Tag Archives: chinese new year

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Chinese New Year

“So for Chinese New Year, the date changes every year because of the calendar, but some of the things we do, because the culture’s really superstitious, is we take three oranges and put them on a plate in a triangle, and then you take a third orange and put it on top of the three to make something like a pyramid.  You make a few of these orange sculptures and put one in each major room of your house, like the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, you know.  So on actual Chinese New Year when my family goes out to dinner, we leave every single light on in the house because it’s supposed to let the light wash out all the spirits from last year and leave the house open to new ones and what’s ahead.  I don’t remember exactly why we do the oranges, but the lights wash out the spirits, so at least I know that.”

ANALYSIS:

This annual ritual is really interesting to me because I was never familiar with the customs surrounding Chinese New Year, so I found this really enlightening.  It’s super fascinating to see what parts of the customs the informant knows the meaning behind and what parts have just become arbitrary to the informant.  The idea of washing away the old spirits and leaving room for the new ones is something I find really interesting and poetic, and now I just wish I knew why the oranges are a part of the custom, but because the informant didn’t know, everyone the informant tells, including me, won’t know either.

Money Burning Ceremony for Chinese New Year

Informant is a Chinese-Cambodian American from San Jose, California, an area known for its large population of people of Asian descent. This tradition is a part of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, which is usually a week of festivities in late January.

“So, on the last Saturday of the week of Chinese New Year, um, my family, including all of my uncles, aunts, and cousins gather around a big metal Chinese pot container thing that is lit up by a flame. We sit around it in silence and say prayers to our ancestors, and wish everyone around us good health and fortune for the new year. Once everyone is done doing that, the oldest family member hands out small stacks of fake paper money with Chinese characters and images on them. We each take turns throwing bills of money into the pit, and doing so is supposed to give our ancestors wealth and fortune in the afterlife. This is supposed to help bring good luck to their living descendants. Then, following the burning of the money, there is a feast for the family, but first some food is set out in front of an altar as an offering to the ancestors. That’s about it.”

How long has your family been doing this tradition?

“At least since I was born. I’ve done it almost every year, and my family from out of town will all come together and go to the temple to pray and perform the ceremony. It’s a very distinct memory from my childhood.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

Being from an Asian-American from San Jose as well, this tradition seems very familiar to me, yet at the same time it is different from the traditions that my family practices. The Lunar New Year celebration is a very big deal in San Jose, and involves a week of prayer at temples, decorations and parades, and feasts to honor the ancestors and bring in the New Year. However, there are many variations in the celebrations, especially between the different ethnic groups. This is an example of one of the many ways in which the holiday is celebrated.

Chinese New Year’s Shoes

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

So, um, for Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, there’s a tradition that my family likes to follow. In addition to giving red envelopes to the youngsters who have not married yet, um, every year we like to, um, get some new clothes for the New Year, new shoes of course. And, the morning of Chinese New Year, we do a little ritual where we put on the new shoes and we kind of stomp around to step away all the bad juju and all the bad people or bad luck that will come our way for this year. And we just keep stomping, and during that time, we would chant, “Chai-siu-yurn!” Literally, it means like, “step away all the little people—the little people go away.”

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

Ever since she could remember as a little girl, she performed this ritual with her family on every Chinese New Year’s. She enjoyed stomping on the ground and making a lot of noise for the sake of having good luck.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

Many Chinese people believe that purchasing and wearing a new pair of slippers on Chinese New Year’s would expel the negative energy from their household. By stomping on the ground of their homes, they are metaphorically stepping on the bad luck and the people who have treated them badly.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I was surprised to hear of this superstition, because my Chinese parents told me it is unlucky to buy a new pair of shoes on New Year’s Day. They said new shoes would bring me unluckiness and invite evil spirits to plague me for the coming year, since “shoes” in Cantonese is a homonym for “rough” and it sounds like the word “sigh.” Since the informant and I both have Cantonese backgrounds, I find it interesting how we have different superstitions regarding purchasing new shoes on Chinese New Year’s Day.

Zhong Kui

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chatbots.

Original Script

There’s this guy in ancient China in Tang Dynasty. Actually, um, he’s a really smart guy and he went through this test to be a government official, and at that time, the test was taken in pen. So, um, they don’t know how the guy look like when he takes the test, and then the person grading test assigned the guy to be in first place. And then he went to the emperor and the emperor saw him and the emperor thought the guy was so ugly. He couldn’t be a government official because he was so ugly. And then the guy was really sad because he was so smart, but because he’s too ugly, he got rejected to be a government official so he killed himself in front of the emperor. And then the emperor felt sad too because he killed a guy by calling him ugly. So, the emperor put the guy’s face and everything on chūnlián, which is the red paper we put in front of temples and houses in New Year’s, so the guy could scare off bad spirits with his ugly face.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant read about this legend from a book when she was small. She remembered the story of Zhōng Kuí because she found it very amusing. Both the emperor’s reaction to Zhōng Kuí’s suicide and the fact that the man’s hideous appearance was the cause for the tragic end to his life were so ridiculous to her that it was funny.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Zhōng Kuí is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology. He is widely regarded as a vanquisher of evil who commands a force of 80,000 demons. His image is often publicly displayed on household entrances for protection, due to his disfigured appearance and fearsome reputation.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Although I knew about the legend of Zhōng Kuí, I was surprised to hear from the informant that many Taiwanese people place Zhōng Kuí’s face on red paper to repel evil spirits on Chinese New Year’s. In contrast, most Chinese attach ménshén, or door gods, to entrances to protect themselves from evil. However, both countries plaster chūnlián on walls for luck and protection on New Year’s. Even though China and Taiwan share some similarities, I find the many cultural disparities or variations between the two very interesting.