When you work a specific target set as an intelligence analyst or case officer, the best chance you can give yourself for success is to truly understand the culture. And when it comes to Chinese culture, there aren’t really any holidays bigger than the lunar new year.
So here’s some knowledge that you probably never thought you wanted to know!
February 16, 2018 marks the first day of the year of the dog. Say goodbye to the rooster –he won’t be seen for another 11 years. So where did this holiday come from and why does it involve animals? Let’s look at…
…the origin story
The Chinese astrological system dates back at least to the Warring States period (475-221 BC) Some academics believe the animal characters could have been brought to China via the Silk Road around the same time as Buddhism.
The animal characters are the subject of many different versions of the Chinese zodiac legend. According to one of the more popular tellings, the mythical Jade Emperor invited the entire animal kingdom to compete in a race across a river to celebrate his birthday, promising that the first 12 to cross the finish line would win a permanent place in the Chinese calendar.
The order in which the animals finished reflects their position in the cycle and their personalities influence that of those born under their sign.
(Those born in January and February take care: Chinese (Lunar) New Year moves between 21 January and February 20. If you were born in January or February, check whether your birth date falls before or after Chinese New Year to know what your Chinese zodiac year is.)
For example, the clever rat came in first by riding on the back of the persistent ox for the whole journey. The deceptive snake finished the race before the skittish horse because it had been curled around the horse’s hoof, scaring the horse into hesitating just before it reached the finish line.
The majestic dragon could have easily won the race with the use of flight, but instead finished in the middle of the pack. He stopped along the way and helped others to cross the river. The pig was lazy and came in last.
The dog you ask? The dog was an awesome swimmer and so had no problems crossing the river but it was too easily distracted by playing so he came in second to last.
More Chinese people travel during the Lunar New Year than any other time, as it is seen as a festival of great importance to be spent with family. Many traditions surround the festival, as do many superstitions. The Chinese are a highly superstitious culture–something that even had to be considered in intelligence work for timing of meetings and gifts for sources.
We once had a source that would never show up for a meeting on time – turns out we were scheduling during times that were considered bad luck and he was afraid spirits of angry ancestors roaming the earth would steal his soul for talking to us. But that’s a story for another time.
Colors are a large part of superstitious Chinese customs and certain colors can carry with them a lot of significance. Red is believed to ward off evil spirits and is an example of joy and happiness–seen everywhere during the Chinese New Year. White and black on the other hand are to be avoided as symbols of death and bad luck. Many a joke has been made about the use of black and white for weddings in the west.
Red also shows itself in the important custom of giving red envelopes containing lucky money, called lai see in Cantonese and hong bao in Mandarin. Traditionally, the notes must be crisp, packets should be received with both hands, and a customary blessing such as gung hei fat choi, which means “wishing you great happiness and fortune”, should be spoken when giving or receiving.
Other sights you are bound to see during Chines New Year are fireworks which are let off to scare away unlucky spirits. On the fifth day of the celebration, firecrackers are thrown to attract the attention of the legendary general Guan Yu, as Taoist deity revered for his bravery and loyalty.
Some other cool superstitions
Sweeping must be done before New Year’s Eve. Sweeping on the day of celebrations is said to clean out all the luck accumulated over the past year. While cleaning, avoid sweeping across the threshold. This represents sweeping the family away, so any dirt must be carried out the back door instead.
No washing or cutting your hair on New Year’s Day either since in Chinese, the word for hair is pronounced almost exactly the same as the word for fortune (fa). It is believed that washing it on this special day will rinse away your good luck for an entire year and cutting it represents cutting your life short.
These are just a few of the multitude of customs surrounding the New Year, so maybe it wasn’t exactly EVERYTHING you never knew you wanted to know. There are plenty of other interesting Chinese customs and superstitions to learn about and that all comes in handy when you’re trying to understand the adversary.
It is interesting to note that the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong , banned fortune telling and superstition after the 1949 revolution, but the occult has made a comeback since the still officially atheist country embraced economic reforms and began opening up in the late 1970s.
**Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia