Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, February 11 –These are pictures I’ve collected of fancy bottles of baijiu being sold during the Chinese New Year festivities. Baijiu is Chinese “white liquor,” most commonly made from sourghum. I personally have never tasted it, and don’t plan to, but it is supposedly strong stuff! I read that the Chinese drink the ones that are 60-120%proof, but those exported are more like 50% proof. It is a regular part of Chinese business dinners, where the men present (but not the women) are expected to drink it. If you want to read more about it, try here http://baijiuamerica.com/what-is-baijiu/ . I’ve been tempted to buy some at this time of year, just for the bottle! This is the only panda bottle I’ve ever seen; most are the floral ones. If you would like to add to this or correct me if I’m wrong, please do in the comments!
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, January 26 – This pair of children are called 金童玉女, Jīn tóng yù nǚ, “Golden Boy and Jade Girl (or maiden),” or “The Golden Children.” Although not as common as other Spring Festival decorations, they are still common to see. In reading about them, it seems that they are originally from the Taoist/Daoist religion, and were assistants of the goddess Guan Yin, also called Kwan Yin. The legend is that when they were born, many treasures accompanied their births, so they were named “Golden Boy” and “Jade Girl,” and they then became immortals by serving Guan Yin. In modern day China, especially as Spring Festival decorations, they are seen dressed in traditional Chinese clothing, and are portrayed as round-faced, chubby children. This makes them symbolic of well-fed children, indicating wealth and prosperity. They are displayed as a pair, usually facing each other. Figuratively, they represent lovely young children and are believed to bring happiness and good fortune to a family.
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, January 20 – On January 28, 2017, the Year of the Rooster/Chicken will begin. If you were born in 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, or 2005, then, according to the Chinese Zodiac you are a rooster or chicken! However, this isn’t as easy as just the year, as Chinese New Year, or the lunar new year, is on a different day each year. For a complete list of dates, look here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/zodiac/rooster.htm
For those who will be born in the upcoming year, 4714 of the Lunar Calendar, they will more specifically be “fire roosters” “or “red fire chickens.” In one place online, I read that according to more specific info, 2017 is actually a female, or chicken year. We are seeing a lot of roosters and chickens as we are out and about, although they don’t seem as plentiful as some of the other zodiac animals in previous years have been. My picture shows a live chicken from where we live, some rooster statues from a Spring Festival Flower Market, and lots of cute plush chickens from the display window of our local variety store.
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, January 14 – The Chinese New Year preparations have started! Artists doing custom calligraphy are common at this time of year because people like to have custom couplets made to hang on their doorways. This man had a table set-up at our shopping plaza today and was making some couplets for a woman when I went past. I posted some information about couplets last year January 17, 2016.
In the written Chinese characters, the words are very carefully chosen, as they have very specific guidelines, including that they rhyme, have the same number of characters on each side, and that the two must correspond to and complement each other. Some examples translated would be:
A wide sea lets fish jump; a high sky lets birds fly.
A mountain of books has a way and diligence is the path; the sea of learning has no end and hard work is the boat
Distance tests a horse's strength; time reveals a person's heart.
Smooth sailing with each year; success with each step.
Heaven adds time and people get older; spring fills the world and blessing fills the door.
Red Lanterns are a universal symbol of Chinese culture. Lanterns are seen throughout the year in China, and during special occasions like weddings, but red ones especially are seen during Chinese New Year, as they symbolize good fortune. If you’ve followed my pictures the past month, you’ve already seen quite a few red lanterns! They are pretty much everywhere you go during Spring Festival in China. Many homes and businesses keep them hanging year round, and Spring Festival is the time to purchase new ones. Red lanterns come in many sizes and shapes, although round is the most popular. They can be plain, have pictures or calligraphy, and usually have gold or red tassels hanging from the bottom.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 12 - Today is the 5th day of the Chinese New Year and the day considered to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. In many places, the day is welcomed in with abundant fireworks to honor and please this God. He is seen frequently in Chinese New Year decorations, often with coins or yuanbao. Many people will also eat dumplings called jiaozi today because they are shaped like yuanbao. (check picture from Jan. 21)
I’ve always loved daffodils, so it’s the one flower I especially like to buy each year at the Spring Festival Flower Fair. In Chinese, it is called shui xian 水仙, which is literally “water immortal” and the English translation is often either “water fairy flower” or just “water narcissus”. They are put in shallow bowls, of all sizes, with just water or water and pebbles. It is believed that if they bloom on New Year’s Day, it will bring good fortune for the upcoming year, so, they are cultivated very carefully to do just that; And mine did have its first few blooms on New Year’s Day, today there are many more! The blooms are quite small and have a very sweet smell. I bought a small dish with a dozen bulbs and it cost 20rmb or about $3usd. Sometimes, you will also see “narcissus carving” where the bulbs have been cut a certain way in order to bloom with a certain curve, then they are put in a dish to grow as a bird or something else. I found this interesting article about the Chinese bringing daffodil bulbs to the USA in the late 1800’s: http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/relict-gold-the-long-journey-of-the-chinese-narcissus/
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 1 - Happy Chinese New Year! Fireworks are a HUGE part of the Chinese New Year celebration! Here in Songshan Lake, the real firecrackers started about 10 am on New Year’s Eve and went off every so often throughout the day. Then the frequency picked up about 10pm and just before midnight, they were constant. But, it was nowhere near as noisy as other places we’ve lived. I remember our first Chinese New Year in Shanghai where it seemed like a war zone! The practice of setting off fireworks comes from an ancient myth about a monster named “Nian,” the same word for “year.” He came once a year and attacked and killed villagers and their livestock as the New Lunar year arrived. An old man supposedly figured out that Nian was afraid of loud noises, lights and the color red. So, each year, houses are decorated with red, and fireworks are set off to scare away the “evil spirits”. This morning, I took a walk, and if the red paper left from the fireworks is any indication, the people living here were successful at scaring Nian away! In modern times, fireworks are popular as decorations as well as the real ones.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 7 - One of the most popular sayings for Chinese New Year is “Nian nian you yu 年年有余” The basic meaning of this is “May you have abundance through every year.” The word for abundance, surplus, or plenty, is “yu余.” This sounds the same as the word “yu魚 ” which means fish, so, you can see why fish are such popular decorations during Spring Festival! Today is New Year’s Eve in China and families will gather for their “reunion dinners.” A very important dish to serve is fish, usually served whole as a symbol of prosperity, with the head and tail representing the beginning and ending of the year. A portion of the fish is saved for finishing in the new year, indicating that there is “surplus” for the New Year!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 6 - On Chinese New Year, It’s important for everyone to wear a complete outfit of new clothes, as it symbolizes a new start for the new year. In the stores, you see much more traditional style clothing than at other times, and of course the favorite color is red! Gold is also popular, and pink and purple for girls and ladies. Many people prefer Western styles nowadays, it seems the traditional styles are most popular for children. Colors can also vary, but the big no-no’s are black and white, these are the colors symbolizing funerals and death and are believed to bring bad luck if worn on New Year’s Day. Many people also have their hair washed and cut just before the New Year. Washing it on New Year’s Day is believed to wash away your luck, and using scissors for anything the first few days of the new year is considered bad luck because you are “cutting” your wealth.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 3 -There is a Chinese idiom 红红火火 hóng hóng huǒ huǒ , literally “red red, fire fire.”
As you know by now, red is a very lucky, or auspicious color in China, and fire is considered to be very energetic. When you tell a person or business “hóng hóng huǒ huǒ”, it’s the equivalent of telling them “good luck.” During Chinese New Year, strings of chili peppers are used to represent this idiom.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 30 - Spring Blossoms - As I said before, Chinese New Year is called “Spring Festival” in China. This is perfect for the region we are in, as many of the flowering trees have buds or blooms, but I’m not so sure about northern China…it’s always very cold there during Spring Festival! The flower picture on the bottom is a peach blossom; when I walked by the lake today, there were quite a few trees just starting to bloom. The tree in the center top photo is an artificial peach tree on display at our local shopping plaza. The two side photos, I believe, represent cherry blossoms, the left is plastic beads and cotton with a lotion display at the grocery store, and on the left is an ad in the McDonalds window. Blossoms are important for Chinese New Year because if there are no flowers, there will be no fruit, so, they indicate growth. And did you notice that they are all PINK! Peach blossoms also symbolize romance. Different blossoms have different meanings, and their fruit have additional meanings. I found one place that said you should never show one single blossom in a painting/picture because it indicated early death! Hopefully I won’t offend my Chinese friends with this lone blossom! At least there is a bud next to it :-)
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 29 - We went to a Chinese New Year party at a Mexican Restaurant and they had some lion dancers performing. Lion dancers need a good amount of space, so they couldn’t do much in a restaurant, but it was fun to have them so close, and they did more just outside the front door. Lion dancers are a big part of Chinese New Year, as the dances are traditionally done to scare away evil spirits. There are many details about them, too many to list here! If you are interested in learning about the lion dancers, this is a great video explaining about the costume parts and how they work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rKcXN_axqE
Here is a slideshow of some lion dancers from a performance we saw last year: http://www.smilebox.com/playBlog/4e4449784d4451304e544d3d0d0a&blogview=true
Photo credit to Leah — at El Calliente, Dongguan, Guangdong, China.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 28 - The traditional belief of the Chinese is that during the year of your zodiac sign, you will have bad luck…. But, you can wear red all year to change this! As you should know by now, red is THE color for everything lucky during Chinese New Year! In modern times, many people no longer believe as strongly in the traditional beliefs, but this one is fun :-) Luckily, red looks great on Chinese people, and, if they get tired of wearing red clothes every day, hopefully they have their red undergarments, socks, or jewelry. The key to these red items changing bad luck to good, is that someone else buys them for you; It doesn’t work if you buy them for yourself! The upcoming year will be the year of the Monkey, so, if you are close to a monkey, join in the Chinese celebrations and buy them some red underwear!
Years of the Monkey: Feb.20,1920-Feb.7,1921, Feb.6,1932-Jan.25,1933, Jan.25,1944-Feb.12,1945, Feb.12,1956-Jan.30,1957, Jan.30,1968-Feb.16,1969, Feb.16,1980-Feb.4,1981, Feb.4,1992-Jan.22,1993, Jan.22,2004-Feb.8,2005
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 27 - Oranges, tangerines, and kumquats are popular decorations at Chinese New Year for a couple of reasons. First, their color is associated with gold, therefore representing abundance and wealth. Second, their names in Chinese sound similar to the words for “luck” and “wealth.” Orange trees are grown in pots especially for display in, or outside of homes and businesses at Chinese New Year, or to be used as gifts. They are often decorated with red envelopes and small lantern decorations. Because these are grown quickly with large amounts of fertilizers, it is not recommended to eat the oranges grown on these decorative trees. We have a small park area within our housing community where there are orange trees growing, and it seems that people have been enjoying the oranges!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 25 - Snoopy, called 史努比Shǐ nǔ bǐ (pronounced kind of like “sure new bee”) in Mandarin Chinese, continues to be popular in China. It seems that just like in the USA, he’s kind of a classic! I have seen special Snoopy stores, clothes for adults and children, all kinds of pens, pencils, notebooks, toys, decorations, etc, and there is a Charlie Brown restaurant in Hong Kong! And…as you can see by these stickers, Snoopy doesn’t miss out on the Chinese New Year celebration either! If you’ve been following my posts, can you recognize the hongbao, yuanbao, ancient coins, and scrolls (one side of a couplet)?
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 21 -These are gold “yuanbao”, a symbol of wealth and prosperity to the Chinese, and very popular during the Chinese New Year Festival. Today, the Chinese currency is still called the “yuan,” and “bao” means “treasure.” The shape, which is supposed to resemble a boat or shoe, represents ancient gold or silver ingots, then called “sycee.” You can also see some ancient coins, round with square centers, represented in the pictures, and on the top right, the God of Wealth is sitting on the yuanbao. I’ve seen people rub the mound in the center, so although I can’t find anything written, I assume this is supposed to bring good luck.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 19 - Feb 8, 2016 will begin the lunar year 4713, and will be the year of the monkey according to the Chinese zodiac. In general, monkeys are considered to be very smart, or “clever,” so people like to have babies in the year of the monkey. If you were born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004, your Chinese zodiac sign is a monkey! However, it’s not that simple! There is also a system of five elements: gold, wood, water, fire and earth. When this is combined with the 12 year zodiac cycle, each combination occurs only once every 60 years. Babies born in 2016 will be Fire monkeys and will be “ambitious and adventurous, but irritable.”
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 17 - What westerners refer to as “Chinese New Year” is literally translated as “Spring Festival.” It is the most important holiday in China. Preparations begin weeks before, and the actual holiday includes the first 15 days of the lunar new year.
Spring Festival couplets, called chunlian , are very popular decorations, with the origin going back over a thousand years. A couplet is a very precisely written form of Chinese poetry which has two lines. These are posted vertically on either side of the doorway and a scroll with a more general message is often hung across the top of the doorway. They are typically written with black ink on red paper, but many today are also written in gold. Nowadays, you can buy all kinds of mass produced couplets, but I have also seen them being custom made.
I gave Leah the job of choosing our Spring Festival Couplets. Here is the best she can translate them, if anyone can give a more accurate translation, please do!
Scroll at top: Peace wherever you go
First Line (on right): Smooth sailing whole family happy together
Second Line (on left): May all your hopes be fulfilled full spring
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 15 -On Chinese New Year, it is a tradition for working adults to give cash-filled “hong bao 红包,” red envelopes or red packets, to children and other relatives. Who exactly gives and receives seems to vary quite a bit. Companies also usually give red envelopes to their employees. The traditional custom stresses that it is the red envelope that is important, wishing good luck and prosperity to the recipient, and the cash inside is just to make them happy. However, in our currently growing “digital age,” the past couple of years have seen a huge increase in people sending “lucky money” via mobile apps – I guess the importance of the red envelope itself is changing? The amount given should end in an even number, and not have any “4’s” in it, as “4” is unlucky in China. The money given should be new bills, and no coins. It is impolite for the recipient to open the envelope in front of the person who gave it to them. Red envelopes are also given for weddings and sometimes birthdays.