Chinatown New Year’s Chinese lions

It was a cold, rainy day for the Vancouver Chinese New Year parade, and I pretty much missed the whole thing because I couldn’t get down there soon enough. I only managed to get a shot of these lions:

Several teams of lions, each accompanied by a drum-and-cymbal group on wheels, went around to different storefronts in Chinatown doing a little dance and lighting firecrackers.

Businesses were hanging cabbage and hóngbāos from their awnings. I think the lions took the hóngbāo as their pay and “ate” the cabbage, which ended up all over the sidewalk, but I’m not sure. That’s a pretty sketchy part of Vancouver and some random guy flinging cabbage wouldn’t necessarily be all that out of place.

For the significance of the cabbage, see “Two questions re: cabbages and toilets”. A hóngbāo (红包) is the special red envelope with money in it that people give one another during Chinese New Year and at weddings. One of our foreigner friends in Tianjin had an interesting hóngbāo experience this Chinese New Year while staying with a Chinese family.

6 thoughts on “Chinatown New Year’s Chinese lions”

  1. Hey Joel. The school I work at has a lion dance team that performs every year at the multicultural show. The kids teach themselves and pass it on year to year to the younger ones. It is pretty cool.

  2. I feel I must say something here!

    I am not sure of the right English translation of all vegetables, but in your post “Two questions re: cabbages and toilets” the vegetable shaped into a candle is called 白菜 (white cabbage, literally). Jade scupture is often shaped into a 白菜 because: (i) 白菜 can well take in the green and white colors of jade (isn’t it lovely, the 翡翠白菜 (jade white cabbage) in Taipei Museum?)(ii)白菜 symbolizes the concept of “青青白白” (QÄ«ngQÄ«ngbáibái, “green green white white”), which means purity and innocense. That’s why a scholar in old China would like to keep a jade 白菜 with him, and a bride would bring it into her husband’s family when getting married (in old China). The 翡翠白菜 in Taipei was part of the trousseau brought by JǐnfÄ“i, a concubine of Emporer 光绪Guāngxù.

    On the other hand, the cabbage you saw the lion ate is called 生菜 (ShÄ“ng Cài), which literally means “growing vegetable“), which,as you mentioned, pronunciation is very similar to 生财 (ShÄ“ng Cái, “growing fortune”). And the word 生 also indicates prosperity and liveliness, so cantonese have this “lions eat 生菜” thing in new year. It does not exist in other parts of China as I observe. (I am a cantonese myself).

  3. To correct myself, the jade white cabbage in Taipei museum is called “翠玉白菜” (Cuìyùbáicài)instead of “翡翠白菜” (fÄ›icuìbáicài).

  4. Hey, thanks so much for the information! We loved visiting the National Palace Museum when we lived in Taibei. I remember being impressed with the jade cabbage, but at the time we didn’t understand why an artist would choose to carve a cabbage — cabbages hold no special meaning for us in our culture at all, in fact, they’re really boring! Of course, it makes good sense when you understand the cultural allusions — then it’s even more impressive.

    I remember that the cabbage also had crickets on it, but I forget what they symbolized. Do you remember?

  5. After research I found (no idea without research): The two insects are a long-horn grasshopper and a locust, which symbolize reproductivity. So the white cabbage with a long-horn grasshopper and a locust symbolizes that Jin3fei1 is “清清白白” (pure and innocent) and “多子多孙” (will give birth to many children).

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