Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái
Chinese nationals all over the world look forward to the celebration of Chun Jie or the Lunar New Year, otherwise known as Spring Festival, on Sunday, Jan. 22.
In this auspicious period that starts days before the actual date, Chinese people perform rituals and traditions that will continue two weeks further into the lunar new year.
Central to the long celebration are the themes of filial piety and luck.
In Chinese, the importance of filial duty is clearly demonstrated by the following saying, “Of all virtues, filial piety is the first.”
Filial piety is expressed by the character xiào, which is made up of an upper and a lower characters representing “old” and “son.”
Filial piety is a value based on “strict principles of hierarchy, obligation and obedience,” as Aris Teon writes in the article “Filial piety in Chinese culture.”
He notes that “Confucian emphasis on obligations to patrilineal ancestors and Confucian exaltation of filial piety contributed to a moral order in which families were central to human identity and to a family system organized hierarchically.”
It is also one of the reasons that many families gather on Chinese New Year’s eve, braving the busy travel period back to their hometowns, so the younger folks can be with their parents, grandparents and relatives.
Accompanying such respect is the belief that luck plays in anything and everything. From spring cleaning to the decoration of the house, the choice and shapes of the food to prepare and partake, the color to wear, all are intended to bring and or give luck.
All symbols will revolve around such good fortune. For ages, they have been used to create an atmosphere intended to protect everyone from bad luck.
Here under are some of the popular signs:
• Hóngbāo. The giving of the hóngbāo, which literally means red envelope, is traditionally done to family, relatives, friends and colleagues. Filled with clean, crisp notes, the money is meant to symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year to come.
Uniquely, the amounts should not contain notes or amounts in four, as the number “4” when pronounced in Chinese sounds like the word for death. On the contrary, the number of notes or amounts should preferably include “8” as it brings good luck and prosperity.
The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and prosperity as well. It is always given and received with both hands, and should never be opened in the presence of the present-giver.
• Fish. The fish, particularly koi or carp, is considered a symbol of luck. Since the fish is similarly pronounced to a word meaning surplus, it is often used as a sign of abundance. The goldfish meanwhile, serves as a symbol of longevity, unity and fidelity since the fish often swims in a group.
• Chinese greetings. Even the greetings bring forth prosperity and happiness, and open ones up everyone to a year of great tidings.
“Xīn nián hǎo,” literally means “new year goodness” or “good new year,” while the more formal “xīn nián kuài lè” meaning “new year happiness” is used to greet strangers. But the more popular of greetings is “Wishing you happiness and prosperity” pronounced in Mandarin as “gōng xǐ fā cái” and in Cantonese “gong hay fat choy.”
I wish all of you a prosperous lunar new year ahead. Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái!
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References include: 3 Ways to Say “Happy Chinese New Year in Chinese and Cantonese (chinahighlights.com); “8 Things You Should Know About The Lucky Red Envelope: The story of hóngbāo” by Google Arts & Culture, Léonie Shinn-Morris; Filial piety in Chinese Culture by Aris Teon (china-journal.org); and “Good Luck in Chinese Culture” (asianinspirations.com.au).
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Henry L. Yap is an architect, environmental planner, former real estate practitioner and senior lecturer. He is one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.