Sunday, July 8, 2012

CHINESE NEW YEAR (All rights reserved.)STRANGE CEREMONIES. By FREDEBICK STTJBBS, FJt.G.S. During my residence in South China I had the somewhat uncommon experience of witnessing the ceremonies observed by the Chinese in their villages and temples at the New Year. The reader will probably be aware that the Chinese celebrate their New Year, which is some six or seven weeks later than ours, with great ceremony and rejoicing. As this season approaches, the sale of clothes, food, candles, incensestk&s becomes very brisk. There is also a tremendous sale of red paper with inscriptions in black paint, to be paeted on lintels when New Year's Day arrives. All productive labour is stoppefl, shops and warehouses are closed for the week, ceremonial visits are paid, family gatherings take place, and if for any reason a Chinese is unable to return home at this season it is regarded as a great misfortune. Financial matters axe straightened out, it being regarded as a matter of honour that all accounts should be paid by the end of the year. or some new arrangement made. That is the reason why there is generally a change in the bank rate at the New Year. Then there is any amount of feasting and noise, and displays of flags, inscriptions, and fireworks, and—l have had personal reasons for knowing— thieves become increasingly active and daring. New clothes are worn, and if a man cannot afford to buy a new suit he frequently hires one. Shops, houses, furniture, etc, are clsaned up; lanterns and good-lnck papers renewed. It is everybody's birthday. A child born in the Old Year, say in November, is regarded as beginning his second year on New Year's Day. In the early morning parents receive tbe formal salutations and prostrations of their children, schoolmasters are greeted 'with obeisances of their pupils accompanied by such exclamations as "I respectfully wish you joy" each child receives a gift of Cash, the smallest Chinese coin, wrapped up in red paper, and tea and sweetmeats are offered in every house. Over the door freeh papere are pasted with such inscriptions as "May the five Blessings, longevity, riches, health, virtue, and a natural death, descend upon the house," or, over a shop, "May rich customers continually enter the. door." Gifts, are often made to dependents, employees and customers. The second day of the New Year is the Ladies' Day, when the women go on excursions into the country. Another day is the Feast of Tombs, when the men-folk go to the graveyards to worship and make offerings and obeisances at their family graves. It would indeed, be difficult for anyone who had not witnessed it, to realise the enthusiasm and gladness surpassing that of any season of the Christian year. suPEKsrmous obskbvances. In addition to these social and family celebrations there are many religious and superstitious observances, and it was some of these that I was specially privileged' id see, and shall now try to describe. On the occasion to which I refer, I learned that on a certain night there were to he great rejoicings and religions ceremonies at the large village of Kong Chuen. I think the villagers felt rather flattered at the idea that a foreigner could be sufficiently interested in them as to travel so vast- a distance. Our guide, an old man who had 'been operated on by my companion, led tbe way to the first temple. Again onr road lay along narrow, mnddy. elevated paths, about two feet wide, with water on either side, and in the darkness one had to be very careful of one's steps so as not to slip into the water. We found the temple a fairly large one, about 80ft In width, with wide, open entrance. Outside were boys holding lighted lanterns; inside there was- an outer court, where food, candles, etc were being sold; and children were, -playing, and fireworks were being made. Passing through this we came to a huge table which ha a heen placed in front of the Ancestral Altar, laden with the offering- of orahippera,—roast pigs, poultry, pieces of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, ornaments, and smoking incense sticks, all brightly illuminated by scores of lamps and candles. Behind the altar' were the Ancestral Tablets, sixteen rows, one above the other, 'each tablet bearing the name of an ancestor of tbe clan and each row representing a whole generation. is here that ancestor-worship takes place, the worshipper burning incense sticks and bowing before the tablets, each of which, according to his belief, contains one of the three spirits of his forefathers, one spirit being buried with the' body, another imprisoned in the unseen world, and the third in the tablet. This Ancestor Worship is older even than Confucius, and is practised in China by all classes and faitbs, except the Christian. There is an Ancestral temple in nearly every village, and it is believed that the Ancestral spirits may return to the abodes of the living and reward or punish them for their faithfulness, or neglect, in offering tbe necessary sacrifices. On either aids of tbe central tier of tablets, described above, were hideous wooden idols, also with burning candles, incense, and offerings in front of them] and on the wails pictures describing the deeds of deceased heroes. Leaving this temple we' made our way, led' by otir guide, to a second temple. This was at the other end of the village and it was no easy thing to pick our way along the narrow paths and amongst the mud holes, heaps of rubbish, and filth of every description. In the parte illuminated by lanterns we could see the ruins of. many honees that had been destroyed by the great flood of 1915, and, here and there, great fish-ponds. These ponds are common in South China, being made by the villagere for breeding fish and are very profitable. Just before we arrived at our destination we had to pass through a narrow passage. Here we saw several large fires lighted, women tending them. These were to frighten away evil spirits and purify the paths for the idols who were jabout to traverse it. Then there was a great shouting, a blaring of month instruments, a beating of drains and gongs, and hundreds of men and boys rushing along, almost sweeping us off our feet. These constituted the advance guard of the procession. men, rushing along at their utmost speed, with loud shouts and beating of gong* and with innumerable torches and lanterns, came, at brief intervals, Auckland Star, Volume LIII, Issue 95, 22 April 1922, Page 24

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