The Year of the Horse

In 2014 the Chinese New Year will start on January 31. The Chinese New Year is called 春节 chunjie, Spring Festival, because according to the lunar calendar it marks the beginning of spring. Obviously it is a very important festivity in China and a national holiday that stretches for a week (that is very long for Chinese holiday standards!). The Chinese New Year is the worst moment to go on a trip in China because absolutely everybody is traveling back home, the roads and trains are collapsed and the plane tickets are extremely expensive because of the high demand. This is because in China lots of people don’t work in their hometown, but they migrate to bigger cities to find a job with a better salary. For Chinese New Year it is almost mandatory to go back home and spend the festivity with your parents and relatives, thus producing the largest annual human migration in the world that even has a special name: 春运 chunyun. This year 3,6 billion  trips are expected to be made. Getting a train ticket can prove to be a complicated task…

millions of people queueing

The line to buy a ticket.

2014 will be the Year of the Horse. That means there are red stuffed horses in every store and supermarket and posters and advertising in the streets also display horses, preferibly red. Red is the color for good luck. The desktop calendar a supplier sent us and that my colleague put on her desk also has horses:

horse calendar

Not really what I would like to put on my desk (among all the calendars the suppliers sent us I chose one with traditional paintings).

Chinese people love word games and Chinese is the perfect language for that, given the great amount of homophones that exist. The horse brings them a word game they couldn’t resist. But let me explain: horse is 马 ma and fast is 马上 mashang, which literally means “on the horse”. It makes sense: when you ride a horse you go faster than when you walk! So, the Chinese sites like Weibo and other social networks have been flooded with “Happy New Year” pictures like this:

money on horseback

马上有钱: literally “there is money on the horse”, but also “you will have money soon”, or “fast”.

With these pictures Chinese people wish prosperity to their family and friends. They are very direct! In my country we would also wish love, or health. But Chinese people love money and their way of expressing care for others is wishing them to have money. In fact, a typical New Year greeting is 恭喜发财 gongxi facai, “congratulations and get rich”.

After the pictures of money on horseback other versions of good wishes appeared:

house on horseback

马上有房: you will have a house soon. Chinese people like buying property instead of renting, despite the unaffordable housing prices.

马上有对象: “there are two elephants on the horse” sounds like “you will find a partner soon”. If you are over 25 and single in China, everybody will try to introduce you to prospective marriage partners. If you are a woman, being single is almost a crime.

kid on horseback

马上有孩子: have a kid soon. Chinese people are obsessed with having kids and that is related to them not liking the idea of single women.

car on horseback

马上有车: you will have a car soon.

train ticket on horseback

Some people would just wish for a train ticket back home!

eggplant on horseback

Why choosing when you can have everything? Some people wish you will have everything soon. (茄 qie, “eggplant”, sounds similar to “everything” 一切).

But for sure the weirdest greeting was the one I came across in a bookstore:

Doraemon on horseback

Doraemon will come soon???

Happy New Year of the Horse to you all!