For a civilisation whose calendar has long been dictated by the movements of the moon, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important events for Chinese families. It takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is supposed to be at its brightest and fullest. Ancient sages believed that worshipping the moon on this day and eating together at a round table would bring a bountiful harvest.
A lot of food on the festive menu therefore comes in a round shape. None is more symbolic than the mooncake, a kind of pastry with a soft baked crust that encases a dense filling. This year traditional flavours, as opposed to the modern variants, were most popular, according to major Chinese retailer Suning, which said that its own sales of the celebratory cake jumped 2.8 times on the year. Topping Suning’s order list was the most traditional – and least healthy – variety: white lotus paste egg yolk. The next was wuren, which means “five nuts”.
Wuren mooncake is typically made with walnuts, almonds, ‘tropical’ almonds, melon seeds and sesame seeds. It has been shunned by young people for years. Its comeback, suggested Eastday.com, was a conscious choice by ‘filial’ young buyers to prioritise the tastes of their seniors over themselves.
“The revival of wuren mooncakes signifies the triumph of the ‘taste of home’,” Eastday proclaimed.
The “taste of home” is also perhaps the festive message being sent out by Zhang Zetian, a woman more usually associated with milk tea than mooncakes (see WiC231 for our first mention of ‘Milk Tea Girl’). Zhang is married to Liu Qiangdong, the boss of e-commerce company JD.com who was briefly jailed in Minnesota last month over a rape allegation (see WiC424).
Making her first public statement since her husband’s case made headlines, the 24 year-old posted a picture of a mooncake held by two adult hands and that of a young child on her WeChat account during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Zhang and the 45 year-old Liu had a daughter in 2016 and the image was obviously a family-centric one. Added significance was given to the remark that accompanied the photo: “As long as the whole family is together, life is complete. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Hopefully the gloomiest night will wear on to the first moonlight.”
Some saw the post as Zhang’s declaration of support for her husband in the wake of the allegations. Following her post, JD.com’s share price rebounded from its 21-month nadir the next day.
That said, it failed to quell gossip that the couple are estranged as a result of Liu’s alleged behaviour in Minnesota. One clue, said netizens, was the deletion of all posts on Zhang’s weibo (mostly her photos with Liu) save for five entries related to charitable causes. Zhang is also selling her wedding gift from Liu – a luxury home in Sydney – potentially at a loss.
As one of China’s most high-profile couples, Zhang and Liu are set to live through more testing times.
In late September Reuters published an article that revealed more details on the rape allegation. Citing a WeChat message the alleged victim sent to her friends, Reuters said the woman had told them that Liu had forced her to have sex.
“I was not willing,” wrote the 21 year-old University of Minnesota student, though she said she had begged her friends not to call the police. “He will suppress it,” she wrote, referring to Liu. “You underestimate his power.”
A lawyer for Liu then told Reuters that the allegations are “inconsistent with evidence”. JD.com’s spokesperson also suggested the messages Reuters reported on from WeChat “doesn’t tell the full story”.
Liu has since kept a low profile. He was the only major internet tycoon not in attendance at a key artificial intelligence conference hosted by the government in Shanghai in late last month.
Aside from Zhang’s poetic mooncake posting, neither have spoken about the alleged act.
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