February 04 2019
Robles Pigs loom large in Chinese culture so it is little wonder that the character for pig, an animal central to traditional village life, is written nestled inside the character for home
In China, pigs symbolise wealth. Their chubby little faces and big ears are associated with good fortune. According to Chinese astrology, they are realistic and pragmatic – where other zodiac signs may dither, pigs are decisive. They are not spendthrifts but pigs do like to enjoy life. They love entertainment and are generous to their friends and take good care of them. Pigs are easy-going and popular, they take good care of their friends but their lack of suspicion and discrimination means they can be easily cheated.
With a tendency to be materialistic pigs use this trait to their advantage as motivation to work hard. They are enthusiastic, even for tasks others might consider dull. They hold power in high esteem so if an opportunity arises they will jump at the chance to seize a position of status, believing it entitles them to respect.
WERE YOU BORN IN A PIG YEAR?
Click on your birth year for your Chinese zodiac animal
WERE YOU BORN IN A PIG YEAR?
Click on your birth year for your Chinese zodiac animal
Dr Henry Fok
Lee Kuan Yew
The Lion King, US
Winnie The Pooh, Britain
Charlotte’s Web, US
Peppa Pig, Britain
The Muppet Show, US
Looney Tunes, US
Journey to the West, Mainland China
McMug, Hong Kong
Animal Farm, Britain
HOW WERE THE 12 ANIMALS IN THE CHINESE ZODIAC CHOSEN?
According to legend, the heavenly Jade Emperor wanted to segment time into cycles of 12 years with an earthly animal guarding each cycle. He sent word that the fastest animals to reach the Heavenly Gate would be chosen, ranked accordingly and have a year in the cycle named after them. Sensing an opportunity, the animals raced against each other to win the emperor’s favour.
The quick-witted rat set off first but had to wait for the other animals to catch up when it came to a fast-flowing river. He was able to cross the river by taking advantage of the tender-hearted ox who carried him over on his ear. Having crossed the river, the kind but dim ox charged off. As the ox approached the palace in first place the rat suddenly leapt from his ear and dashed to the Jade Emperor’s feet, securing victory and relegating the ox to second place. The tiger came next, followed by the agile rabbit who had jumped across the river from stone to stone.
In fifth place came the flying dragon. When the Jade Emperor asked why he hadn’t simply flown over the river to win the race, the dragon explained he had stopped at a village to help bring rain to some desperate farmers.
The horse galloped in, confident of securing sixth spot, when the snake slithered off his front hoof and beat him by a nose. The goat, monkey, and rooster arrived after crossing the river on a raft they had built together, taking eighth, ninth, and 10th places respectively.
The dog was a late 11th having stopped to enjoy a bath in the river, and the pig, who had stopped for a nap, sauntered in for the 12th, and final, place.
There are many versions of the legend but they all agree the rat made sure the cat did not finish the race by either tricking him into sleeping through the event or by pushing him into the river. Due to the rat’s treachery, the cat failed to finish and was not recognised in the zodiac. Naturally the cat never forgave the rat and Chinese legend holds this to be why they are natural enemies.
WHAT’S WITH THE COLOUR RED AND ALL THE FIRECRACKERS?
Have you ever wondered why the colour red is so crucial to Lunar New Year celebrations? People dress in red, decorate their homes with red banners and lanterns, and let off loud firecrackers. But why?
It is said there was a beast in ancient China named Nian who would come out of hiding at the beginning of the year and terrorise the people, feasting on crops, livestock and humans, especially children. The people lived in fear but over time they learnt to put food out in front of their doors once a year while they hid in the fields.
In some versions of the myth, a beggar came to a village just before Nian was due to appear. When an old woman gave the beggar shelter, he promised to repay her charity by chasing Nian away. The beggar, who some say was the Taoist monk, Hongjun Laozu, knew the ferocious Nian was afraid of three things – the colour red, fire, and noise.
After the villagers took to their hiding places in the distant fields Hongjun Laozu hung red lanterns and scrolls in the windows and doors throughout the village. As midnight struck, Nian lumbered into the village but pulled up short at the sight of red everywhere. Sensing Nian’s disorientation, the beggar sprang into action setting off the firecrackers. Depending on which version of the myth takes your fancy, the beast either fled in terror or was captured by Hongjun Laozu and turned into his mount.
When the villagers returned the following day, they were amazed to find their homes still standing. A huge celebration followed and the ritual was repeated and passed from generation to generation.
Beijing imposed a 13-year nationwide ban on fireworks following concerns over safety and air pollution but relented in 2006 after finding it too hard to enforce the ban. Many Chinese cities still have their own bans or strict restrictions in place.
Possessing fireworks is an offence in Hong Kong, as is setting off fireworks and firecrackers in public or private spaces. The ban was put in place by the colonial government after home-made explosives were detonated during the 1967 leftist riots.
The restrictions obviously do not extend to the government which celebrates with spectacular firework displays over the harbour every lunar new year and other festivals.
WHY IS “FU” INVERTED DURING LUNAR NEW YEAR?
Bright red and gold signs with the characters for fu, which mean luck, happiness, and prosperity, decorate homes during the lunar new year celebrations but always appear upside down. There is a popular folk tale behind this, and as is often the case, there are a number of variations.
It is usually said there was an emperor in ancient times who decreed every household decorate their homes by pasting fu on their doors. Soldiers were sent on New Year’s Day to check the order had been obeyed and discovered a family had placed the characters upside down. Suspecting the family of disrespecting the emperor the soldiers dragged the peasant to the palace.
The emperor was furious and ordered the peasant executed. Luckily, the kind-hearted empress realised the illiterate family had inadvertently placed the character the wrong way up and calmed the emperor by reassuring him it was actually a clever and respectful play on words. In Chinese the words for “upside down down” and “to arrive” sound the same and therefore, the phrase an “upside down fu” sounds the same as “Good luck arrives”. Thereafter, it became traditional to paste the characters upside down on doors to wish for prosperity every year.
WHY DO CHILDREN RECEIVE “LAI SEE”?
Throughout the Lunar New Year celebrations people dress in red, decorate their homes with red banners and lanterns, and let off loud, bright red firecrackers. But why?
According to another popular story, there was a demon called Sui who would come and pat children’s heads while sleeping every New Year’s Eve. His touch was tainted so parents would stay up the entire night, guarding their children.
One couple gave their child a coin to play with and when he fell asleep they placed the coin next to his pillow. At midnight, an eerie wind blew, snuffing out the candle announcing Sui’s arrival. As he reached for the boy, the coin flashed in the darkness and scared him away. The next day, the couple wrapped the coin in red paper to show their neighbours. From then on, married adults would give children money in red pockets, lai see, every New Year’s Eve.
WHEN DOES LUNAR NEW YEAR END?
Yuanxiao Festival, or Spring Lantern Festival is held on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year. It marks the final day of traditional celebrations and is a night for partying. Children go out at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns which come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Yuanxiao Festival is also known as Valentine’s Day in China because in ancient times this was the only night girls were allowed to venture outside by themselves. Able to walk around without a chaperone and free to moon-gaze and look at the beautiful lanterns the night is associated with romantic encounters.
WHERE IS LUNAR NEW YEAR CELEBRATED?
Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and Vietnam all historically based their calendar on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar where the months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon. Today, the lunar new year is celebrated all over the world. London, San Francisco and Sydney all claim to have the biggest Spring Festival celebrations outside of Asia.
LUNAR NEW YEAR TABOOS
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