Friday, April 22, 2011


Perhaps, I will continue writing this blog…but at the same time perhaps this will be my last post. As one final look at Chinese cultural for a while, I have to discuss one of the most important aspect – Language. When you define a cultural, you usually define it through the language the people speak. Since I was only one when I came to the United States, my Chinese speaking and reading ability is very low. My parents, trying to learn English themselves, enforced English in the household. Looking back on it now, I wish I was more fluent than I am. My mom has been trying to teach my little cousin Chinese by having her watching shows like Mickey Mouse in Chinese. But within China, there are many types of dialects. The dialect my parents speak is Mandarin, which is sometimes coined as the “standard dialect”

History of Mandarin
Mandarin is actually a collected group of related – dialect. While there are other dialects such as Shanghainese, Cantonese, etc… Mandarin refers to Standard Chinese and is the official spoken language for the PRC (China). Unless they speak standard Chinese, most will refer to their dialect by name. My father referred to his dialect of Mandarin as Hubeinese.

Mandarin and the other Chinese dialects derived from the dialects of Old Chinese and Middle Chinese. Old Mandarin developed after the fall of the Northern Song dynasty in the 12th century. It was based on the dialects of Northern China. There are evidence from the 14th century that show distinct Mandarin vocabulary and syntax, though there are still vocabulary that derives from further back (9th century).

While Mandarin was historically spoken in just the northern and southwestern China, but this would spread to other areas in the mid-20th century. Beijing Mandarin (Standard Chinese) became the basis to be used in education, media, etc, it is now spoken as a “second language” by most younger people.

There are quite a few different dialects:
Northeastern à spoken in northeast China, closely related to Standard Chinese
Beijing à basis of Standard Chinese
Ji Lu à spoken in Hebei and Shandong province, different tonations, but similarly vocabulary to Beijing Mandarin
Jiao Liao à spoken in Shandong and Liaodong province, very visible tonal changes compared to Beijing Mandarin
Zhongyuan à spoken in the Henan province, significance phonological differences
Lan Yin à spoken in Gansu province
Jiang hua à spoken in Jiangsu and Anhui province, intelligibility is limited with Beijing dialect
Southwestern à spoken in Hubei, Sichaun, Guizhou, and Yunnan province. Sharp phological, lexical, and tonal changes

Mandarin Dialects in China

The dialects that I just listed are only Mandarin dialects...there are many more other types of dialects, as well as more than 50 ethnic groups identified in China.

Monday, April 11, 2011


One of the things that I think define Chinese culture is the food. But the ‘Chinese’ food cooked in my house differs greatly from what I eat when I’m at school. I’m not sure why, but I am a huge fan of what I usually term fake Chinese food. I think I order Dragon gate or eat at Panda Express at least once a week. And from these two places, I usually end up getting the same thing again and again – fried rice and orange chicken, sesame chicken and white rice, beef lo mein, or chicken and broccoli. When I am at home, while my mom will sometimes cook fried rice, my diet usually consists of dumplings, fried dumplings, and various adjustments to the dumplings. Also we do eat a lot of chicken, but nothing that I would find in a Chinese restaurant. While we often do eat other types of food at home (a.k.a having my mom cook us some macaroni and cheese for example), we usually just stick with eating dumplings for most of our meals

An example of my typical fare when at school

History and Facts about Chinese Dumplings

Dumplings in China can take on a variety of names depending on how they are made and what they are made out of. In my home, we call them jiaozi (). Jiaozi are made by wrapping minced meat and vegetables in an elastic doughy skin. My mom makes use of the blender quite often when making dumplings, and depending on how tired she is, sometimes she will make the doughy skin and sometimes she will just buy it from the store. An interesting fact about dumplings is their use in the Chinese New Year festival. They are eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve and on the 5th day of the New Year. The jiaozi are supposed to resemble the gold yuan used during the Ming dynasty and is symbolizes wealth and prosperity for the New Year. According to Chinese stories, a doctor named Zhang Zhongjing invented the dumpling as a way to help the poor against chilblains.
Jiaozi. This image is similar to the jiaozi my mother makes
Jiaozi are actually more commonly eaten in Northern China, while another type of dumpling called wonton are more popular in Southern China. This makes sense to me, as my mom was born and raised in Qingdao, which is a northern port city, and she had learned how to make and cook dumplings from her Grandmother. There are quite a number of different types of dumplings and different ways of eating them. We dip our jiaozi in soy sauce and other spices, but there are many other types and names for dumplings just in China alone. I’ve listed some examples below.

Shuijiao à literally means water dumpling; boiled dumplings
Zhengjiao à steamed dumplings
Guotie à Shallow fried dumplings
Danjiao à dumplings that instead of dough, uses an egg skin

Jiaozi also differ in the way they are made and what types of meat they contain. Some like using pork, others beef, and others chicken. My mom usually makes chicken or beef dumplings, and she mixes what she thinks is the best vegetables with them. Personally my favorite is beef dumplings that contains carrots and celery. I am hoping to learn from my mom how to make dumplings, since I still have no clue except the cooking process (but not the preparation process).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chinese Education

After reading William Brody’s blog post Exploration of Imagination, which discussed Amy Chua and her contention that first and second generation Asian (or even more specifically Chinese) mothers are better than their US counterpart, it had me thinking about my own education. While I was borne in China, I grew up in the United States from the time I was one and a half, and so I have always been, at least in my opinion, immersed in American culture. I did well in high school, obviously, as I go to Duke now, and similarly my sister and brother also attend some of the top colleges in the United States (Harvard and Columbia respectfully). So is this a sign of better parenting? I’m not sure. In my household, we were all bribed (kind of forced) to get A’s. Disappointment would pervade through the household, if this grade was not reached. During the summer, when many of my friends were out relaxing on the beach or just chilling, I distinctly recall having to remember vocabulary words and working on mathematical problems in preparation for the SAT’s. When we (my siblings and I) complained about the workload, the response we got from out parents usually elicited the following response “In China, you wouldn’t even be able to be accepted into a University unless you’re the top of the top. You have  to work harder”. This had me wondering…what made the Chinese educational experience so much different than ours that perhaps gave Amy Chua her conclusion about Chinese being better parents.

Chinese Education

Currently in China, the government requires that all citizens have at least 9 years of education (from 6-15), a law that was passed in 1986. Since my parents have left China to move to the United States, the number of undergraduates and those with doctoral degrees have increased tremendously. The importance of which high school one attends in China is very significant. Every year, China holds the ‘Zhong Kao’ or middle test for junior graduates (comparable to our middle school). The students will be tested in Chinese, Mathematics, English, Physics, Chemistry, Politics, and PE. They have to process an application for the high school that they wish to attend. When students are in their last year of high school, they will often time take the ‘Gao Kao’ (high examination). This exam is somewhat comparable to our SATs or ACTs, and began in 1952 with a break in between from 1966-1976 because of the Cultural Revolution, and then began again in 1977. The exam takes place over a two to three day period and has 3 mandatory subjects – Chinese, Mathematics, and a Foreign Language. Then they have other 6 other subjects, where they choose which one (or several) that they wish to take – Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, and Political Education. The importance of this test to enter college cannot be stressed enough – failing or performing poorly on this exam means that they might not be able to attend a university. Some will repeat their senior year in order to make a second attempt.

I remember that several years ago, my mom was telling me how a relative of ours in China did poorly on the Zhong Kao, and so didn’t even bother to go to high school. I think one of the important things to remember regarding perhaps why Amy Chua mentioned that Chinese mothers are better parents, is that they had to grow up in a super competitive educational environment, where at any stage of their educational pathway, they could either ensure success or disappointment.

The above clip is just a funny YouTube video of how the stereotypical Asian parent react to a non-A grade

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Terra Cotta Warriors

Like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs who placed belongings, furniture, mummified animals, food, etc… in their pyramids for the afterlife, the terracotta army of the first Qin emperor, Shi huangdi, was to help him rule some ‘afterlife’ empire. Even in the United States, this notion of the protective nature of the terracotta army has been captured on film. One of these movies that I can recall was a Disney movie “Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior” in which the main character has to fight and destroy an evil being that keeps returning, who can summon up these terracotta warriors. 

This is a 10 minute clip from "Wendy Wu, Homecoming Warrior", but you only need to look at the first minute to see some of the heroes fighting representations of the terracotta warrior.

Discovery and Description

In 1974, a group of peasants, while attempting to dig a well in the Shaanxi province, founded this army. While for centuries, pieces of the terracotta fragments and figures had been dug up in the area, this new discovery had prompted archaeologists to explore further. While these archaeologists were investigating, they noted some 18th – 19th century graves, in which the diggers had come across some terracotta fragments but discarded them as worthless. There are four pits:

Terra Cotta Pit 1

 Terra Cotta Pit 1 à contains 6,000 warriors and horses (only 1,000 have been unearthed), and covers an area of ~19,000 square feet. They are placed in well-organized battle array. Pit 1, which is the largest pit, is set so that it seems like they are ready and prepared for battle at any point. 

Terra Cotta Pit 2 à ~7,100 square feet, and is shaped in an L-Shape formation. This pit, while with only about 1,300 warriors, is more elaborate and complete than any of the other pits.

Terra Cotta Pit 3 à ~600 square feet, and has been deemed the command center. It contains 68 warriors, but no commander-in-chief…so it is often speculated that it is the Emperor Shi Huangdi, himself that is supposed to represent this commander-in-chief.

Terra Cotta Pit 4 à empty of warriors, and sometimes called the accessory pits, which includes builder’s graveyards, slaughter pits, animals pits, etc…

Construction and About Emperor Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi was emperor of the State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC, and then Emperor of China from 221 BC to 210 BC. He began ruling at 13 and was able to unify China by 221 BC. The very fact that he was able to unify China and then ushering in almost 2,000 years of imperial rule makes him a very significant figure. According to historian Sima Qian, the construction of this necropolis would begin in 246 BC and involve around 700,000 workers (A LOT!) so basically he started this necropolis right when he became emperor of the State of Qin—almost seems like a testament to his confidence and thoughts about his abilities as a ruler. The terracotta warriors were manufactured in workshops by laborers and craftsmen and each were given different features and facial expression. The warriors are also life-size and vary in height, uniform, hairstyle in accordance to their rank.
Shi Huangdi

I think it is pretty cool that there is such a large monument devoted to one man – I wouldn’t mind a necropolis for myself :D

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Giant Panda

So I guess it is about time I explored why my blog is called ‘The Culture of the Panda’. As is pretty obvious, this blog is about different aspects about Chinese cultural – information about different cities, festivals, and aspects of China. The Giant Panda, along with the Chinese Dragon and Red-crowned Crane, are listed as the National Animals of China. But I think out of these three animals, the Giant Panda is the most treasured as 1) the Chinese Dragon is mythical and 2) the Red-crowned Crane’s Latin name is translated into the ‘Japanese Crane’. Even from a young age, I was able to notice the importance of the Giant Panda, as when I was 5 or 6, my parents bought my sister and I stuffed Panda Bears – I named mine Pam Pam and my sister named her Shing Shing. I think that the Giant Panda is pretty much automatically synonymous with China. While the Giant Panda is pretty much synonymous with China, there are very few left in the wild. The estimate puts about 1,600 in the wild (though upper end sometimes put it at 2,000 – 3,000) and another 300 in captivity.

Geographic Location and Habitat

The Giant Panda is situated in a few of the mountain ranges in Central China—Sichuan, Shaanxi, and the Gansu provinces. They live in a broad leaf forest of bamboo at an elevation between 5,000 and 10,000 feetThe Giant Panda’s diet almost consists wholly of bamboo, and with land development, farming, and deforestation their habitat has dwindledThe following image is a representation of the habitat and its decline of their habitat over the last 2,000 years.

Image from Smithsonian Institute, National Zoo
Physical Description and Diet

When you think about what a Giant Panda looks like, black and white comes immediately to mind. They often have black fur on their ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders, with the rest of their coat being white. There is speculation that the reason for this coloring is for effectiveness in camouflaging in snowy and rocky surroundings. The Giant Panda also have large molar teeth in order and strong jaw muscles to crush bamboo. As for their size, they can grow up to two to three feet at the shoulder, and up to four to six feet long. Males can weigh up to about 250 pounds, and females up to 220 pounds.

As mentioned earlier, the diet of the Giant Panda is mainly bamboo (they get water from the bamboo as well). They can eat anywhere between 20 – 30 pounds of bamboo a day. They do sometimes eat other small rodents and musk deer fawns. In zoos, they eat other stuff like sugar cane, rice gruel, high-fiber biscuits, apples, carrots, etc… But because of their diet, which is pretty low in nutrition, they then spend most of their time resting, eating, and seeking for more food.

Giant Panda eating some bamboo

Conservation and Diplomacy

Because of the low number of Giant Pandas in the wild, they are placed at a conservation status of Endangered. Besides the deforestation and land development that has placed limitation on their habitat, there are other factors that have contributed to their decline. The main one being their slow reproduction rate – a female panda can at most give birth to 5-8 cubs throughout her lifetime. Because of their low reproduction rate, there has been efforts by conservation reserves in breeding baby pandas. One of the most famous centers for this captive breeding program is the Wolong Nature Reserve. It is reported that so far with this breeding program, about 270 giant pandas have been born in captivity as of 2008.

Giant Pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve
As a way to signify the importance of the Giant Panda to China is that when these pandas are in captive elsewhere other than China, they are actually on ‘loan’ for a set period. For example, American Zoos actually have to pay the Chinese government about $1 million dollars a year in fees, as part of its typical 10-year contract. Also the Giant Panda has been used as diplomatic gift to other countries, though after 1984, the contract and fee was included, as well as the provision that any cubs born would be a property of the PRC. China actually gave two pandas to the United States in 1972, after Richard Nixon visited China – Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. Another example of Giant Pandas being used as a diplomatic gift occurred in 2008, when two pandas were given to Taiwan from China. There names were quite significant as well as the combination of their names mean ‘reunion’ (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan)

The Giant Panda plays an integral role in Chinese society as they are one of the symbols of China. While they are endangered, with the help of conservationists around the world, people can hope to appreciate them in the future.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

QingMing Festival

While the Chinese New Years is the most important festival, the QingMing Festival is significant as a day for remembering ancestors. It falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (usually around the 5th of April). There are a few names that this festival is called in English such as All Souls Day, Clear Bright Festival, Spring Remembrance, Grave Sweeping Day, etc…

In the following excerpt from Mulan, we can see perhaps the Disney representation of how Ancestors can look after the living.


Historically, filial piety has been one of the most important aspects of Chinese culture. This filial piety extends after death because it is believed that the spirits of dead ancestors will look after the family when they are gone. Offerings of food and money can keep the ancestors happy in the spiritual world, and thus the living family will continually make sure to keep these ancestors happy in order to have their blessing. The origin of the QingMing Festival stretches back over two millennia and is derived from the Hanshi festival which means ‘cold food’. The Hanshi festival was originally held to commemorate a man named Jie Zitui, who had a cut a piece of his own leg for his starving lord to eat when he had been exiled. When his lord, the future Duke Wen returned to power, he forgot about Jie’s sacrifice, and so he left and holed himself into a mountain. Duke Wen, realizing that he wanted to reward Jie tried to find him in the mountain, but couldn’t so tried to weed him out with fire…but instead Jie would be found dead. Eventually the Hanshi festival and the QingMing Festival would be combined into just one and would be interconnected.


As one of the name suggests, QingMing is grave sweeping day, so many family will go to graves to clean and tend to any weeds and underbrush which have grown out of hand around the grave. The family also offer flowers, food, drinks, and paper money for their dead ancestors. School children will also often go to Martyrs’ Park to pay respect to national heroes and martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for China.

Offerings made to the deceased on QingMing Jie

Another aspect of QingMing is the spring outing. It is a festival where people go out and appreciate the beauty of Spring, and also marks the day when planting season has resumed. It is a symbol for the end of winter, and the beginning of warm weather and nice rainfall.

Lastly, on this day, kites are flown both during the day and night. Also they will cut the string of the kite to let it fly free, and by doing this it said that it brings good luck and eliminates diseases.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Great Wall of China

Have you ever heard that you could see the Great Wall from space? Well while it is an amazing structure, it is still the size of a wall, and is not visible with the naked eye. Its length, however, is quite amazing, as it stretches with actual wall, trenches, and natural defenses for an estimated 5,500 miles! The length of the actual wall is an estimated 3890 miles. The Great Wall is close to double the length traveling from one side of the United States to the other. When I google mapped directions from Wildwood, NJ to San Francisco, CA, it was about 3,000 miles. One common misconception is that the Great Wall is continuously. It is rather a series of short walls that follow the crest of the hill near the Mongolian plain. 

Why was the Great Wall Built?

The Great Wall was built was to help ward off invaders from the North. Walls were built beginning in the 5th century and was rebuilt and maintained up through the 16th century.  Most of the walls we have left were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)

The map above shows when the different parts of the wall were built and during which dynasty. While the map above is a bit small and hard to see this shows it in a bit more detail. While the wall was built to ward off the Mongolian defenders, because it was not continuous, the Mongolians just went around the walls instead...which led to the abandonment of the building of the walls. The first walls were pretty simple, mad with earth and stones on wooden frames. 

Early parts of the Great Wall in China

The Ming Dynasty walls were much more complex, and could be up to 25 feet high, 15-30 feet wide at the base, and 9-12 feet tall at the top, with  guard and watch towers at regular intervals. The walls were made wide enough for marching troops and wagons. 

Great Wall built during the Ming Dynasty
The Great Wall Today

Because of the age of the Great Wall, there has been restoration efforts to maintain the wall. Every day the Wall can boast thousands of visitors! In parts of the wall (Badaling Section and the Ming Mausoleums Scenic Area), there is a limit to 53,000 visitors per day...which means that an estimated 2 million people visit that part of the wall each year. The wall is also proned to graffiti and certain sections of the wall are eroding.

Graffiti on the Great Wall

As an integral part of China and its culture, I hope that the wall will be around for hundreds more years for people to visit!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


We always like to know what is the history behind our name, or even perhaps what we would have been named if we were the opposite gender. In this blog post I want to know what the history behind my birth place is.  I was borne in the largest city, or at least the most populous city, in China –Shanghai. This city lies on the Eastern coast of China and is home to about 19 million people. It is situated on right on the estuary of the Yangtze River, so is in a really nice economic location.

Chinese Name: 上海 (shàng hǎi)
Meaning of the Name: Above the Sea
Area: 7,037 square miles
Population: ~19 million
Geography: Yangtze River Delta, Southeast China
Government: Municipality


There are sites around Shanghai that date back to the Neolithic period, showing that there were people living in that area 6,000 years ago. In the 10th-11th century, a small fishing village was formed and began to grow. However, it wasn’t until the Qing dynasty (17th century) that Shanghai began to grow international importance. Because of its location, it was an important city for international shipping, as there were large quantities of cotton cloth that came through the port of Shanghai.

In 1840, the British entered Shanghai and forced a treaty that began foreign concessions. These foreign concessions were basically just territories within China that were governed and occupied by a foreign nation – not subjected to Chinese law (though this is sometimes just called colonialism). The British were the first ones to do this in China, and other countries would follow suit. The last concessions returned back to China was actually Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 1999.

Shanghai in 1946

By the 1930s, Shanghai has become the most important port in Asia. It is at this time, that Shanghai also becomes a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. A bit earlier, some White Russians and Russian Jews had fled from the newly established Soviet Union. During WWII, however, Shanghai gets captured by the Japanese, and these foreigners begin to flee…but of course when Japan gets defeated, Shanghai becomes liberated. Following WWII, the Chinese Communist party takes control, and during the next 30 years, industries suffer as the government takes control of formerly private owned businesses. When Mao dies and Deng Xiaopeng comes into power, there is a commercial and industrial revival that allowed Shanghai to become one of the key players in the development of Chinese economy.

Present Day Shanghai

The history of Shanghai is quite long standing, and has changed from just a small fishing village into one of the largest metropolitans in the world.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Chinese Zodiac

Going into the Panda Express for food, I caught a glimpse of a rabbit sticker on the window. I soon realized that the sticker was a representation and celebration for the new zodiac animal of the year – the rabbit. On February 3rd, the Tiger year came to an end and the Rabbit year begun. But how did the Chinese zodiac come into being and what do each animal represent? The Chinese Zodiac is made up of 12 animals (some mythical, some real) that run in a cycle. In the following chart, I have listed the animals that make up the zodiac and some characteristics of each. The zodiac typically starts with the Rat and end with the Cow.

Quick witted, clever, charming, funny; good friends and generous but can be greedy
Steadfast, solid, goal-oriented, hard-working, stubborn, serious, protective, strong companion
Authoritative, self-possessed, moody, highly seductive, ready to pounce
Popular, compassionate, sincere, like to avoid conflict, pushovers, enjoy staying at home
Powerful sign! Energetic, warm-hearted, lucky at love and egotistic, natural born leaders
Seductive, gregarious, introverted, generous, charming, good with money, analytical, insecure
Energetic, self-reliant, enjoy traveling, great at seducing, sharp-witted, impatient, drifter
Enjoy being alone, creative, thinkers, wanderers, unorganized, can be anxiety-ridden
Energetic, upbeat, good at listening, like being active, lack self-control
Practical, resourceful, observant, analytical, straightforward, trusting, honest
Loyal, faithful, honest, distrustful, temperamental, dogmatic, sensitive
Extremely nice, good mannered, perfectionists, enjoy helping others, intelligent

My zodiac sign is the dragon, so I am partial to believe that the dragon sign is the best! My name in Chinese actually means “Heaven’s Treasure”, which my parents had named me because I was born in the Dragon year.

History of the Zodiac

There are a few legends regarding the history of the zodiac and how it came into being. One of the legends states that one day the gods ordered that the animals be designated signs in which order they arrived at a designated location. In this day and age, the cat and the rat were good friends, and made an agreement that they would arrive together, and that the rat would help wake up his friend…but the rat forgot, and went directly to the designated location. On his way there, he encountered the ox and several other animals, and had the ox carry him. The rat was able to slip off the ox and became the first one to the spot, which is why the rat is the first in the zodiac…the cat on the other hand was too late, and was not included in the zodiac…which is why the cat and rat are not friends any longer.

Another history of how the order of the zodiac came into being originated during the Han Dynasty (206-220 AD) and is based on 12 time periods during the day:

11 PM – 1 AM  à rat is actively seeking food
1 AM – 3 AM à Oxen regurgitate
3 AM – 5 AM à Tiger hunts prey
5 AM – 7AM à Jade Rabbit on the moon is pounding herbs with a pestle
7 AM – 9 AM à Dragon is said to hover in the sky and make it rain
9 AM – 11 AM à Snakes start to leave burrows
11 AM – 1 PM à Day is flourishing and is as vigorous as an unconstrained horse
1 PM – 3 PM à Sheep is eating grass and grow stronger
3 PM – 5 PM à Monkeys become lively
5 PM – 7PM à Roosters return to roost since it is dark
7 PM – 9 PM à Dogs carry out duties to guard entrances
9 PM – 11 PM à All is quiet and pigs are sleeping

There are quite a few legends and thoughts about how the Chinese Zodiac came into beings, but it is an interesting aspect of Chinese History.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chinese New Years

In the United States, we celebrate the New Years on January 1st every year based on the Gregorian calendar. However, the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival is celebrated based on the first day of the lunar calendar. This year, the Spring Festival, which how it is referred to in China (Chun Jie) falls on February 3rd. The importance of family and friends makes the Spring festival so important to the Chinese. This year, an estimated 230 million people will be traveling in what is sometimes termed the “biggest annual human migration”.  On the eve of the New Years, there is a large family dinner in which the foods served have symbolism in itself.

Noodles à in serving uncut noodles, it represents a long life. My mom used to serve noodles for this same reason on my sibling and my birthday
Fish à prosperity and ‘surpluses’, amassing fortunes
Oranges à luck, fortune, and prosperity
Dumplings àresemble some ancient Chinese coins, plus just a really common food that the Chinese eat. Whenever I am home for any break, my mom cooks a lot of dumplings
Niangao àeating this food is supposed to bring in a more prosperous year. It is a combination of glutinous rice, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar
Some of the food eaten during Chinese New Year

There are much more food that are eaten during this period, but these are the main foods served. Some other foods served include eggs, lychee, peanuts, pomelo, seeds, chicken, assorted cakes, etc… The whole purpose of this dinner and for the Spring Festival is to bring in a more prosperous year.

The next day (New Year’s day), everyone goes about visiting family and friends, beginning with those who they are most close with. My mom told me that this period of visitation was like an open house party, with the doors always open, and people coming in and out. For the children, they would receive money in red envelopes from the elders in the family. In Chinese culture, red is the symbol of luck, and has been constantly identified with China since ancient times. When I was younger, my parents would give us packets of money in red envelopes on Chinese New Year. At the time, I didn’t really understand why they were doing so, except that I enjoyed having money to spend. 
Red Envelope that money is given

Another aspect of the Spring Festival that is important is the decorations and festivities involved. When my mother was younger, fireworks were common as a means for celebration (not the huge fireworks that you see at Disney but the small everyday fireworks), however some places, especially urban areas, have banned fireworks/firecrackers in portions of the city (of course they aren’t always strictly regulated). The importance of fireworks in historical context is that it was meant to drive out evil spirits, but in its modern evolution, fireworks are significant as a way to express joy and the New Year. Like the red packets of money, most fireworks are rolled in red paper.

From this video, one can perhaps see why firecrackers are banned in certain places.

Flowers à  there are many flowers that are used for the New Years. Some are used to symbolize luck, like that of the Plum Blossom, while others like the kumquat symbolizes prosperity.
Lanterns à lanterns used are red and oval in shape
Dragon dance and Lion Dance à most common dances that are used to evict evil spirits, and often time are accompanied by loud drum beats and cymbals

The Spring Festival does not just end after the first day, but lasts another 15 days until the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Years. During the lantern festival, families walk the streets carrying lanterns as a way to guide spirits. I have never actually participated in most of these celebrations, but there are now many sources that show that the younger Chinese generation would rather surf the net, watch TV, and hang out with friends than spend time with family during this time of family.

The Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Days of the Spring Festival
Day 1 à visiting of friends and family, giving of red envelopes, and welcoming of the new year
Day 2 à families pray to ancestors; dogs are treated very well as it is thought that it is the birth of dogs
Day 3 and 4 à son-in-laws pay respect to parent-in-laws
Day 5 à no socialization as it will bring bad luck
Day 6- 10à more visitation of family and friends. On the 7th day, noodles are eaten to promote longevity. On day 8, prayers are made to Tian Gong, and on day 9, offerings to the Jade Emperor
Day 10-12 à friends and family are invited for dinner
Day 13 à day in which one eats simple food
Day 14 à preparation for the Lantern Festival
Day 15 à Lantern Festival

The Spring Festival brings about a new year and a hope for prosperity and health, and under the Chinese Zodiac, a new animal for the year, but this topic I will discuss in a later post.