The Legend of the Beast Nian – Origins of Chinese New Year

Our Chinese language teacher Wang Qixia shares with us the story of the Nian beast.

Have you ever wondered why Chinese people display red items and set off fireworks during the Chinese New Year?

Nian Beast

Long, long ago in ancient China, there was a fierce beast called “Nian”. Its head looked like a lion with a sharp horn on it which could be used to attack its prey. It lived at the bottom of the sea most of the time and would go ashore only on the last day of the lunar year to eat people and livestock. So on that day every year, people ate early, locked the livestock gate tightly and then fled into the distant mountains to avoid being eaten.

Then one year, an old man with silver hair came to one of the villagers and promised to drive away the cruel beast. However, all of the villagers were too scared to believe him and still fled before nightfall.

Nian broke into the village as usual and just as it was ready to butcher its prey and devour it, suddenly the sound of firecrackers arose together with bright flares. Nian trembled and dared not step forward. Then the old man stepped forward dressed in red, and this sent the beast into a frenzy. It was terrified and rushed away.

Nian Beast

The second day, after the villagers returned and found their houses and livestock safe and sound they realized that the old man was a celestial being who had come to help them. He also told them the three secret “weapons” to drive Nian away – “items that are red in colour”, “bright lights” and “firecrackers”.

From then on, on the last day of the year, people put up red couplets, hung up red lanterns, set off firecrackers, kept the lights on and stayed up late to keep safe from Nian. As time passed, this custom spread to almost every corner of China and thus developed into one of the most important festivals of Chinese people, the Lunar New Year`s Eve.

Pictures from Independent History 独家历史