The Chung Yeung Festival, or the Double Ninth Festival, falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month each year. This year, based on the Gregorian calendar, it falls on October 14. It’s a public holiday in Hong Kong steeped in rich tradition that goes back 2000 years to commemorate ancestors.
Thus, Hong Kong people honour this day with a multitude of activities to celebrate its history while reflecting on the story behind this festival, which is uncovered here.
What is Chung Yeung Festival?
Chung Yeung Festival is not to be confused with Ching Ming Festival celebrated in spring, although they’re similar. Both holidays honour ancestors and loved ones who’ve passed by performing tombsweeping and eating certain foods to celebrate, like cold glutinous rice dumplings. What differentiates them is that Ching Ming means ‘light’ or ‘brightness’, and the holiday emphasizes a symbolism of fresh new beginnings in spring time after a cold season.
Nowadays, Chung Yeung is treated a lot like any other holiday to relish in relaxation from the hustle and bustle of life. Diving into its traditional roots, however, reveals a deeper meaning. The Cantonese phrase ‘chung yeung’ means ‘double yang’, yang being the dark part of the yin-yang symbol. In ancient Chinese numerology, the number nine is a yang number (odd numbers from 0 to 9). Indeed, in the yin-yang image, the yang side even looks like the number nine.
The doubling of the largest yang number signifies compassion for the world and seeing all possibilities and the light in all situations. The doubling also results in what is believed to be an overabundance of yang energy, which could cause unlucky events on the date. Hence, the festival’s alternative name, ‘Double Nine’.
History of Chung Yeung Festival
Chung Yeung Festival stems from a heroic story that dates back to the Han Dynasty. There are variations to the story, but the plot in all of them revolves around a man named Jing Huan climbing to the top of a mountain and saving his family and fellow villagers.
A commonly told version explains how Huan was fortunate to encounter the timely visit of a divine being who forewarned him to take his family to the highest part of the village to escape the atrocity to come their way. With great heed, he listened to this warning to avoid the onslaught of a demon. Upon Huan’s return to the village, he was met with chaos. The demon had wiped out his entire village. Luckily, the immortal being that warned Huan Jing had mentioned that chrysanthemum wine would kill the demon. Following that tactic, the demon was defeated. Another ending to this story involves Jing Huan slaying the demon with a magical sword, earning him recognition as a mythical swordsman.
Jing Huan was showered with good luck having been the one to receive the divine message and defeat the demon. Fast forward to today, and taking account of this story, most are reminded to count their blessings and ‘aim high’ in life.
Festivities during Chung Yeung Festival
Celebratory activities on this day reference the story behind Chung Yeung with an emphasis on going to higher ground for better luck. Families take the opportunity of this day, and hopefully fair weather, to hike up to graves and pay respect to their ancestors. All of these actions are underlain by the belief in an excess of yang energy that should be rebalanced.
In Hong Kong, grave sites tend to be situated on mountains, and the higher the mountain, the higher the position in life one will be blessed with. Incense and offerings, like paper money, are burned and flowers are planted. Another custom is to fly kites, which is symbolic of getting rid of bad luck and energy by ‘flying’ them off to a faraway land.
No festival is without food and drinks! Families eat delectable chung yeung cakes made of rice flour and sugar and topped off with garnishes like walnuts and dried fruit. ‘Cake’ in Cantonese sounds the same as ‘tall’ or ‘high’, though written differently. Nonetheless, the wish is that by eating the cake, one can prosper in life and ascend to higher levels, whether in career or wellbeing.
To quench thirst, chrysanthemum wine or tea is drunk to purify the soul and ward off evil, recalling how Jing Huan killed the demon in his village.
The Double Ninth Festival around the world
Chung Yeung Festival is recognized in other parts of Asia, including China, Macau and Taiwan, but is not a public holiday outside of Hong Kong and Macau. Ancestors are revered through tomb sweeping and the burning of offerings and, as with any festival, consuming customary foods.
In China, Chong Yang Festival (Putonghua pronunciation) is celebrated as the Senior Citizens’ Festival to show respect to the elderly. Japan and South Korea have similar holidays that take place during different times of the year.
In Japan, Obon Day in August honours the dead with observances like tombsweeping and hanging lanterns as guidance for the dead. In South Korea, Chuseok in September is when people head back to their ancestral homes and make food offerings that are fit for a feast.
Header image credits: istolethetv via Flickr