A “Dragon and Phoenix Bringing Auspiciousness” mooncake mold. [Photo/Qianlong]
With the coming of Mid-Autumn Festival, the festive atmosphere grows stronger and stronger. Actually every year when you find mooncakes begin to be sold, you realize that the Mid-Autumn Festival is on the way.
As a must for the Mid-Autumn Festival, mooncakes of different tastes and in various packaging styles can be conveniently bought in supermarkets, stores and groceries today, and if they are bought as gifts for others, buyers would be especially particular about the packaging. As to mooncake itself, today’s mooncake of course takes many forms either in appearance or in taste. However, what did mooncakes in the old days look like? Were they similar to the ones now?
A fish-shaped mooncake mode. [Photo/Qianlong]
A browse through old mooncake molds will help answer these questions. The circular shape symbolizing reunion is highly valued in Chinese culture, and thus round mooncakes have been favored by the Chinese since ancient times at Mid-Autumn Festival, a festival for family reunion. Within a round mold, a variety of patterns might have been carved to add beauty and auspiciousness to mooncakes. Despite this, some mooncakes did have other shapes like fish, lotus seedpod, and lantern which connote affluence, fertility and reunion respectively.
A lotus seedpod-shaped mooncake mode. [Photo/Qianlong]
In addition to shapes, the themes reflected by different patterns on mooncakes also mattered much to the Chinese. The “Dragon and Phoenix Bringing Auspiciousness” mooncake represented the Chinese people’s longing for peaceful and auspicious life. Similarly, mooncake in the shape of mandarin duck expressed people’s wish for happy marriage. Like a lotus seedpod-shaped mooncake, a pomegranate-shaped one also symbolizes fertility since both are rich in seeds. Flowers like peony, the emblem of richness, were also commonly seen on mooncakes in the old days. Besides, animals like monkey and butterfly are also found in old mooncake molds. The former with a smart and agile image has been loved by the Chinese people while the latter, an embodiment of beauty, connotes happiness. Sometimes Chinese characters indicating the fillings inside mooncakes were also carved in molds and such practices still prevail even today.
A mooncake mold with the pattern of flowers and characters indicating the filling inside. [Photo/Qianlong]
To increase the efficiency of mooncake making, sometimes a number of molds with either the same design or different designs were carved in the same piece of wood or on both sides of the wood. From this, we can see how admirable the wisdom of ancient people is.
A number of mooncake molds carved in one piece of wood. [Photo/Qianlong]
The old mooncake molds deliver more information about people’s lives in the past though and bear witness to the changes of the times. One mooncake with a surname “He” written on its back, indicates that it once belonged to a family surnamed He. It is said that in the old days rich families usually had various mooncake molds while common families only had a limited number of them and the latter had to borrow molds from each other in order to make mooncakes of different patterns. Thus owners’ names were written or carved on mooncake molds in case people mix up their ownership. Sometimes a mooncake mold is also marked with its maker and carving time. A mooncake mold with characters of “mooncake” and “produced by Beijing Department Store” as well as the pattern of two ears of wheat and a five-pointed star indicates that it was made after the founding of People’s Republic of China.
A mooncake mold marked with its maker and carving time. [Photo/Qianlong]
In spite of cracks, holes made by moths, and blurred carvings, timeworn old mooncake molds tell us about the past silently. From the exquisitely carved mooncake molds, we may not only catch a glimpse of what mooncakes in the old days were like but also see people’s good wishes for and love towards life at a time when packaging was simple.
A cute monkey-shaped mooncake mold. [Photo/Qianlong]
An octagonal mooncake mold. [Photo/Qianlong]
Two flower-shaped mooncake molds in the same piece of wood. [Photo/Qianlong]
A torchlike mooncake mold. [Photo/Qianlong]
A mooncake mold with distinguishing features of the times. [Photo/Qianlong]