Friday, February 6, 2009

Happy 牛 year!

The title of this post is a pun which has become extremely popular in China over the last Spring festival (the holidays for the Chinese new year). The chinese character 牛 is pronounced "niu", like the English word "new", and it means "ox", and the year which has just started is indeed the year of the ox. Thus happy 牛 year!

New year's eve was on the 25th of january this year. I spent it in a tiny little village in Guangxi province, in the South-West of China, near Vietnam. I have a friend in my university who comes from there originally, and she invited me to spend the new year at her family's home.

The experience was very interesting. The village was extremely small and remote. The only shop in the village belonged to the parents of this girl, and it was placed in the entrance to their house. All it had on sale was a few basic items. The people of the area are not Han but Zhuang, the biggest ethnic group in Guangxi, and they speak a language which is completely unrelated to Chinese, although almost all of them are also able to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese.

The local people were very friendly and gave the impression of being happy and relaxed most of the time. The weather was relatively warm during the day even though it was the middle of the winter, since I was deep in the south of China.

On new year's eve I experienced some of the local traditions related to the new year. All the houses in Chinese villages usually have red scrools pasted around the door, with phrases wishing fortune and prosperity written on them. On new year's eve, the old scrolls are scraped off and new ones are stuck up, at least in the village where I was staying. I encountered my Chinese name "Jixiang" on quite a few of these scrolls, since it is a traditional expression meaning "auspicious". The Chinese seem to attach an awful lot of importance to symbols of good omen and good luck, and traditions pertaining to this. It is also common to find a drawing of a fish on the scrolls, since the word for fish is pronounced the same as the word for wealth. A Chinese character which one sees almost everywhere during the new year period is 福, pronounced "fu", which means good luck. You can often see it on posters stuck onto doors, sometimes written upside down, as this is also meant to bring good luck.

(two examples of the red scrolls pasted around the doors of Chinese houses)

Next to the village there was a little temple for the ancestors, where the local people brought offerings to the deceased on new year's eve. One of the most common offerings was a chicken. People also offered bills of fake money with huge numbers written on them, which were then burnt. Some of the houses in the village also had an altar for the ancestors inside.

In the evening everyone in the village set fire works off again and again, creating a huge racket. The children seemed to be having an especially good time. Of course, the family I was staying with had a huge meal in the afternoon to mark the New Year.

(The village where I stayed)

(Fireworks set off on New Year's eve)


Anonymous said...

maybe marrying with a chinese girl is good for you if you want to know more about china.but i think i am not available for you because i will not marry with anyone.but if you love me someday, i would consider to change my decision.i am kidding./aileen

Ji Xiang said...

A Chinese girl who won't marry with anyone? that's one unconventional Chinese girl. Good, I find that attractive.