Nián (年)


“There was this mythical beast that used to hang out in the bamboo forest, or the forest near a rural small town. And every year he would come up and cause a rampage, break the houses, eat everything and just cause a mess, eat humans, all these bad things. And they named the beast, Nián (年), because it comes every year, so his name is literally year. And so one day they realized when they were making lots of noises Nián gets scared of loud noises, so they started making really loud noises and they also learned that Nián doesn’t like the color red. So whenever the new year starts they would have explosions and fireworks and they’d make everything super red to scare away the beast. And ever since then he stopped bothering them.”

Background: The informant first heard this story from her mom when learning about the lunar festival. 


This legend is often told during the Lunar New Year. It describes the origins of Chinese Lunar New Year traditions. When I first learned of the legend I was not told that the beast had a name. Though now thinking about it, the name, Nián, is fitting for the beast as it comes every year. Traditionally, people dress in red on Lunar New Year believing it will bring luck and wealth. People also set off fireworks and firecrackers to chase away bad spirits that may wish them harm. The legend has become a very important part of Chinese Lunar New Year traditions and has little variation despite its age. Often legends, myths, and tales have multiple variations from circulating around for such a long time, but this legend has more or less stayed the same.