Happy New Year! 新年快乐！
According to the traditional Chinese calendar, today is the first day of the year 4714 (my how time flies!). According to the Chinese zodiac, it is also the Year of the Monkey. And because monkeys are usually up to no good, it is considered an inauspicious year.
Chinese New Year—or Spring Festival as it is usually called in mainland China—is a big deal, with celebrations lasting for a full 14 days, culminating with the Lantern Festival on the 14th day of the new year. It’s the one time of the year when everyone wants to be home with their families, which explains why travelling in China around the holiday is such a nightmare.
There are numerous traditions that are part of the celebrations, such as eating jiaozi (dumplings), giving gifts, and shooting off fireworks.
There are also certain characters and words that are associated with welcoming the New Year and, in many ways, represent the grand themes of Chinese culture. I thought it would be interesting to highlight four of those characters, and compare the traditional understandings of these words with what the Bible teaches about them. It’s a great way to start conversations with Chinese friends and colleagues.
喜 (xi): Happiness, joy
This character is a more formal one for happiness or joy, and is most often used in wedding decorations. Two characters are written side by side (and attached), and referred to as “double happiness.” Happiness is usually rooted in good relationships and prosperity.
The Bible teaches that happiness and joy are rooted in God, and not dependent upon circumstances. Habakkuk reminds us of this (Habakkuk 3:17, 18) when he ticks of a list of calamities that may befall him, but then declares, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
寿 (shou): Long life
People in China are no different from anyone else in the world; they hope to live a long and healthy life. It’s a good thing to begin a new year by wishing those you love to have a long and healthy life. Most people in China would say that having a long life is primarily a matter of luck; either you have it or you don’t.
David, however, reminds us that our lives are in God’s hands, and that long life is not a result of being lucky, but of it being granted by God: “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:16)
和 (he): Harmony; harmonious
The essence of Confucianism was (is) the establishment and maintenance of harmonious relationships. If individual relationships were harmonious, he taught, then society would be harmonious. Harmony in relationships came from dutifully following prescribed rules and rituals in relating to one another.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes this: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6). And he urges the believers in Colossae to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14) Harmony comes from God, is rooted in love (not duty), and its purpose is to glorify God.
福 (fu): Blessing; good fortune
This is probably the most common character used in New Year decorations and greetings, for what can be better than wishing good fortune in the New Year for yourself and others. Again, as with the character for long life (寿), it is a matter of luck.
There are numerous places in the Bible that speak of blessings in a material sense, but always teaching us that they come from God. In Romans, however, Paul emphasizes a different aspect of blessing: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." (Romans 4:6, 7). To be blessed means to be forgiven. True blessing is only found in knowing God and being reconciled to Him.
This is, in fact, reflected in the Chinese word for “gospel:” 福音 (fuyin)—blessed news.
May the blessed news run and be glorified in China in this New Year.
Image credit: kennejima, via Flickr.
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio