoy the festival more in this era of Reformasi. In the Mid-Autumn Festival of 1998, which was a few months after Anwar was
detained, a few NGO activists including me organized a small lantern procession to celebrate "Re-For-Ma-Si".
In Chinese, reformasi can be translate into ""Lie Fo Mo Xi"", which means "the glaring fire (should) not be put off". It was a
powerful call, loudly and solidly pronounces: the struggle must go on! Until today, many supporters in the Chinese community
have this as a special greeting for the Reformasi movement, particularly to Anwar Ibrahim - Don't let the fire die down!
There is also a beautiful story associated with the mooncake. It is said that the mooncake originated during the years China was
ruled by Mongolian empire founded by Kublai Khan. At the end of the regime, the empire was totally corrupted. The palace
was infested with what today called KKN (collusion, cronyism and nepotism).
The government spent nothing for the basic welfare but most of the treasury was used for grand scale palaces, gardens and so
on. The people were imposed high taxes and coerced into slave labour to construct the then largest superhighways network in
the world to maintain the cross-continental empire.
The complaints of the Chinese people intensified when the economy collapsed and epidemic broke out throughout the nation.
Thus some activists began to advocate change of government. They intended to organise a mass revolt but the Mongolian rule
was harsh and authoritarian.
People's daily activities were closely monitored. Every ten families were supervised by a Mongolian royal military officer. There
was virtually no freedom for media and communication.
Under such repressive atmosphere, messages from the rebels could not reach the masses. Finally a strategist formulated a ploy.
He devised a new food item known as the "mooncake". The opposition then convinced the people to buy the cake as it claimed
to contain mysterious power to protect one from the epidemic and survive the crisis.
However, the people should only eat it on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The effort was also supported by the religious
sector; thus monks, priests, preachers and herbal doctors joined in to market mooncakes.
On the full moon night, when families gathered for their annual reunion and cut up the mooncakes, a slip of paper was found
inside: "Slay the Tatar on the 15th of the Eighth Month!"
Immediately the masses responded to the call for revolt by gathering at midnight and began the protest parade to the palace.
Subsequently the giant Mongolian empire government fell when all the people rose up.
The story is fascinating in Malaysian context today. The mooncake is like a primitive Internet. It was a tool ancient people
devised to crack the media embargo. The cake once carried a message to appeal for change. Its function was not dissimilar to
our reformasi websites.
When the websites call on the people to gather at such and such date, amazingly thousands of people responded to the calls.
They braved police brutality and risked detention to fight repression.
When the people read the slip in the mooncakes, they did not even question what the motive was, who commanded it nor
where did it come from. They immediately responded, because they already understood that injustices must be terminated.
The magical power of the mooncake did not come from the cake itself or the strength of the rebel party; but from the people
who made the decision to rise up - and they survived the crisis. Because of their brave decision, the tyrant was overthrown and
freedom, independence and harmony were secured. We, the children of these brave ancestors, enjoy the fruits of their actions
In the past it would never cross my mind any of the Chinese traditional festivals could be so aptly fit all the symbolisms that
could inspire today reformasi struggle.
Like all cultures that use lunar calendar, full moon for Chinese carries the meanings of perfection, harmony, righteousness, and
so on. So the Mid-Autumn is the day for family reunion, social unity and world peace. More significantly, the mooncake story
makes the festival a "people's power" celebration.
The children nowadays, no matter what ethnic groups they are from, too are fascinated with lanterns. When we rejoice the
children playing lanterns in the neighbourhood, we could project the imageries of rakyat from all walks of life, holding up
torches and lanterns marching to end a repressive regime several centuries ago. Our children today too are holding up the
lanterns with the shine of justice, step-by-step, hand-in-hand, they march into a new dawn of Malaysia.
TIAN CHUA is vice-president of Keadilan. Keadilan president Dr Wan Azizah is hosting a Mid-Autumn Festival get-together
at her residence at 8.30pm tonight (Sept 12).