Chinese New Year Legends

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is also called Guo Nian (过年) in Chinese. “Guo” means pass over and the “Nian” or "Year" in Chinese refers to a mythical beast that will bring bad luck.

Legend of Monster Nian

In ancient times, there’s a big horned monster called “Nian” who lived at the bottom of the sea all year, but came out on Spring Festival Eve to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. As a result, all the people would flee from their home to remote mountains to escape the danger each year on this day.

One Spring Festival Eve, closing the doors and windows, people in Taohua (Peach Blooms) Village were preparing to flee with all their possessions. An old beggar with a stick and a bag in his hands came to the village to seek shelter, but no one had time to care about him except for an old woman who gave him food to eat and suggested him get away from Nian.

The old beggar smiled and said: “Lady, if you let me stay one night in your house, I will get rid of Nian for you.” The old woman was surprised but still tried to convince him to flee to the mountain. The old beggar just smiled without reply. Having no alternative, the old woman ran away to the mountains leaving only the old beggar in the house.

On the stroke of midnight, the monster Nian rushed into the village, but immediately stopped as soon as seeing red paper pasted on the door, all the alight candles in the house and the old beggar dressed in red laughing at him. What Nian could do at this moment was to take flight with great haste with the sounds of firecrackers exploding in the yard.

The next day villagers came back home and were very surprised to find everything was in good condition. It suddenly occurred to the old woman what the old beggar said and told the other villagers. People then realized that the Nian was afraid of the color red, loud noises and the bright light.

  • From then on, the ways to get rid of Nian spread from mouth to mouth and became prevalent quickly. Every Spring Festival Eve, people would glue red paper with couplets written on them, and stay up late or all night (Shousui) with new clothes to wait for the New Year's coming, lighting lanterns and setting firecrackers.

Legend of Taofu

An ancient Chinese legend tells that there’re two deities who control evil spirits in the ghost world. So Chinese folks carved their appearance on peach wood and put it outside their doors to drive out evils. Afterwards, people just wrote the names of the two gods on two pieces of peach wood. The wood was later called “Taofu (桃符)”, the original name of Spring Festival couplets.

  • By  Song dynasty (960 -1279 A D), Taofu was gradually replaced by two pieces of red paper and evolved into today’s couplets in Chinese New Year.

With the ancient meaning of defeating evil spirits, nowadays Taofu serves as a lucky decoration and expresses people’s best wishes for the coming new year.

Story of Door Gods

Emperor Taizong of Tang had fallen ill, and one night he lay tossing and turning in his bed and had a really bad dream. Ghosts howled and screamed in his head all night. The next day, he told his two best soldiers, Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, about the dream.

The next night, these good soldiers stood outside the emperor’s bedroom door. One held a club and the other, an iron rod. In the morning, the emperor said that he had slept like a log. But the soldiers could not spend every night guarding his room.

So the emperor told an artist to paint pictures of the two soldiers which were hung as guards on the palace gates. Word soon got round that the paintings were guarding the palace against evil spirits. People started to glue pictures of the two soldiers on the front door of their houses as a talisman for the coming year, taking the them as Door Gods.

Since that, pasting pictures of the two Door Gods on New Year’s Eve becomes a tradition that continues today.