Chinese Lunar New Year (chunjie, 春节) is one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar that starts on the new moon in the lunar cycle – between the 21st of January and the 20thof February each year. In 2019, the lunar new year starts on the 5thof February, and it marks the beginning of the Year of the Pig.
The pig, which is named after the five elements- Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth- is the last of the twelve zodiac animals and symbolises kindness and generosity. According to zodiac legend, the Jade Emperor threw a big party and decided that the order of the animals would be defined by their arrival to his party. The pig was late because it overslept, and so it became the last of all the animals in the zodiac.
The history of Lunar New Year started when ancient Chinese agrarian society counted the cycles of seasons from their planting experience, and the yearly celebration emerged with the creation of the calendar during the Shang Dynasty. The worshiping activities from this period form the current way the festival is celebrated, which include gifting food, clothes and harvest to the ancestors for blessings and peace at the end of each year. Other traditions are hanging red signs with the Chinese character fu, 福(“happiness”) on front doors along with red lanterns.
The Lunar New Year is one of the world’s most celebrated festivals taking place in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia. The New Year celebrations also results in the largest annual mass human migration in the world. As per the official estimate, the number of trips during chunyunin 2019 is expected to be 0.6 percent higher than 2018, with almost three billion trips to be made between January 21stand March 1st. According to Xinhua News Agency, to account for this mass travel period, China launched 10 new railways at the end of 2018 along with facial recognition software and ticket-less travel systems “to ease congestion and improve passenger movement at train stations.” (Gupta, 2019).
To all readers of the Confucian Weekly Bulletin, we wish you New Year happiness! (Xinnian kuaile, 新年快乐) for 2019.
On Confucius’ birthday (September 28), The Grand Ceremony Dedicated to Confucius (祭孔大典) is held annually as a way of paying respects to Confucius, China’s ‘First Teacher’. The event is mainly celebrated at Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and in the Confucius Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.
Through a choreographed ceremony, the 60-minute long presentation starts with three drum rolls before a procession of musicians, dancers, and participants stop every five steps and pause before continuing to their designated spot. The gates then open at the temple, welcoming the spirit of Confucius. After three bows, food and drink are offered as sacrifice, and “The Song of Peace” is played with traditional Chinese instruments. Dancers perform the Ba Yi dance (八佾舞), a dance that started in the Zhou Dynasty as a way of paying respects to people of different social positions. Yi means ‘row’ and the number of dancers depends on who is being honoured. For example, eight rows of dancers participate when paying respect to an emperor, six rows for a duke, four rows for high-ranking government officials, and two rows for lower ranking officials. Eight rows are used for the Confucius Ceremony. Each dancer holds a short bamboo flute in the left hand, which symbolizes balance, and a long pheasant tail feather in the right hand as a sign of integrity.
After incense is offered and chanting takes place, another three bows are given. The sacrificial feast is removed to symbolize it has been eaten by Confucius’ spirit. The participants move from their appointed places to watch the pile of money and prayers burn. Finally, the gates of the temple are closed and the ceremony concludes with participants and observers feasting on a ‘wisdom cake’.
Take this opportunity to reflect on Confucian teachings. These include the importance of filial piety, dutifulness, honesty, sincerity, rightness, wisdom, and courage, and try to understand how all of these concepts come together in the attitude of humanity. As Confucius says in the Analects (8.13), “Be devoted to faithfulness and love learning; defend the good dao until death.”