春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!
Chengdu is a dynamic city – some people say it is the fastest growing city in the world! Skyscrapers and shopping centers are being built up quickly everywhere in the city. However, there are still some peaceful places left, where you can rest your stressed soul.
One of them I visited last weekend: Qingyang Temple – the place where Laozi is to be said that he spoke the Tao Te King (also: Dao De Jing 道德经) to one of his disciples, which is one of the main books (besides the famous I Ching/Yi Jing 易经) of Daoism.
If you are a little familiar with Chinese culture, you might know, that Daoism is a deep-rooted concept in Chinese history and Chinese daily life. Even if you haven’t heard of Daoism yet, you might have seen the black and white yin yang symbol before, or have heard about Taiji, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or feng shui.
As these concepts are becoming more popular in the West now as well, a lot of people are living a part of the Chinese culture in their daily lifes already. Now, where is this all originating from?
Chengdu is the center of the West of modern China. However, in ancient times it was part of a kingdom during the Warring State Period. There was a wise man (some say he is more a mystical figure, but it seems like there is prove that he actually lived): called Laozi (老子). He was said to have lived at the same time as Confucius (or Kongzi 孔子), who is well-known in the East and West for his quotes about state-philosophy and the relationship of family members. Laotse was a follower of the way of Dao and formulated the 81 core principles of Daoism. The book has inspired hundreds and thousands of commentators and has been translated and interpreted in many languages. In honour to the place where he was said to have read these principles to one of his disciples, a temple was built. Today, it is called Qingyang Gong (The Green Goat Temple 青羊宫).
The temple has been built during the Chunqiu Period and has been revived under the Tang Dynasty. Parts of the temple have been renovated during the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century. It has been one of the few Daoist temples which was allowed by the Chinese government to open its doors again in the 1980’ies.
Today, it is a centre of peace and relaxation. A teahouse on one side forms a place for socialization of local people, whereas within one of the yards you can watch young disciples training Wushu and older disciples training Taiji. Everywhere you can see Daoist nuns and monks, who stroll around in the park and help keeping the incense stick holders clean.
In several places, you can find references to the Daoist astrology, namely the 12 animal zodiac signs (mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse. Goat, monkey, chicken, dog, pig): May it be engravings on the floor or little sculptures on stone walls. Also look out for the big yin-yang symbol which is engraved in the stone floor in one of the yards. The symbol looks simple, but is highly complex, therefore I just want to give a brief summary: The yin is represented by the black part which is carrying the white seed, the yang energy, and the other way around. Yin energy is often anticipated with the female, the moon and the earth, whereas yang energy is often anticipated with the male, the sun and the heaven. In combination and interaction they are creating life or also called the ‘Qi’. Qi is everything which moves, wherever is movement, there’s life. Where ever movement stops, there’s no life anymore. The ideal balance of yin and yang always creates life.
Many people I know, say, that if you have seen one Chinese temple, you know them all.
I have to refuse since I know Qingyang Gong. Buddhist temples in China, that might be, often end up as tourist attractions selling lots of souvenirs, snacks and drinks. I even found a Starbucks once in a temple area. Buddhism in China has sold itself out, maybe. I am glad to say, that if you are looking for a true place for spiritualism, you can come to Chengdu and visit Qingyang temple. Pay the 10 RMB entrance fee, get some incense sticks to send prayers to your ancestors, family and friends and enjoy a happy and relaxed day by get your yin and yang in balance!
There are more aspects than Chinese modern business culture, that you are interested in? Our team in Chengdu is happily arranging visits to temples or organizes other cultural activities to help you understanding the Chinese culture better.
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