National Geographic : 1936 Dec
PEIPING'S HAPPY NEW YEAR Lunar Celebration Attracts Throngs to Temple Fairs, Motley Bazaars, and Age-old Festivities BY GEORGE KIN LEUNG OR more than 4,000 years the Chinese people have used the Lunar Calendar. Peiping, until recently called Peking, the stronghold of conservatism in the North, observes with due respect the Government's desire that China "celebrate" with the mod ern world the New Year on January 1. But the former capital actually celebrates on the first day of the lunar first month, which in 1936 fell on January 24.* This is not a case of stubborn clinging to old habits; the roots of the matter strike into deeper soil. The old calendar, having been used by man since time immemorial, follows the seasons, the times for planting the "good earth" that provides man with his food. It is true to form that Peiping, with the innate polished courtesy of its citizenry, should bow affably and even low to the Gregorian New Year, but that the feasting, account settling, shop holidays, and all that sets the human heart in rhythm with the foremost holiday of the year should take place on the Lunar New Year. Then winter is about to surrender its icy grip on the land. Farmers and city dwellers joyfully greet the first promises of spring time warmth that soon will once more stir life into growing things, CASTING OFF THE OLD LEAF In the Western World, there is the quaint idea that on the first of the year one "turns over a new leaf." In Peiping "one casts off the old" with a rat-a -tat-tat of firecrackers, and looks into the coming year full of hope. Those who have been sorrow-ridden must completely change their feelings if they are to find real happiness that year. During the half-month celebration of the Lunar New Year, tens of thousands attend the temple fairs and bazaars which are cen ters of prayer, of animated bargaining at * The old Chinese calendar is based on both the moon and the sun. Each year has twelve months, with an intercalary month inserted 22 times in 60 years. New Year's Day falls on the second new moon after the day of the winter solstice. Thus it never comes before January 20 or after Feb ruary 20. stalls, and of entertainment in the lavish variety that the Old Capital provides.* Peiping citizens adore big crowds-"gath erings for people to see people." Time is not the nerve-wracking, care fully treasured thing it is in the West. Therefore, in Peiping preparations, or the first stages of the celebration, begin on the eighth day of the Twelfth Moon, fully three weeks before the Lunar New Year. On the night of the seventh day, a sweet pudding, consisting of many kinds of rice, beans, dates, chestnuts, and liberally gar nished with red sugar, white sugar, melon seeds, pine nuts, and so on, is cooked. The simplest dish, however, must contain no less than eight ingredients. Puddings are eaten by the family and presented to friends. Gifts should be made no later than the noon of the eighth. The custom dates back at least as far as the Sung Dynasty (960-1280). Pickled cab bage is sometimes eaten with the delicacy. THE KITCHEN GOD ASCENDS TO HEAVEN On the eve of the twenty-third, Tsao Wang Yeh, the Kitchen God, ascends to Heaven to report on the doings of the family for the year to the Jade Emperor. The family offers the deity huge pieces of molasses candy, so that, when he is about to make his report, he is unable to extri cate his teeth from the jaw-locking mass. Hay and a bowl of water are offered on the stove to the Kitchen God's horse, which squats with neatly folded legs on the paper picture of the deity. When the ceremony, including the offer ing of a miniature paper ladder to facilitate Tsao Wang Yeh's celestial climb, has been duly performed, the paper picture of the god and other paper objects are burned and so sent up to Heaven. The Kitchen God is speeded on his jour ney with the following admonition: "Tsao Wang Yeh, when you go up to Heaven, favorable words say many; unfavorable * See "Glory That Was Imperial Peking," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAG AZINE, June, 1933, and "Approach to Peiping," by Maj. John W. Thomason, February, 1936.