It’s almost that time of the year again, where Chinese people gather together to celebrate Chinese New Year. Today, we’ve rounded up some of the most popular Chinese New Year greetings, their meanings and how they came to be. You might even pick up something new to greet your relatives, friends, and family!
恭喜发财 Gōng xǐ fā cái
Perhaps the most generic (and popular) of them all, ‘gōng xǐ fā cái’ stands for ‘congratulations and wishing you prosperity’. In 1892, William C. Hunter arrived in Canton, China (known as Guangzhou today). He observed that during Chinese New Year, Chinese businessmen would visit their Western business partners and greet them with ‘gōng xǐ fā cái’. As a result, ‘gōng xǐ fā cái’ became the first Chinese phrase to be recorded by a foreigner about Chinese New Year customs!
万事如意 Wàn shì rú yì
Meaning ‘a million things going as you wish’, the history behind this phrase isn’t entirely clear, but it is thought to have originated as an image made from the swastika symbol (卍), which in Mandarin is pronounced as ‘wàn’, as well as ‘rú yì’, a curved ceremonial Buddhist scepter and talisman used by many people in ancient China.
As time went by and the Chinese writing system was developed, people started to verbally convey their well wishes instead of using an image or symbol.
年年有馀 Nián nián yǒu yú
‘馀’ is thought to be a word play and homonym of ‘鱼’, which stands for fish, and Chinese people have long thought of fishes as a symbol for blissfulness, abundance and freedom. Thus, the complete phrase stands for ‘wishing you abundance year after year’.
An interesting Chinese legend has it that the Jade Emperor once sent an urgent decree to the Chinese water and weather god, the Dragon King, to open up the floodgates and allow rain to fall on earth. The Dragon King, in his haste, accidentally allowed a whale to pass through the floodgates! Fearing that the Jade Emperor would be angered, the Dragon King covered up his mistake by saying that he sent the whale to earth so as to bless mankind with abundance.
龙马精神 Lóng mǎ jīngshén
龙马 (lóng mǎ) is actually a legendary horse and dragon hybrid in Chinese mythology. The Chinese ancestors believed that the extremely strong and majestic creatures were spirits of the Yellow River. In today's times, to wish someone ‘lóng mǎ jīngshén’ is to wish them extraordinary and superhuman vitality.
吉星高照 Jí xīng gāo zhào
Meaning ‘May your lucky stars shine on you’, would you be surprised if I told you that unlike all the other Chinese New Year wishes here, this one didn't originate from ancient times? In fact, this phrase was created quite recently, by Chinese author Chen Canyun in his book released in 1984, 热带惊涛录 (Rè dài jīng tāo lù).
Through word of mouth, the phrase swiftly gained popularity, and it has stuck around since to become a classic Chinese New Year greeting.
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What are some of your favorite CNY Greetings?
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