Spring Festival Couplets (Chunlian)
By tradition the Chinese love to paste couplets on their gateposts or door panels when celebrating Spring Festival. The couplets are generally written on red paper and the sentences contain auspicious meanings. In the region south of the Yangtze River, couplets are inscribed on yellow paper during funerals.
The Spring Festival couplets originated in the peachwood charms against evil (hung on the gate on New Year's Eve) in ancient China. Legend has it that the names of two celestials beings who were conquerors of demons and goblins are written down on pieces of peachwood to be hung on the gate to protect a family from evil and disaster and greet the coming of an auspicious year. Later, people simply drew the images of these two celestial beings ontheir doors. Looking ferocious with glaring eyes and sharp weapons, they were enough to scare off demons of all descriptions. Even today, pictures of the two gods can still be seen in ancient buildings. Later, people simplified the ritual by writing couplets on the peachwood to give expression to thier best wishes.
In the begining putting Spring Festival Couplets on the doors was a privilege for aristocratic families by which to sing praise of their ancestors' meritorious deeds and show off their wealth. Later they became popular among commoners. Byteh Song Dynasty the couplets had become part of local life.
It is no easy job to compose a good couplet because it requires symmetry in every field: sentence to sentence, noun to noun, verb to verbg, and numbers to numbers. And it should sound poetic and reflect the actual situation of the family.
Today, Spring Festival couplets have acquired a new meaning - they have become a folk form to eulogize social development and people's better life.
"Fu" and "Fu" Upside Down
The Chinese character "fu" means good fortune and happiness, and during Spring Festival virtually every family would paste it upside down on their doors in the hope that the word could bring blessings to their families. As to why "fu" should be placed upside down there are three interpretations.
The first interpretation has the practice of pasting "fu" during Spring Festival originate in Jiang Ziya of the Zhou Dynasty (11th Century - 256 B.C.). When Jiang Ziya was made a god, his wife demanded to be made a goddess. "After I married you I was always in poverty in my life," Lord Jiang said. "Seems you are destined to be poor. So let me appoint you as the Goddess of Poverty." Not knowing what being the Goddess of Poverty held in store for her, his wife was nevertheless happy about becoming a goddess. Cheerfully, she asked, "Now that I'm the Goddess of Poverty, where shall be my domain?" Jiang Replied, "You are off limits whereever there is good fortune." When the residents got word of Jiang's instruction, they wrote the character "fu" on paper and pasted it on the doors and windows of their houses to keep the Goddess of Poverty away. Thus pasting "fu" during the Spring Festival became a Chinese tradition.
The second interpretation ascribes the practice to Zhu Yuanzhuang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty. One year, on the 15th of the first Lunar month, Zhu went incognito on a fact-finding inspection tour. When he arrived at a town he saw people huddle together and watch a painting that poked fun at women of west Anhui refusing a bare-footed woman holding a large watermelon in her arms. The emperor, however, misconstrued the meaning of the painting, thinking that people were laughing at his wife, Empress Ma, who came exactly from west Anhui. Returning to his palace he sent some soldiers to look into the matter. He particularly wanted to know who were those people who watched and commented on the painting, and who was the painter. He also asked the soldiers to paste "fu" on the doors of those who did not join in the crowd. Two days later, another team of soldiers arrived in town to arrest people from the houses whose doors were not marked with "fu" on charges of scoffing at the queen. Since then the Chinese have been pasting "fu" on the doors of their houses to shun trouble.
The third interpretation attributes the practice of Fu Jin, the princes of Gong of the Qing Dynasty. Once, on the lunar New Year's Eve, the butler of the mansion of the Prince of Gong wanted to curry favour with his master. He followed past practice and had several large "fu" written and pasted on the front gates of the warehouse and the mansion. One of the men sent to do the pasting was illiterate and put the character upside down on the front gate of the mansion. Enraged, the prince wanted to punish the perpetrator by whipping him. The butler, who had the gift of the gab, hastened to go down on his knees and pleaded, "your humble servant often heard people say that your Excellency is a man of longevity and greet fortune. Indeed, great fortune did arrive today; it is a good sign." The prince was convinced. "This is why the passers-by" were saying that great fortune had arrived in the mansion of the Princess of Gong." he thought. "Once an
dauspicious saying is repeated for a thousand times, my wealth could increase by 10,000 taels of gold and silver." He then awarded that butler and the servant who pasted the paper upside down fifty taels of silver. Since then the practice of pasting "fu" upside down during Spring Festival has become a tradition followed by both imperial aristocrats and commoners.