Happy New Year and welcome to the year of the Earth Dog
Today is the Chinese New Year; it follows the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the west since the 16th century and is also the official calendar since the creation of the Republic of China in 1912, but traditions continue.
Chinese families will get together for the two week festivities creating the biggest migration movement in the world with an estimated 385 million people leaving the cities to return to the countryside; the country comes to a virtual standstill at this time. The parallel we can draw in the West would be Thanksgiving in the US although nearly seven times smaller, with 50.8 million people travelling.
Chinese New Year is full of symbols that reflect their culture. The first one that comes to mind, and that we seemed to have borrowed from them, is setting off fireworks and firecrackers on the dot of midnight on New Year's Eve. Let us not forget that the Chinese invented powder.
But why make so much noise? Legend has it that the monster Nian came to the village every New Year's Eve to eat all the inhabitants and destroy all the homes. People abandoned the village and ran to the mountain for their protection, until one year an old man with a white beard arrived in the village and remained the night in it to face the monster. He lit dry bamboo sticks that exploded and applied red paper onto the houses, frightening the monster away. The villagers came back and to their astonishment, nothing was destroyed. They understood that the noise and the colour red frightened the monster.
After the discovery of powder, people soon found that stuffing the bamboo with it made an even louder bang and so the firecracker was born. Today, firecrackers wrapped in red paper will be set off outside the front door of some Chinese homes before stepping out for the first time in the new year. The red paper from the firecracker is not swept away as this is considered to be brushing away good luck and good fortune for the year.
The other important event is the dragon or the lion dance. The dragon, as the lion, is supposed to bring good luck. The dragon dance is performed by a team of dancers manipulating a long flexible figure of a dragon, recreating sinuous and undulating movements of the river spirit. The longer the dragon, the more luck it will bring. The lion dance is performed by only two dancers; the lion dance from Southern China reflects a close study of the lion’s behaviour, whereas the northern lion dance is more closely related to kungfu, the Chinese martial art.
The two traditions mentioned above could be seen as the yin and the yang in the Chinese culture: pushing away the monster on one side and calling for good luck on the other. Yin and yang are an indivisible whole in the Chinese culture; the two forms are considered to be complementary rather than opposites and give a different view from our Western values of the forces influencing our lives.
Recognising cultural diversity and working with it can increase productivity and the creation of new and better ideas.