The Monster Nián: A Chinese New Year story

A Chinese New Year Story

Ever wondered about where the Chinese traditions around Chinese New Year come from? In the early 20th century some writers came up with this neat story to explain where some traditions might have come from:

The story goes that there was a demon monster called Nián (which translates as “year” in English) living in the mountains outside a small village. Each year during the Spring Festival, Nián would attack the village to steal grain, livestock and even children to take back to his cave.

One year, an old man in red clothes visited the village during Chinese New Year. The next day, the villagers woke up to find that Nián had stayed away. A few of them thought that the old man’s arrival and Nián’s loss of appetite was too much of a coincidence.

They stayed up that night to watch the old man in his red cloak. As they stared out of their windows they were amazed to see that as Nián approached the village, the old man mounted the monster and rode it around the village. He kept riding Nián until morning, when the monster ran back to its cave.

They confronted the old man over this, and he said that he couldn’t ride Nián and keep them safe forever. He told them that Nián was really a coward, and he was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. Every Spring Festival from then, the villagers pasted red all around the village, wore red clothes and set off fire crackers to keep Nián away.

This story is used to explain the traditions of at Chinese New Year of setting off firecrackers and wearing red clothes.

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