Mid-Autumn Festival – A Cultural Exploitation through Overpriced Mooncakes?

Once a year during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chinese people gather with lanterns, awing at the sky where the moon shines the brightest each year, accompanied by family, friends, and mooncakes.

This supposed dessert may have turned into an expensive luxury without people’s realization; spending a fortune to devour something so caloric-ally sinful, yet know nothing about mooncakes.

Mooncakes Hide Secrets to Overthrow Conquerors

Like other legends, there’re various tales of how mooncakes came about. But one of the more popular stories started during the reign of the Mongolian people.

The historical event traced back almost 3,500 years ago in the Yuan Dynasty, when rebel leader Zhu made mooncakes claiming to celebrate the Mongols rule.

The message in the mooncake. Source

In reality, Zhu hid messages in the mooncake, like a fortune cookie, stating to kill all the Mongols on the 15th day of the month. The rebellion was successful and its people ate mooncakes to remember the date.

Another story explains how the emperor of the Tang Dynasty was offered the delicacy by a businessman, after his victory in a war. The emperor admired the bright moon in the night sky, shared his food with his ministers, and henceforth named it the mooncake.

The mooncake is also greatly associated with values of family reunion, because its round shape symbolizes unity. Hence why people eat it as a family, or gift it as a token of union and togetherness.

Expensive Mooncakes Part of Cultural Exploitation

The mooncake’s existence across the centuries has not changed since. Mainly still made of the same ingredients like flour, beans, sugar, egg yolk; people still buy it even at ridiculous prices, when one piece can range from RM20 to RM40.

But making and baking mooncakes can take time, depending on the method and how far one wants to experiment with flavour. But after all that, it still doesn’t entirely justify workmanship and ingredient prices.

The gist of it may boil down to either the presentation of the packaging, and the ever-increasing demand for it.

A 4 pc Marvel heroes mooncake worth RM199. Source

Unlike Chinese New Year, there’s a wide variety of snacks to choose from. But during the Mid-Autumn festival, the spotlight falls only on the mooncake. Without competition or substitution, the demand for it is high, so bakers and distributors may get greedy and jack up the prices.

In a way, it is a monetary exploitation of culture, but nobody will question it, because the number of customers keep pouring in.

What’s on the Outside Counts

Overtime, the proper function of mooncakes has evolved into getting the best packaging one can find, be it for family and friends, or a business-related gift.

Mooncakes now appear in the most lavish packaging their brands could think of. Some decorate their boxes with popular icons to entice their targeted consumers.

Some boxes go beyond their intent, by doubling as a supply box loaded with compartments, sort of like a jewellery box. But instead of precious stones, one finds a piece of mooncake, in each space.

The mooncake box for St Regis KL (jewelry probably not included). Source

Like designer bags and clutches, the branding of mooncakes is important to convey one’s status. One might think that these top tiered mooncake brands come from famed bakeries, where as a matter of fact, they come from classy hotels.

Shangri-La, Marriot, Hilton, etc are some of the hotels with the most outrages prices, with very innovative packaging year after year, turning mooncake giving into a symbol of people’s financial status and stability.

Yes, this is a mooncake box by the Hilton KL. Source
Not Forgetting Tradition, Cherish Values

But we can’t be too stern on the price of mooncakes as well. It’s understandable that it’s an easily perishable item, that’s also time consuming to make, and the taste buds of a generation may differ from the one before, or the next.

Mooncake flavours now can go from Durian flavoured stuffed with durian lava, to ice cream mooncakes. So, the innovation of flavour and packing isn’t an entirely bad thing. Even Starbucks and Haagen-Daz hopped on the bandwagon.

Starbucks mooncake. Source

In the end, people need to be reminded of what the tradition is about. No one should judge how one spends their money, nor should one shame someone for something they can’t afford. People need to remember this is a festival of unity, and should enjoy it together with the people they cherish in their lives.

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