Year of The Monkey: Chinese New Year

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As we enter the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese horoscope, a guide to making your new year wishes - and what the start of the Monkey may mean. 

By: Dr Qian Kan (Department of Languages)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Monday 25th January 2016
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Chinese
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The coming Chinese New Year, which falls on the 8th February 2016, is 'the Year of the Monkey' (猴年, hóu nián). According to the Chinese lunar calendar, each year is associated with an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle. Babies born between 8th February 2016 and 27th January 2017 will be given the birth sign ‘Monkey’.

Here is a table illustrating the 12 animal signs corresponding to the years in the upcoming cycle:

Year Sign Character Pinyin
2016 Monkey hóu
2017 Rooster
2018 Dog gǒu
2019 Pig zhū
2020 Rat shǔ
2021 Ox niú
2022 Tiger
2023 Rabbit
2024 Dragon lóng
2025 Snake (small dragon) ( ) shé (xiǎo lóng)
2026 Horse
2027 Sheep yáng

The monkey ranks 9th of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese culture, monkey is a symbol of luck and success. There are many visual-verbal puns due to the same pronunciation of 猴(hóu, monkey) with 侯(hóu, official rank). For example, a drawing of a monkey riding on a horse back is associated with the 4-character expression 马上封侯 (mă shàng fēng hóu), which means ‘given an official title immediately’ (the first two characters can mean either ‘on the horse’ or ‘immediately’). 

In terms of personality traits, those born in the Year of the Monkey are regarded as intelligent, fast learners, mischievous, active and full of curiosity. The negative traits include lack of concentration and lack of consideration.

In the Chinese culture, the year of one’s birth year has a special term: 本命年 (bĕn mĭng nián, origin of life year) and it is believed that one must be very careful in everything one does in one’s birth year. It is tradition that in one’s birth year, one must wear something red next to one’s skin to fend off the evil spirits. Some people wear it during Chinese New Year period and others might wear it on and off during the whole year.

Copyrighted image Copyright: ly86 - iStock In Chinese-speaking countries/regions, the Spring Festival (春节 Chūn Jié) is a general term used to refer to the festival season. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar and ends on the 15th of the lunar calendar.

The 15th is known as the Lantern Festival in the West whilst in the Chinese-speaking cultures, it is known as 圆宵节 yuánxiāo jié (sweet dumpling festival), when people eat sweet dumplings to mark the end of the New Year celebrations. Very often it falls on the same day as or close to the western Valentine’s Day, so it is also known the Chinese Valentine’s day.

The predominant colour for Chinese New Year’s decoration is red. Red paper cut-outs and couplets written on red paper devoted to the popular themes of ‘happiness’, ‘wealth’, and ‘longevity’ are used to decorate windows and doors. 

Children wear brand new clothes on this day and receive money in red envelopes, known as 红包 (hóng bāo), from their parents and grandparents.

The most frequently used new year's greetings are:

新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè)
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新年好 (xīn nián hǎo )
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... and 恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) 
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The first two expressions mean 'Happy New Year' whilst the last one means' wishing you a Prosperous New Year' and it is mostly used in Cantonese speaking communities and in business circles.

If you want to be more specific and say ‘Happy Year of the Monkey’, you need to say:

猴年快乐 (hóu nián kuài lè)

If you wish to learn more about the Chinese culture and study Mandarin Chinese, why not visit The Open University’s Beginners Chinese website?

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