Tag Archives: Nian monster

The Nian Monster


“I know this is for sure Chinese. The idea of a Nian monster. I think this was actually the Chinese New Year tradition and where it came from. So once upon a time *laughs* there was this tale that there was a monster called Nian and every time around the current time of Chinese New Year. The Lunar/Chinese New Year is when the monster comes around and then they will either eat people or do a lot of robbery, a lot of killing, a lot of bad things. And then essentially what people end up doing is that someone found out, I don’t remember exactly how, but someone found out that if you played a very loud noise the monster would retreat. They also found out Nian is afraid of the color red. So this is how the Chinese New Year tradition of playing the bianpao which is the firecracker kind of thing, the thing that gives off a very loud sound, that’s how that tradition developed. And that’s also how the very much appreciated tradition of red packet *laughs* developed because I think Nian was particularly fond of children like kidnapping/killing children so the tradition became of like adults, adults would give children a red packet during Chinese New Year so that Nian wouldn’t come near them. They would also light up bianpao so it makes a lot of noise. I’m not sure how this tradition turned into putting money into a red packet but, I benefited *laughs* from this before which is why I remember vividly guess.”


The informant was born and grew up in China before moving to the United States to attend High School. The informant was told of the Nian monster when she was 4 or 5 years old by her grandmother. The story of the Nian monster is so popular that she also read about it in books and discussed the story with family and community members. The informant does not literally believe in the Nian monster, however, she is fond of the story and the traditions that accompany it.


The Nian monster and its incorporation into Chinese New Year traditions is perhaps a representation of the fear of the end of a cycle. Death can often follow the end of a cycle and begin the beginning of a new cycle. One’s awareness of the connection between the end of one thing and the beginning of another is heightened during the New Year. Nian could be seen as representing the possibility of death and thus attacks on the New Year.  Furthermore, the story of the Nian monster incorporates children within cultural New Years traditions and shows them that their family and community care about their safety. Children may end up feeling safer year-round if they are shown how much their community cares for them by having the color red everywhere, making noise, and giving them red packets for protection.

The Nián Monster

Every year on the eve of the Chinese New Year, the nian monster (年獸; nián shòu) comes out from hiding and eats people. I was told as a child to behave, or the nian monster would catch you and eat you. It has the head of a lion but the body of an ox. After all the chaos it causes, the people find out that the nian monster is afraid of loud noises and the color red. That is why we set off firecrackers every new year, because the firecrackers are red and the explosions scare the monster away. For the same reason, we wear red too, and give out red envelopes of money. If we put the red envelopes under our pillows, then we would avoid the nian monster and we would have good fortune for the rest of the year.

The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). It is interesting to note that the nian monster is named after the Chinese term for “year”, as if the coming of a new year could be something symbolically destructive or at least menacing.