You might know Mid-autumn festival if you have been China, but I bet you have never heard the so-called Moon-cake gambling custom during the festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. For centuries, the Mid-Autumn Festival has encouraged family reunions, big feasts and enjoyment of a beautiful full moon. But for people in Xiamen, their exciting games have just started. A special custom “Moon-cake Gambling” will take place in every Mid-autumn Festival.
Gambling? Right, but it is definitely legal. Because the stakes among the locals are moon-cakes - and that is how this unique celebrating activity has got its Chinese name 'Bo Bing'. It is played only around the Mid-Autumn Festival.
All the 'Bo Bing' game requires are six dice and a china bowl. Just throw the dice into the bowl - and the different pips you get stand for different ranks of awards you will win.
The 300-year-old custom of moon cake gambling dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The inventor, Zheng Chenggong, a general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), stationed his army in Xiamen. Zheng was determined to recover Taiwan, which was occupied by Dutch invaders since 1624.
When every Mid-Autumn Festival came, the soldiers naturally missed their families but fought with heroic determination to drive off the aggressors.
General Zheng and his lower officer Hong Xu invented moon-cake gambling to help relieve homesickness among the troops.
The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized moon-cakes as prizes.
From the lowest to the highest, the titles of six ranks are Xiucai (the one who passed the examination at the county level), Juren (a successful candidate at the provincial level), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination), Tanhua, Bangyan and Zhuangyuan (respectively the number three to number one winners in the imperial examination at the presence of the emperor).
Game players throw the dice by turns. Different pips they count win the player a relevant 'title' and corresponding type of moon cakes.
The lucky player who gets the pips to make it the title of 'Zhuangyuan', will be the biggest winner in the game, and gain the largest moon cake.
The game has something to do with the number 'four'. In moon-cake gambling, the pips for most ranks of the awards are related to this number.
For instance, one dice of four pips wins you 'Xiucai' and the smallest moon-cake. And if you get four or more dice of four pips, then congratulations - you win 'Zhuangyuan'.
As a game well combining culture, folk custom and recreation, moon-cake gambling soon got popular among troops.
So General Zheng approved of the soldiers playing the game in turn from the 13th to the 18th of the 8th month around the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Xiamen people believe that the person, who wins 'Zhuangyuan' in the game, will have good luck that year. And the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second important holiday in Xiamen besides Spring Festival.
Nowadays, the moon cakes are not the only kind of award. With the upgrade of people's living standards, daily necessities, household appliances and even money can also be won.