Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The year of the pig

pig.jpgAccording to the Chinese zodiac, Sunday began the Year of the Pig. Down below are the Chinese words for the 12 animals of the zodiac. Write a 12 line poem that tells what each animal is doing right this moment. You can begin each line with "At this moment ..." which can give it a chanting rhythm or just the first line. (Or, of course, whatever inspires you.)

Unless you know Chinese you won't know which animals are which, of course! It's an opportunity to let the sounds (or your best guess at the sounds) inspire you. You can tie them to real world animals or make up your own.


New Year's for the Chinese is a time, similar to American Thanksgiving, when scattered families gather together. Traditionally the celebration is 15 days long but officially people only get a week off.

Families traditionally decorate their entryways with New Year's poems written on red paper called duilian (spring couplets). A traditional duilian "expresses a person's spiritual aspirations, feelings and thoughts of hope, faith, and respect towards the divine."
The requirements for a duilian are two lines, containing the same number of characters, usually ranging between five to ten characters in length. The rhythm and the meaning of the two lines must match up."
There's a very interesting article Writing Chinese New Year Poetry: Recalling childhood memories of an ancient tradition by Jason Liu:

Here's an excerpt:
Below is an example of a duilian , loosely translated into English:
May the shining stars bless our generations.
May our great virtue always bring success.
When I was little, during the Cultural Revolution, my father, who was a professor, was labeled as an "intellectual," and as punishment we were sent to live in the countryside in the northeast of China.

We lived in a small village by the name of Taihe, meaning "very quiet and peaceful village." The place was indeed very isolated, surrounded by mountains and rivers, and a long distance from Changchun, the state capital of Jilin Province. Winters were very cold with temperatures dropping down to an average of minus 20 degrees Celsius.

The villagers did not have much education, so it was hard for everyone to get help creating their New Year duilian . After entering the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, people would flock to our house, bringing their red paper, to request my father to write their duilian for them. There were over a hundred families in the village, and every family's duilian had to be different.

From the time I was seven years old, I would assist my father in creating duilian . I remember gradually learning from him how to write a poem and practice my calligraphy. Sometimes my father would say the first line, and I would create the second.

Duilian are said to have originated about three thousand years ago. When working on our calligraphy together, my father would tell me the ancient myth that was recorded almost 2,000 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty.

If you want to know which Chinese word goes with which animal, click on the Comments.

1 comment:

Joyce Fetteroll said...

The English meanings of the Chinese animal names:

shu -- rat
niu -- ox
hu -- tiger
tu -- rabbit
long -- dragon
she -- snake
ma -- horse
yang -- sheep
hou -- monkey
ji -- rooster
gou -- dog
zhu -- pig