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2010 is the Year of the Tiger

Ivory Tiger, OJ371

Ivory Tiger, OJ371

What do you know about Chinese New Year? 

Will you be welcoming the year of the Tiger? 

Gong Xi Fa Chai!  Congratulations and make a fortune, is the typical saying when the Chinese New Year begins. 

The legend behind Chinese New Year began with a ferocious beast called Nian who had a lion-type head and an elephant-type body. 

He terrorised the farmers and villagers as he became a man-eater during the winter months as he would venture to the village for food because his prey would hibernate. 

As the years passed they came to realise that Nian was afraid of red, fire and noise.  So on every New Years Eve they cut red-colour peach wood and hung it on the door, made a campfire in front of their doors and when Nian approached the village people put bamboo into the fire to make cracking sound.  In addition, they beat the metal kitchen and farming utensils to make noisy sound to scare the beast away. This came be known as Guo-Nian (passing Nian). 

The Chinese New Year is set around the lunar calendar, each year has a different animal associated with it thus a different year of prosperity and meaning to people born within those years, for example 2010 is year of the tiger.  Their characteristics are said to be courageous, gracious, independent, brave, physically strong and bold. 

Although tigers are meant to be fierce creatures the small carved one above seems quite placid.  Apparently size does matter. 

A Tiger, Charles Towne, 1818, OP338

A Tiger, Charles Towne, 1818, OP338

 This painting by Charles Towne highlights the typical character of a tiger, teeth bearing and a proud stance.  You can imagine a deep chest rattling growl coming from with in him.  The lush, exotic landscape in the background shows the tiger in its natural habit; interestingly the painting was created in England, we don’t know if  Towne had been to Asia or just had a very good imagination. 

The traditions and customs during the New Year celebrations are colourful and loud, fire crackers, fire works and lanterns represent the light and noise to scare away Nian. 

The colour red is used as a symbol of good luck.   It is customary to present children or unmarried relatives with money in red envelopes decorated with lucky symbols, this is known as “HongBao” or “LiShi”.   The Chinese believe this will create good fortune with money for the rest of the year.  Paper art in red is displayed on walls and windows.

Before New Years Day there are many preparations to be done, one being sending off the Kitchen God, who will return to the ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor, where he will report on each family’s activities over the past year. 

Let me finish with a little Chinese proverb to brighten you’re day:

“You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side”. 

Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page or join us on Twitter @bcmuseums.  You can see  more images of  our carved ivory collections on Flickr

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