How it all begun
The Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year has been observed for over 3500 years. In most eastern societies, the Lunar New year festivities celebrate the coming of Spring. An important period in a largely agricultural society, spring signifies a new beginning and a time to rest before another work cycle.
In accordance with the lunisolar calendar, the Chinese New year begins with Lichun, the first of twenty-four solar terms. The start of a new moon roughly 30-50 days after the shortest day in the year (winter solstice). In antiquity, winter was a period of great strife. The ancient Chinese were largely reliant on agriculture and farming for food and winter was generally a period of little to no growth. As such, surviving the winter was indeed a cause for celebration. The coming of spring also symbolizes the return of opportunity and another chance to prosper.
What Chinese New Year means
Back then, there were no certainties or discerning way of ensuring a bountiful harvest. Farming back then was a lot of risker than it is today because of the lack of technology to support and predict crop yields. Because of this, the concept of saving a surplus was a matter of life and death, grains were often hoarded and stored for the coming seasons to ensure that communities and families could survive. In some sense, this practice has never left us. We have merely adapted it to fit our modern lives. Today, we save money as opposed to grains for rainy days.
The New Year represents renewed life, opportunity and growth. A good harvest does not only mean life or death for farmers of antiquity. It also meant an opportunity to grow one’s business. A good harvest could mean an abundance of supply that famers can sell for a healthy profit. It is for this reason, we often wish abundance and prosperity unto others during this time period.
Perhaps the most iconic aspect of Chinese New Year, the Red Packet is steeped in myth and legend, with various anecdotes and tales discussing it’s origin. One such anecdote is the legend of a monster called Sui. The monster was known to terrorize children while they slept on New Year’s Eve. Parents and kids would stay up on New Year’s Eve to avoid getting eaten. In one story, a county official could no longer bear to stay awake and gave his child a red packet with eight coins. He instructed his child to repeatedly count the coins until dawn before going to bed himself. The child however grew tired and eventually fell asleep. Just then, the beast Sui arrives, but before he could devour the child the eight coins revealed to be the eight immortals and scared Sui away.
In reality, red packets are a utilitarian financial tool that served numerous practical purposes. It provided a means to give excess to family members in need discreetly as not to shame and embarrass the person. Communities back then were centered around villages and families would often stay within the same village. Red packets were a way of forming unspoken mutual contract, a way of insuring mutual survivability. Life expectancy was much shorter in those days and families often relied on extended family members to look after offspring in dire times.
Similarly, village elders and chiefs would also receive larger red packets for a multitude of reasons. These community leaders were often in charge of community projects and would oversee development of projects that would benefit the entire community, something akin to a grass roots community.
That being said, the limitations of this system would be the lack of a contract or expressed guarantee. Much like today, the people of ancient China were very concerned about face and reputation, discretion was highly valued, and the red packet offered just that.
Today, the red packet is more symbolic than practical. A remnant of it’s former self, the Hong Bao or Ang Bao as it is known today no longer carries the social expectations it had done so in the past but has long etched itself into our unique culture as a defining feature of the Lunar New Year.
Fu & Dao
In addition to red packets, the Chinese character for Fu is another defining trait of Chinese New Year. In short, Fu means good fortune or good luck. The practice of displaying it upside-down comes from the identical sound of the Chinese word for “arrive” and “upside-down.” The upside-down Fu symbolizes the arrival of happiness and good fortune.
Today the upside-down Fu symbol is indiscriminately used as a symbol of good luck whereas during certain periods in past, the usage was more specific. At a certain point of time, it was believed that the Fu should not be upside down on doors, rather the upside down Fu should only be on used on generally unsavory areas.
In places of storage like granaries or cabinets, the Dao (upside down) symbol was used instead. The ideas is to ease the arrival of fortune into these areas. An upside-down Fu was also used in conjunction with negative aspects, the belief was that a double negative would cancel each other out.
Life in those times were filled with uncertainties. People back then had no real way to mitigate risk, nor did they fully understand them. Locusts, pandemics, droughts, and war were a constant threat to livelihood. Superstition offered them an abstract means of exerting some control over the aspects of life they had no control over. In some sense, the ancient Chinese invested in divinations and beliefs whereas today, we are much more fortunate. Breakthroughs and the rapid advancement in technology has allowed us to exert more control over our own existence and financial well-being.
Today, we have the privilege of honoring these traditions and practices without having to rely on them for our financial well-being. Our access to well-regulated financial products ensure that we have ways of safe guarding ourselves against market uncertainty, that is, through sound investments. Speak to a financial consultant to learn more about which financial product may be right for you.
Optimism in practice
The true meaning of Chinese New Year, like a lot of what our ancestors did is shrouded in mystery. However, historical evidence tells us enough to know that one of the reasons Chinese New Year plays such an important role in the lives of the ancient Chinese is because of their optimism.
Gambling and firecrackers were used to usher in a new year by leaving the unhappiness of the past behind. These practices were largely tied to the agriculture nature of our forefathers back in ancient China. A vast majority of people were farmers, business owners and landowners back then. Survival was largely dependent on crop yields for that year. As mentioned earlier, they had limited control over these aspects and relied on faith and divination.
This constant risk that the ancient Chinese is subjected to may corelate to the general belief that Chinese people today have a more risk adverse attitudes. In contrast, the reality is that the people of China in the past were subjected to numerous risks. The farmers of antiquity would invest in a bigger harvest in the hopes of gaining a surplus of crops, allowing them to sell excess in the hopes of growing their personal wealth.
Today we are privileged with the means of investing outside of just areas we are familiar with. Financial consultants are equipped with a vast array of financial tools that allow us to tap into opportunities outside of our area of expertise to generate wealth. Much like our forefathers, we want the best for the generations to come. Where we differ, is that we have practical and time-tested financial instruments to help manifest this optimism into a reality.
China’s rich but forgotten heritage has been a source of pride for a lot of Chinese people. Our beliefs and traditions have survived the seas of time. It has been survived regime changes, ideological revolutions and foreign rule. It is only within the last century has the world come to recognize China as a global force. While it may seem foreign and deeply superstitious, a lot of our cultural practices can trace it’s roots back to practical money management systems back to a time before the vast array of financial tools we have today.
APEX ADVISORY GROUP
An advocate for upward economic mobility, Mervyn is passionate about helping people improve their economic statuses.
A specialist in investment planning, Mervyn supports about 200 clients in growing their wealth, legacy planning, and facilitating buy/sell agreements. His determination to help others was influenced by a personal experience earlier in life, where he lost a small fortune due to unsound advice. He took the loss in his stride, and strengthened his resolve to focus on strategic advice and good planning in personal finances.
Today, he continues to strive to make a difference in his clients’ lives – so that they can as he puts it, do what they love in life.
This article is not intended to be a source of historical information, and should not be relied upon for such purposes. The author advises readers to verify any historical anecdotes and stories contained within the article where necessary.