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Mooncake gambling

  • 2018-11-22 10:02:49

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.

You find a pack of six dice inside after opening every gaudily decorated box of mooncakes.

Gambling? Right, but it is definitely legal. Because the stakes among the locals are mooncakes - and that is how this unique celebrating activity has got its Chinese name "Bo Bing." It is played only around the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Easy to play though, the games have quite complicated rules hard to remember. So it is thoughtful for some mooncake manufacturers to print the rules on the package.

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.

When walking along streets in this tiny island during this time, you will hear the pleasant silvery sound of the dice rolling. Cheers of winning or loss are everywhere.

The 300-year-old custom of mooncake gambling dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The inventor, Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), 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 heroical determination to drive off the aggressors.

General Zheng and his lower officer Hong Xu invented mooncake 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 mooncakes 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 mooncakes.

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 mooncake.

In ancient China, to win the imperial examination was the only way to enter an official career which was the dream of most learners, since the examination system was established in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618).

No wonder then, if a person won "Zhuangyuan" through the imperial examination, the success would bring great honour to both him and his family, with a high-level position and a great sum of money.

The game has something to do with the number "four." In mooncake gambling, the pips for most ranks of the awards are related to this number.

For instance, one die of four pips wins you "Xiucai" and the smallest mooncake. And if you get four or more dice of four pips, then congratulations - you win "Zhuangyuan."

The game provides 32 mooncakes for "Xiucai," 16 for "Juren" and the rest may be deduced by analogy. Only one player will win the lucky title "Zhuangyuan." That is why a total of 63 mooncakes are prepared for the game.

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.

Since then, "Bo Bing" has become a popular traditional activity among local people. On every Mid-Autumn Festival, family members gather to gamble mooncakes, deep in arguments about who will be the winner.

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