ˈFEB-roo-err-ee. - What a very special month!
Special, because it is the shortest month amongst all the twelve, it has only 28 or 29 days! Special, because despite being the last (and perhaps the coldest) month in winter (for the northern hemisphere), there are quite some happenings in this month! Apart from celebrating Valentine’s Day on the 14th, there are about one in every five persons (~ 1.4B people) in this world celebrating the most important time of the year according to their cultural practice. This year, Chinese living in China, or descendants of Chinese living in countries around the world will be welcoming the year of “Earth Pig” on Feb 5th. Even though, also known as the Spring Festival (春节 Chūn Jié), the “Chinese New Year” is often celebrated during the winter months (Jan/Feb) because it follows the lunar cycle. Festive decorations and celebrations can be seen in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and almost all the “Chinatowns” around the world. For those who follow the traditions, the celebration will last for15 days. Click here if you want to learn about the customs of the 15 days!
While you are listening to the song, let’s start 2019 with the photo quiz contest:
Where in the world was the above picture taken?
Here is the answer for January Photo Contest:
The photo was taken at the Paul Gauguin Museum, on the island of Tahiti. Did you know there are in total 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific, grouped under French Polynesia?
Click this link: The Story of Tahiti to know more about the beautiful islands of Tahiti,
and get into the mind and soul of Paul Gauguin with this: Paul Gauguin – Tate Museum
A Journey A Month…
Your Story. Our Story. The Human Story.
Many of us would have heard of the Chinese Zodiac and the story of the 12 animals or shēngxiàos(生肖). Since young, I’ve always found it amusing when someone tells me “I’m a horse, what are you?” Despite being very proud of my Chinese roots, I will always give a cheeky, yet factually correct answer: “I’m a human!” Whilst I enjoy the not-so-bemused look of the enquirer, I then add on “I am born in the year of ‘goat’.”
Today, more and more people are interested in the study of fengshui, the Chinese geomancy, and zodiac is the Chinese way of characterising the personal traits of an individual. It is like the horoscope, people use that to foretell one’s futures.
That was what I knew about the Chinese Zodiac, until I read an article forwarded by a friend last week. The article speaks of a foreigner with a very similar attitude (just like me), “smirking” on why the Chinese would relate their births to some animals. Here is how the story goes – at a dinner hosted by a senior statesman from China, this foreigner raised his question rather “impolitely” (or perhaps his question was rather “direct”). While his question made everyone rather uncomfortable, instead of retorting, the Chinese statesman calmly answered:
“Well, our ancestors were very wise. They’ve arranged the zodiac signs in pairs; The first pair of animals is the “rat” and “ox”: The rat represents wisdom, and the ox represents diligence. Our ancestors believe that wisdom and diligence must operate in harmony. If there is wisdom but no diligence in applying it, it’s foolishness. On the other hand, if there is diligence but no wisdom, it will only be an act of folly. That’s why wisdom and diligence must go hand in hand. This is our ancestor’s first wish for us. The first pair of the animal also represents the most important hope for us.”
“The second pair is the “tiger” and “rabbit”: The tiger represents courage, and the rabbit represents prudence. Our ancestors believe that these two qualities must work closely together, in order to have a better chance to achieve success. Without prudence, courage leads to recklessness. Similarly, without courage, prudence becomes cowardice. This pair of these qualities is very important. That’s why it is the second pair.
“The third pair is the “dragon” and “snake”: They represent strength and flexibility. Strength without flexibility becomes brittle. Without strength, flexibility becomes meaningless. That’s why strength with flexibility is an important lesson from our ancestors that has lasted through time.”
“The fourth pair is the “horse” and “goat”: The horse represents the ability to gallop to success. The goat represents the ability to be considerate and have compassion. If a person only looks after himself as he pursues his goal and with no consideration for others, he will face obstacles from the people around him. At the end, he may not even be successful. However, if a person only looks after others and seek only to be amiable, he will not have a sense of direction. His goal will eventually be lost. That’s why the spirit of the horse and virtues of the goat must be applied in harmony with each other. This is our ancestors’ fourth wish for us.”
“The fifth pair is the “monkey” and the “chicken”: The monkey represents agility. A for chicken, there were no clocks in the days of old, therefore, the chicken is needed to wake humans to start a new day, so, the chicken represents stability. The qualities of agility and stability must be tightly coupled together. If you have agility but no stability, your best plan may not succeed. However, if you focused on having stability and refuse to change (i.e. lack of agility), you will not have a better future. When the two qualities are in harmony, and operate in synergy, it provides one of the basic imperatives to achieve great success.
“Lastly, the sixth pair, we have the “dog” and “pig”: The dog represents loyalty while the pig represents good nature. If a person is loyal but does not have a good nature, he will be blindly following others. On the other hand, if he has a good nature but does not have loyalty, he will have no people and principles to guide him. That’s why whether it is loyalty to a country, loyalty to a team, or loyalty to an ideal, you need to ensure that good nature is tightly coupled with that principle. In that way, you can have a deep-seated sense of loyalty that comes from a good heart.
The wise Chinese statesman continued: “The Chinese believe that the outer core must be in alignment with the inner core. At the inner core, we must have a pure heart that subscribes to high moral values. We must seek to live with the ethos and positive principles. We must live up to our words and not do anything that will harm others.”
“At the outer core, we must be knowledgeable about the ways the world operates around us. We must be wise in managing affairs with others. We need to focus on what matters in life and not be influenced by evil temptations. We need to live with integrity and in harmony with other beings and the environment. We should not have any form of prejudice or seek to discriminate against anyone.”
At the end of his speech, there was complete silence. The seemingly “silly-ness” of the zodiac has disappeared.
This is ancient wisdom passed down from Laotze and Confucius and dozens of great thinkers from China. To understand the Chinese, even as simple as a zodiac sign, one must understand the Chinese way of thinking.
In fact, I am sure that hidden behind every custom, it may carry wisdom from the ancient ancestors of that culture. Indeed, these can be priceless lessons, passed down from one generation to another… Let’s open our eyes, ears and hearts to receive them!
Happy Lunar New Year!
To learn about Cultural snippets and festivals around the world, you can also subscribe to TCG’s Youth’s Cross-Cultural Competency course here: