Sam E Lewis
Lunar or Chinese?
Nian purred as he crawled towards the town, or was he slithering? Who knows. The mythical beast edged closer and closer, licking his lips in anticipation of the meal to come. The dark winter nights had begun to take its toll on the mountain dwelling monster, whose stomach rumbled like the aftereffects of an earthquake. The villagers, knowing what was coming, prepared to flee the village in terror. For year after year, this savage beast had returned to terrorise the locals as the new moon appeared, eat their livestock and cause havoc in their streets.
But just as families, along with their carts of livestock were about to escape to safer havens, a wise old man, cane in hand, hobbled into the central square. He climbed onto a small podium and called to the villagers to stop their preparations, he could defeat the monster himself. The villagers laughed, how could this old man scare anything away?
‘Loud noises, fire, and the colour red’ he announced ‘these are the things that will bring an end to Nian’. The villagers, desperate for any remedy that might possibly end their yearly curse did as they were told. They wore red clothing, banged enormous drums, lit fires around their village and burned bamboo (a rudimentary firecracker) to produce loud cracking noises.
Nian was terrified by this act of defiance from the villagers. He ran far away, and never came back. Instead of fearing the new moon, the villagers came to start celebrating it, and so started Chinese New Year – or so the story goes.
Add in the Zodiac animals as chosen long ago by the Jade Emperor, sprinkle in family gatherings and the handing out of money in the form of ‘red envelopes’ and you have an event held perhaps even more dearly to the Chinese than Christmas is to the West.
The thing is, ‘Chinese New Year’ isn’t just celebrated by the Chinese, it’s celebrated by the Koreans, the Vietnamese, Singaporeans and Indonesians too.
In Korea, it’s called Seollal, in Vietnam Tet, both of which consist of family gatherings, honouring ancestors, and presenting gifts to each other – neither of whom subscribed to the story of Nian, but both of whom were likely, by ancient status as tributaries of China, to have imported much of the culture of their big neighbour. Regardless, who doesn’t enjoy the opportunity to celebrate family and hand out gifts?
But why then do we continue to call it Chinese New Year? The Chinese might say because it originated in China, but so did the coronavirus and we’re forbidden from referring to that as Chinese. Why don’t we refer to Christmas as Palestinian or Israeli? It was after all where Jesus was born.
Until we realise there is more to Asia than China, we subconsciously accept that China is the dominant force in Asia and that the Chinese voice (or more likely nowadays simply the CCP voice as all other mainland Chinese voices are silenced) is all that matters.
How we describe something is indeed important, hence why we should be cautious in calling it the ‘Chinese virus’; just because it originated in mainland China does not mean we should call it that. But just as we should not refer to bad things that originated in China as Chinese, we should not simply refer to good things that originated in China as solely Chinese. Not when millions of non-Chinese around the world also celebrate it. And with that, I wish you a Happy Lunar New Year.