Chinese New Year in Beijing

This year we spent Chinese New Years (CNY) doing what most Beijingers don’t do- we stayed in Beijing.

Most people either leave for their hometowns or go vacationing elsewhere to escape the constant sound of fireworks. However, I think Chinese New Year in Beijing is absolutely wonderful. The streets are deserted, the air is relatively unpolluted (and that’s because the factories were working overtime the week prior to CNY rather than over Spring festival) and it’s so easy to get a taxi/ride your bike without incurring the wrath of a fellow Beijinger. Also, with less people around, there is less public spitting happening every 2 minutes.











Despite growing up celebrating Chinese New Years with my extended family, celebrating it here is a totally different experience and I can’t help but note the differences between how Southern Chinese (and I include the Chinese diaspora in this) and Northern Chinese celebrate New Years.

Chinese in the North:

1. Wish each other “Xin nian kuai le” and NOT “Gong Xi Fa Cai”. In fact, every time we wished someone Gong Xi Fa Cai, they laughed. Basically it is considered to be a cheesy greeting in the North because you are essentially wishing someone prosperity and good luck.

2. Eat dumplings. Dumplings (jiaozi) was in the past considered very special because you often used meat and meat was hard to come by. Thus, jiaozi were eaten on auspicious days like Chinese New Year Eve. Also, “we eat dumplings because we eat rice everyday”.

These dumplings would have looked better if they weren’t made by us…




3. Have less family members to visit over CNY. My memories of CNY involved long days of traveling in the car to visit family members living in the same city. It was almost like a game- the more homes you could squeeze into one day, the better. However, with a one-child policy that has been in place for over one generation, extended families are much smaller.

This may mean having a family reunion dinner where the parents of a husband and the parents of a wife come together to have the new years eve dinner. This would never have happened in my family, considering I have over 50 cousins on both sides and there would be no way that we could 1. organise a time and day convenient for everyone to come together and 2. squeeze into one home.  The obvious downer for mainland Chinese children is that you have less relatives to receive red packets (with money inside!) from. A big thumbs down for them in my view.

Our apartment block is pretty hip- we have Christmas AND Chinese New Year decorations up at the same time











4. Don’t give mandarins, oranges or other kinds of fruit as gifts to their hosts. In Southeast Asia, often a crate of mandarins gets bought prior to new year festivities and it is customary to give 8 mandarins/oranges as the sound of 8 is close to “fatt” (ie, prosperity) in Cantonese. In Mainland China, particularly in the North, there is no such swapping of oranges, much less in numbers of 8. Apparently, appropriate gifts are either alcohol or cigarettes. I asked my Chinese teachers if that was because the air pollution here is worse that smoking, but they didn’t understand my question…

If you want to see what different Chinese migrants have been bringing back to their hometowns, see .

Apart from those observations, its interesting to note how

1. Chinese call Chinese New Year “Chun Jie” (Spring Festival) whereas in equatorial Southeast Asia (where there is only dry and monsoon seasons), there is no such thing as spring. So we call it Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year if you want to sound fancy.

2. Chinese don’t have “yee sang”/”lo hei“, which was created by some astute business folk in Malaysia but has become popular in Singapore and Hong Kong. This dish is served ONLY during CNY and consists of shredded vegetable, raw fish salad, multi-coloured vemicelli etc. Everyone at the table joins in the fun by tossing and mixing all the ingredients with their chopsticks and the higher your can lift your ingredients, the more prosperous the year will be.

5 Responses to “Chinese New Year in Beijing”
  1. happy new year to you all. where did you celebrate the new year?

  2. That was super cool Elaine! =) Makes me feel like I’m in there, and seems like so much fun..!

    love peng

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