3,000 Years’ Timeline of Mooncake History, from its Origin ‘Taishi Cake’
Mooncake history is as long as 3,000 years in China. The predecessor of mooncake is the Taishi cake in the Shang Dynasty (17th century BC - 1046 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (17th century BC - 256 BC). For a long time in history, mooncakes were used as a sacrifice on the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said that the custom of eating mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival began in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD); in Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127 AD), it became popular in the royal palace; in late Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368 AD), it has been spread widely to the folks; in Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing Dynasties (1644 - 1911 AD), it has become a common dietary habit of Chinese people.
Origin of Mooncake - Taishi Cake with 3,000 Years’ History
According to historical records, in Shang and Zhou Dynasties (17th century BC - 256 BC) in China, there were Taishi cakes in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. At that time, Taishi cakes were made to commemorate Wenzhong, who invented the cake, which was thin in edge and thick in the middle. It is the predecessor of mooncake in China.
Wulnuts Cake (Hu Cake) in Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD)
In Han Dynasty, Zhangqian, who was sent on a diplomatic mission to the western of China, introduced sesame seeds and walnuts from the west. Then the sesame seeds and walnuts were used as the fillings of mooncakes. People called it Hu cake at that time.
Round Cakes Eaten on Mid-autumn Festival since Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD)
In Tang Dynasty, the Emperor Li Shimin ordered a general called Lijing to lead the troops to conquer Turk, a nationality in the north. On the 15th day the 8th lunar month, Li Jing returned triumphantly. Li Shimin celebrated the triumph of Li Jing and the troops. There was a trader from Tibet offered some round cakes to Li Shimin to congratulate victory. Li Shimin was very happy to receive this gift and introduced the round cakes to his faithful subjects. After that, the round cakes became popular both in palace and among the folks. People ate the round cakes on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. In mooncake history, we cannot avoid mentioning Concubine Yang Yuhuan of a later Tang emperor Li Longji. It is said it is Yang who named the round cake “mooncake”.
Court Cakes Prevailed in Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD)
In Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127 AD), mooncake was called “Court Cake” and was not only popular in the palace but also the folklore. Later, people gave it meaning of reunion, reflecting the good wishes for family reunion, and also deep miss of friends. The written record of the characters “moon cake” were first seen in a book of Southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279 AD), which is an important textual evidence in mooncake history.
Mooncake Uprising in Late Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368 AD)
In late Yuan Dynasty, people could not bear the cruel rule of the court. Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of Ming, united various resistance forces to prepare for the uprising. But it was hard to deliver military massage secretly. Liu Bowen, a subject of Zhu Yuanzhang, came up with an idea that put the note writing “Uprising on the 15th night of 8th lunar month” into the mooncakes, and then sent them to other resistance forces. On the day of the uprising, the uprising troops from different places got together and fight against the Yuan troop. Soon the uprising succeeded and Zhu Yuanzhang presented mooncakes to the ministers as gifts. It is said that since then the custom of eating mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival was formed. This is an essential event in mooncake history.
Eating mooncakes got popular in Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD).
There is a detailed record of the mooncake from the Ming Dynasty: “Mid-Autumn Festival is on the 15th day of 8th lunar month, and people celebrate family reunion by eating mooncakes.” From the record, we can see eating mooncake in Mid-Autumn Festival has got popular in the folk.
Homemade mooncakes are essential for Mid-autumn Festival in Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911AD).
According to mooncake history, eating mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival has become a wide spread custom in the Qing Dynasty, and there are more historical records about mooncakes. At that time, mooncakes were mostly homemade. Many books recorded the making process of mooncake with flour, nuts, sugar and lard, etc.
Famous brands of mooncakes rose since 20th century.
Since 1900’s, Daoxiangcun, Lianxianglou, Guanshengyuan and other mooncake brands have shown up. So far, some mooncake brands have already been over 100 years old. Nowadays, Chinese people eat mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival, and present mooncakes to each other.
In recent years, the mooncakes have become more and more elaborate, and there are extremely high-priced mooncakes. As gifts, some moon cakes are luxuriously packaged, and a box of moon cakes reaches several thousand or even tens of thousands RMB.