China is a unified country of many
different nationalities, among whom the han are over
90 percent. For several thousand years they have developed
osme unique traditional festivals such as the Spring
Festival, the clear and Bright Festival, the Dragon
Boat Festival, and the Mid-autumn Festival. These and
the customs observed at the these times are so popular
that to some degree at least they reflect the history,
traditions, cultural characteristics and national psychology
of the Chinese people, and are therefore part of their
The Spring Festival (Chun Jie)
Spring Festival is the biggest traditional festival
in China. It falls on the first day of the first month
by the Chinese lunar calendar or farming calendar -
in late January or mid February. It has been celebrated
for some 4,000 years.
In the past, however, it was not
called Spring Festival (Chun Jie) but New Year's Day
(Guo Nian), After the fall of the last feudal dynasty
and the establishment of a republic in 1911, when tge
Gregorian calendar was officially adopted, people began
calling the first day of the first month by the Gregorian
calendar New Year's Day, and the first day of the first
month by the lunar calendar the spring Festival.
Of course there is a legend about
the Chinese New yar. In ancient China there was a strange
savage beast the came out on the night of every 30the
day of the 12the lunar month. It was called the Nian.
One such New Year's Eve the nian came to a village,
accidentally encountering two boys who were trying to
see who could crack their whip the best. The Nian was
so scared by the cracking sound that it ran away forever.
It came to a second village where two read gowns hung
up on a door to dry scared it away again. It came to
a third village, this time to be frightened away by
lights. From this, people learned that the Nian was
afraid of three things: Noise, red, and lights. To defend
themselves against the Nian, they devised many methods
that gradually found their way into the customs observed
at the New year Celebrations,
In fact, in ancient Chinese lexicons
the character nian meant "harvest". In the classic Chronicles
of the Spring and Autumn Perod( Zuoshi Chunqiu), nian
is Defined as " the ripening ofhte five principal cereals".
Therefore, " Having nian" meant having a cumper harvest.
This usage is still in use today.
Although China has a large territory
and many races living together, most of them share the
customs of Spring Festival.
On the eve of the Spring Festival,
Chinese, whether northerners or southerners, enjoy a
family reunion sitting around a stove, feasting and
chatting well into the night or even until daybreak.
Early the nest morning they eat dumplings or New Year
cakes. Then they start visiting their relatives and
friends, and receive them.
Another popular custom is pasting
Spring Couplets(chun lian) on their gates expressing
their reflections on the past year and their hopes for
the coming one. This custom has existed for over a thousand
The first couplets written in history
were these two lines:
A New Year to Take in Surplus
A Fine Festival to Call in Eternal Spring.
People also like to decorate their
rooms with New year pictures and their windows with
paper cuts, adding more festive atmosphere.
"Amidst the sound of firecrackers,
the year is out" Setting off firecrackers during the
Spring Festival Brings happy excitement to people in
general and the children in particular. At night, firecrackers
are set off in the centers of cities and towns, and
in the farmer's courtyards in the countryside as well,
a colorful and lively scene for everybody.
To make the occasion even more festive,
people light flower-decorated lanterns. Some are hung
in the house, some on the doorway, others are made for
the children to carry around here and there for everybody.
To make the occasion even more festive,
people light flower decorated lanterns. Some are hung
in the house, some on the doorway, others are made for
the children to carry around here and there for fun.
Other popular things during the
Spring Festival are the widely popular yangge folk dance,
walking and performing on stilts, the lion dance, dramas,,
operas, the land boat dance, the dragon lanter dance,
The Lantern Festival (Yuan
15th day of the 1st lunar month, another important traditional
festival, follows the Spring Festival. Books written
in ancient China refer to it as Shangyuan Jie (the 15th
day of the 1st lunar month). It is called Yuan Xiao
jie because xiao means "evening" and the whole phrase
referes to the Lantern Festival, as it's called today.
Yuan Xiao Jie dates back to the
Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Sima Qian (c. 145 or
135-B.C), author of Records of the Historian, considered
it an important festival when he advised Emperor Wudi
to revised the calendar and adopt the Tiachu calendar
(used from 104 B.C. to A.D. 85)
On the night o Yuan Xiao Jie there
is an exhibition of lanterns that attracts many spectators.
This custom at first had something to do with night
curfew in ancient china. Since the Zhou Dynasty (11th
century-256 B.C.), the common people had been to go
outdoors or get together at nights. The curfew was not
relaxed until the Han dynasty, when the rite of sacrifice
to the Heavenly King took place throughout the night.
This was probably the first time the curfew was lifted
and the at people were allowed to come out to watch
It is a 1300-year-long tradition
that for the Lantern Festival every family eat Yuanxiao(here
it means a ball-like glutinous rice flour dough stuffed
with sweet things). It is also known as fuyanzi (floating
ball) because when boiled they float on the surface
of the soup ( tangyuan) (balls in soup) or fengou (dough
fruit). People eat it as a symbol of family reunion
and a sweet life. Gradually people have come to call
it just yuanxiao for short. At any rate, it is so tasty
that everyone likes it.
The ingredients of the stuffing
are white sugar, brown sugar, color dressings, rose,
bean paste, sesame, ashed walnuts, etc. The yuanxiao
are prepared by boiling, steaming or frying. Today,
before the festival, the shops in all the cities, towns
and villages in China make plenty of yuanxiao for the
Clear and Bright Festival (Qingming
Qingming is one of the twenty-four
solar terms that the ancient Chinese gave to the twenty-four
divisions of their year. Coming fifteen days later than
the Spring Equinox, it falls around April. 5. this is
the time people go out for the warm weather, clear bright
sky and gentle breeze. Ti is a good time for plowing
and sowing, too. Farmers have proverbs for this time
of the year:"Melons and beans are sown around Qingming"
and "Tree are planted no later than Qingming".
The Clear and Bright Festival originated
in the spring and Autunm Period (770-476 B.C.). Historical
books unearthed from tombs of the Warring States Perod(
475-221) B. C.) contain the earliest record of the festival.
It was meant, it is said, to com-memorate Jie Zitui,
a minister of Chong Er, son of Duke Xian of the State
of Jin, one of the warring states. When chong Er was
forced to live in exile, and he wished to eat some meat
but none was available, Jie Zitui stealthily cut some
flesh off his own arm and cooed it for him. Later Chong
Er became the ruler and he gave orders to reward his
followers. Not interested in wealth or position, Jie
Zitui went with his mother to Mianshan Mountain in today's
Shanxi Province and lived a secluded life there. It
was the time of the year when Qingming is celebrated
now. Chong Er, wanting to reward Jie Zitui with an important
position, tried to find him in the great mountain but
couldn't. So he set the mountain on fire, figuring that
Jie Zitui would run out to save his life. Instead, Jie
Zitui and his mother were burned to death, with their
arms clinging to a scorched willow tree. Such a spirit,
that would rather die than come out to enter officialdom,
was highly praised. Later, on the day of his death every
year, people did no make a fire in their kitchens but
just ate prepared cold food. Gradually it became a custom.
Thus today Qingming is also known as the "festival of
eating things cold" and "no fire day".
Staring in the Qin (221-207 B.C.)
and Han dynasties, it has also become the day when people
go to sweep clean the graves of their ancestors and
mourn the dead.
Also, in the Tangy Dynasty on this
day, city inhabitants began going for an outing in the
countryside, an affair know as Taqing, or treading on
the green. The custom was most popular in the Song and
Ming dynasties. The most frequented place was a riverside.
The famous long horizontal scroll painting riverside
Scenes at Qingming by Zhang zeduan in the song dynasty
best depicts the busy, booming scene during the festival
Another old custom is "inserting
willow twigs". Back from an outing, people break off
some willow branches and carry them home to put into
the house wall under the eaves, an act supposed to keep
insects away. Insects away. People in Guangdong Province
put willow twigs at the bottom of dry wells to keep
evil spirits away. Women in Suzhou and Huangzhou make
garlands of willow tree twigs and wear them on their
heads as a wish for their youth to stay forever. This
gae rise to a saying: "Wearing no willow rings on the
day of Qingming, a young woman will son be growing gray."
During this festival there are also
sports such as playing on swings, flying kites, a kind
of anciet Chinese football, and cockfighting.
At nowadays, one of the most important
parts of Chinese culture is the veneration and honoring
of the dead. To honor your dead you must provide a long
line of family, hence the importance of the family in
Chinese culture. Among the offerings, "spirit money"
(paper money) is often burnt, and it is said that during
Qingming some true devotees actually scrub the bones
of their loved ones.
The Dragon Boat Festival (Duan
Dragon Boat Festival, Duanwu or Duanyang Jie, falls
on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. It was the day
for a tribe living in ancient states of Wu and Yue (5,000
years ago in present-day Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces)
to offer sacrifices to its totem, the dragon. To defend
themselves against insects, drought, flood and other
plagues, they created an imaginary dragon to which tey
prayed for protection. On theis day sacrifices were
made to the dragon and a dragon boat race was held.
The most accepted and authoritative
explanation of the festival's arigin is that it commemorates
Qu Yuan, a brilliant poet and a minister in charge of
the Three Aristocratic Families of the State of Chu
During the Warring States Perod (475-221 B.C.)
Qu Yuan was born around 340 B.C.
At the age of 36 he was already holding a very importantposition
in the court. As an ardent patriot and statesman, he
proposed to his sovereign policies regarding diplomatic
and domestic affairs. Unfortunately, his progressive
views were opposed by corrupt forces, represented by
Jin Shang, the king's aide, and Zhenxiu, the Queen consort.
Both of them heaped calumnies on Qu yuan and in the
end the king decided to banish him.
Living long years in exile, Qu Yuan
wrote many beautiful odes expressing his sorrow and
concern for his country and people. About 278 B.C. the
troops of the State of Qin stormed the capital of Chu
and the downfall of the corrupt court was expected at
any moment. Despairing of saving his country and fulfilling
his political ideals, te 62 years-old poet, holding
a stone in his arms, drowned himself in the Miluo River
near today's Changsha in Hunnan Province.
Qu Yuan's quest for a way to make
his country powerful and prosperous, and his dedication
to his ideals, had own the respect of the people. When
news of his death came, they rushed from all quarters,
rowing boats on the river in an attempt to find his
body. This is supposed to be the beginning of the custom
of rowing dragon boat on this day. The custom spread
until today, at the time every year, dragon boat races
take place on rivers and lakes all over the land.
An old writing says, "Qu Yuan threw
himself in the Miluo River on May 5 by the lunar calendar
and the people of Chu mourned him. Every year at this
time they threw bamboo tubes filled with rice into the
river as an offering to him". During the reign of the
Han Emperor Guangwu (A.D. 25-56), a man by the name
of Ou Hui, from Changsha, happened to see a man near
the river who said that he was Minister in charge of
the Three Aristocratic Families - Qu Yuan's old post.
"It is all very well for you to offer me sacrifices,"
this mansaid to Ou Hui, "but most of them are stolen
and devoured by the dragon in the river. In the future,
then, please wrap them in chinaberry, leaves and tie
them up with colored threads. The dragon is afraid of
these two things and thus will never touch them. " The
people did as they were told, and this is how zhongzi-
the delicious pyramid-shaed dumpling made of glutious
rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves are made for the
There is a great variety of zhongzi
made with different stuffing and different flavours.
Sountherners make them with pork, ham, diced chicken,
sweetened bean paste. Northerners like them make with
glutinous rice and millet, dates, sweetened bean paste
and candied fruit.
Another interesting custom observed
during the Dragon Boat Festival even today is hanging
calamus and Chinese mugwort on the door and drinking
wine - a practice that probably arose as a protection
against the epidemic diseases that were liable to attack
in May so close to the summer heat. Later the custom
became connected with Qu Yuan, for he hated treacherous
court officials as poisonous snakes and demons. Calamus
and Chinese mugwort then were kept to protect Qu Yuan's
soul against these evil creatures.
Dragon-boat races have a long history
in south China. It is also said to commemorate Qu Yuan.
The Double Seventh (Qixi Jie)
Festival of the double Seventh takes place on the night
of the 7th day of the 7th month. On this night every
year, the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid in the skies
walk across a bridge spanned by magpies to come together
again over the Heavenly River (the Milky Way).Thus it
is a night for lovers.
The legend says that the Cowherd
lived in the Hexi area west pf China. He was very good
at playing the flute. His music so moved the granddaughter
of the King of Heaven, the Weaving Maid, that she dropped
her weaving and came down to the world and lived with
the Cowherd. The King of Heaven was so furious that
he ordered her brought back for trial. The Cowherd,
together with their children, went after his wife, sailing
in the clouds in a boat made out of the horn of his
ox. Just as he was about to catch up with her, the Queen
Mother of the Western Heaven took a golden pin from
her hair and drew a line in the air. At once a heavenly
river with roaring waves appeared in the sky, blocking
the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid from each other so
that they could only look across it at each other. Their
true love deeply moved the kindhearted Phoenix, who
called all the magpies in the universe to from a bridge
over the river fir the lovers to cross and reunite-but
only once a year: on the night of the seventh day if
the seventh month.
The romantic story appeared in the
Han Dynasty when the people, seeing Altair (Alpha) and
Vega in the heavens on each side of the Milky Way, created
this tale. By Tang Dynasty times, people regarded the
night of the Double Seventh as the lucky time for lovers.
It was at midnight of the Double Seventh that the Tang
Emperor Li Longji and his concubine Yang Yuhuan vowed
their love for each other, as the Tang poet Bai Juyi
said in his poem "Song of Eternal Sorrow":
Pledging our love for each
other in secret
On this seventh night of the seventh mouth,
May we be a pair of lovebirds in the sky,
May we be entwined tree branches on the earth.
The Double Seventh is a traditional
festival particularly favored by girls. They all dress
gorgeously and show people their ingeniously-made crafts.
Thus it is also called Girls' Day.
Because the Weaving Maid was perfect
at weaving, the Double Seventh is also the time for
girls to beg her to give them a pair of nimble hands.
Ancient books record that on in the courtyard for the
Weaving Maid, who in turn taught them how to be clever
with their fingers.
For their master, the Weaving Maid,
to use, the girls fashion everyday utensils out of such
things as sesame and melon seeds. They make her a dressing
table and other furniture she will need out of slender
pieces of wood. They show her their skill by threading
a needle in the moonlight.
The girls seek the Weaving Maid's
answer to whether they will be skilled or not. One way
is to put a small spider in a box to see if it makes
a web the next day, and if it does, to see whether it
is closely or loosely woven and whether it is well-shaped
or not. A neatly woven and well-foretells clever fingers.
Girls in different parts of China
search for cleverness from the Weaving Maid in different
ways. In Beijing in the afternoon of the 6th day, girls
put a bowl of clear water on a table out in the open
air. By noon the next day the Weaving Maid will have
left her tears in the bowl. Then each girl outs a strand
broken off a new whisk broom on the surface of the water.
The sunlight tom of strikes the strands different, making
their shadows on the bottom of the bowl take different
shapes. If it's the one a girl asks for, it means she
will get a pair of nimble hands from the Weaving Maid.
In Shanghai, girls beg for cleverness
by consecrating melons and fruit to the Weaving Maid.
In the south of Fujian Province, they offer sweets to
the seven goddesses who have evolved from the one Weaving
The Mid -Autumn Festival (
year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month comes Mid-Autumn
Festival - so called because the 8th lunar month is
in the middle of the autumn season, and ht e15th day
is the middle of that month. On this night the moon
is supposed to be at the fullest and brightest of the
year. It is an age-old tradition that on this night
people come out to enjoying the moon and the moon-lit
The festival is all the more mysterious
and interesting because of the moon myths and legends
so popular among the people. Literary men and women
in all times have written odes to the moon. One of the
best-known is this one by the great Tang poet Li Bai:
Looking up, I see the bright
Hanging my head, I feel nostalgic.
For many centuries a full moon has
been a symbol of family reunion, particularly reminding
travelers of their loved ones at home, and the home
ones of the ones who are away. Thus the day is called
the Day of Reunion.
In dynasty times it was an imperial
ritual to worship the sun in the spring and the moon
in the autumn. As time went by , across the country
it became a national ritual to worship the moon by prostrating
oneself and making offerings. The sacrifice was exquisitely
prepared- round cakes known as moon cakes. After the
ritual,each family sat around in a circle eating the
mooncakes, an act symbolizing the happiness of family
Historical records show that mooncakes
were first make in the shops of Chang'an ( Xi'an in
the Tang Dynasty. In the Qing Dynasty they were called
Reunion Cakes, and were available everywhere. The mooncake
is molded with a Moon Palace and the Moon Rabbit on
its surface and comes in different sizes.
Today mooncakes are very popular
in China. They are made in different ways from place
to place, and their flavors vary too. The differences
lies in the fillings, the moldings and the way they
are prepared. Thus there are Beijing mooncakes, Suzhou
moon-cakes, Guangdong mooncakes, yunnan mooncakes and
so on. They are also called by their fillings - bean
paste, lotus seed paste, different fruit seeds and nuts,
egg yolk, chicken, cassia or date paste. The common
ingredients are dough, oil, sugar and maltose.
The Double Ninth Festival (Chongyang
traditional Double Ninth Festival, as one would suspect,
comes on the 9th day of the 9th lunar mouth. In ancient
times, the Chinese people regarded nine as a yang (positive
or masculine) number. Thus the yang day in the yang
mouth was called chongyang (double yang, or double ninth).The
Double ninth was a festival day at least two thousand
years ago in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
In that dynast there was a man named
Huan Jing who was a disciple of a Daoist priest called
Fei Zhangfang. One day Fei warned his disciple: "Disaster
will visit your home on the 9th day of the 9th mouth.
Everyone in your family must at once make a red pouch,
put the seed of the dogwood in it, hang it on their
arm and go climb a mountain and drink some chrysanthemum
wine there. This may enable you to avoid the disaster."
The pouch was made of gauze and,
when filled with dogwood seed, was called a "fragrance
pouch". So on that day, Huan Jing and his family did
as the Daoist had told him. When they came back from
the mountain, they found all their farm animals dead.
From that time on, wearing dogwoods seeds, climbing
a mountain and drinking chrysanthemum wine have become
customs that guard against evils and avert disasters.
This is, after all, a story made
up by the ancient Chinese. But it is true that in autumn,
wild fruit, seeds and medicinal herbs are ripe for gathering.
These are usually in the mountains, and climbing is
good for one's health-perhaps a more convincing reason
people like climbing mountains at this time of the year.
As the centuries went by, more customs
came to be used for the Double Ninth. In the capital
of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) every family
put chrysanthemum blossoms on its doors. They also made
flour cakes, ornamenting them with pomegranate seeds,
chestnuts gingko kernels, pine nuts and tiny Dynasty
the residents of Beijing made fancy cakes, decorating
them with dates and chestnuts. Married daughters were
invited back home to join their parents in eating this
These customs still exist. The
autumn season is neither hot nor cold, and the sky is
often cloudless -a time when the chrysanthemum flowers
are the in full bloom. Such fine days are exactly right
for family outings.
Chinese poets in history wrote many
odes to the chrysanthemum. One of the most loved and
often-quote is this one by Cen Shen:
I insist on ascending a height;
No one is there to bring me wine.
Alas, how I miss my chrysanthemum garden!
They should bloom here on the battlefield.
The title of this poem is: "The Nine-day March Took
My Thoughts Back to My Garden in Chang'an".