Mooncake – meaning behind the gift

Every year, the Chinese in China and abroad celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which indicates the end of harvests and the beginning of autumn. The festival is held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Like on any other festive occasion, people eat, drink, and participate in various public activities. But this festival has something in particular: a mooncake, a sweet pastry with red bean or lotus-seed filling, which has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Chinese culture.

What is a mooncake?

Generally speaking, a mooncake (月餅, yuebing) is a pastry with a rich, thick filling surrounded by a thin crust. Southern mooncakes may contain salty fillings, but northern ones are usually sweet. There are many flavors of mooncakes on the market, from traditional red bean paste, lotus seed paste, to ice cream and seafood. Mooncakes should have some characters imprinted on top, usually words like “longevity” or “happiness.” Chinese people share them at festive dinner and they may also be given as a gift to others. According to media reports, ninety percent of people who buy mooncakes give them to others.

Mooncakes are round, and roundness in Chinese culture symbolizes togetherness and completeness. Gifting mooncakes means expressing best wishes and love depending on the relationship.


How to eat mooncakes?

  1. If you have a weak stomach, do not eat mooncakes on an empty stomach and before sleeping.
  2. Mooncake is usually eaten cut in small wedges with a fork and accompanied by tea.
  3. If you know how to eat using chopsticks, you can use them to eat mooncakes cut into wedges.
  4. Mooncakes are usually shared among people.

Mooncakes taste best eaten at room temperature. Regarding calories, one mooncake is often equivalent to a whole meal or 3.6 bowls of rice.

Mooncakes in business settings

No business meeting close to the Mid-Autumn Festival is complete without mooncakes. Mooncakes are even served during flights around the festive period. The mooncake business is big because the festival is observed in every part of China. In 2015, the annual sales value of mooncakes in China was worth over 13 bn yuan, and in 2020 – 20.5 bn yuan. The prices start from 10-20 RMB and should not exceed a retail price of 500 RMB for a box. Some bakeries have expertise in this type of pastry and rely only on the Mid-Autumn Festival turnover to get through the year. Even fashion houses like Gucci and Prada launch their mooncake boxes.

In business relationships, mooncakes are becoming an important networking tool. While the Chinese New Year, another important festival, is a family thing, and the gifts include hongbao (money in a red envelope), the Mid-Autumn Festival is more universal, and the Chinese send mooncakes to their bosses, colleagues, and other people. Bakeries and companies often compete to produce the most innovative mooncake and luxurious mid-autumn-themed boxes, and Western entrepreneurs, especially those in the food industry, may as well join this competition. It may be hard to impress the Chinese in their field, but it is undoubtedly worth trying.

Check the dates for China holidays, including Mid-Autumn Festival, which takes place on a different day every year.