Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
It's a big day in China and throughout Asia, a time when the moon is at its fullest during the the Autumn Equinox and people celebrate the abundance of the harvest. It's a tradition going back, oh, 3,000 years to the Zhou Dynasty. And what better to celebrate the moon than with mooncakes -- small, dense pastries with various fillings. For the past few days, people have been picking up their boxes of cakes and preparing for the holiday (I tried to buy one but was laughed at because I had not made a reservation weeks in advance). By Chinese standards, they are quite expensive: $20 for a box of eight seems standard.
Legend has it, mooncakes have also been used for espionage. According to wikipedia's entry:
Mooncakes were used as a medium by the Ming revolutionaries in their espionage effort to secretly distribute letters in order to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China in the Yuan dynasty. The idea is said to be conceived by Zhu Yuanzhang and his advisor Liu Bowen, who circulated a rumor that a deadly plague was spreading and the only way to prevent it was to eat the special mooncakes. This prompted the quick distribution of the mooncakes, which were used to hide a secret message coordinating the Han Chinese revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Another method of hiding the message was printed in the surface of mooncakes as a simple puzzle or mosaic. In order to read the encrypted message, each of the 4 mooncakes packaged together must be cut into 4 parts each. The 16 pieces of mooncake, must then be pieced together in such a fashion that the secret messages can be read. The pieces of mooncake are then eaten to destroy the message.
If only the Twinkie had such a covert history.....
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