The Chinese have celebrated the harvest during the autumn full moon since the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 to 1046 BCE). Morris Berkowitz, who studied the Hakka people during the 1960s, theorizes that the harvest celebration originally began with worshiping Mountain Gods after the harvest was completed. For the Baiyue peoples, the harvest time commemorated the dragon who brought rain for the crops. The celebration as a festival only started to gain popularity during the early Tang dynasty (618 to 907 CE). One legend explains that Emperor Xuanzong of Tang started to hold formal celebrations in his palace after having explored the Moon-Palace. The term mid-autumn first appeared in Rites of Zhou, a written collection of rituals of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046 to 771 BCE).
Empress Dowager Cixi (late 19th century) enjoyed celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival so much that she would spend the period between the thirteenth and seventeenth day of the eighth month staging elaborate rituals.
An important part of the festival celebration is moon worship. The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water, and connected this concept to the menstruation of women, calling it "monthly water". The Zhuang people, for example, have an ancient fable saying the sun and moon are a couple and the stars are their children, and when the moon is pregnant, it becomes round, and then becomes crescent after giving birth to a child. These beliefs made it popular among women to worship and give offerings to the moon on this evening. In some areas of China, there are still customs in which "men worship the moon and the women offer sacrifices to the kitchen gods."
Offerings are also made to a more well-known lunar deity, Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The myths associated with Chang'e explain the origin of moon worship during this day. One version of the story is as follows, as described in Lihui Yang's Handbook of Chinese Mythology:
Handbook of Chinese Mythology also describes an alternate common version of the myth: