Chinese New Year celebrations have begun to usher in the Year of the Monkey. Across the world Chinese communities got into party mood on 6 February. The monkey is the ninth animal in the Chinese zodiac calendar, which goes in twelve year cycles. The zodiac’s creatures are so named in order from the ancient myth of ‘the Great Race’.
The story tells of twelve animals who were summoned to a meeting by the Jade Emperor. In order to get to the meeting, the animals would have to cross a river. The Emperor ruled that henceforth the years would be named for each animal according to the order in which they arrived to the meeting.
Each animal and year are associated with certain characteristics. Also, the zodiac sign has a corresponding element, which recurs every 60 years. In 2016, this combination is the Fire Monkey, whose attributes are said to be ‘ambitious and adventurous, but irritable’.
Fireworks dragon dancing festivals were brought alive in cities as disparate as Manila, Glasgow, and Mexico City. London, home to 124,250 Chinese, a third of the entire Chinese population of the UK, did not disappoint.
Earlier this year, the historic Chinatown district in London’s Soho area welcomed plans for a new gate, to be the largest of its kind in the entire UK. The fourth of Chinatown’s magnificent gates, the new gate strengthens the character and beauty of an area which has been home to a large Chinese contingent for several decades.
Among London’s many events to celebrate Chinese New Year, was the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House. Fifty life-size lanterns, including a 66-metre long dragon, are displayed outside the venue, illuminated in dazzling colour, and on show until the 6th of March. Chinatown’s traditional New Year parade is planned for the 14th of February, when the official celebrations in London are set to begin.
Back in China, old traditions hope to see a boost. The age-old practice of giving a monetary gift in a red envelope has gone online, as companies attempt to cash-in on Chinese New Year. In the form of money-saving coupons, ‘digital red envelopes’ have become a staple among China’s big-name internet companies. China’s equivalent of the What’s App faced such demand from donors of billions of virtual red envelopes that the WeChat website “wobbled” under the demand.
As a method of driving up interest in the rapidly growing mobile payments market, China’s internet titans wage war. The search engine Baidu promises $900m in discounts for videos and fast food, promoting Baidu Wallet. Competing is online marketplace Alibaba, staging a giveaway of $120m worth of discounts to coincide with the annual Spring Festival Gala variety show, airing on Saturday to an audience of 700m.
The Year of the Monkey may herald a resurgence in the vanishing tradition of trained monkeys who were a key part of Chinese entertainment for 2000 years, but have been fading from popular culture. The monkey trainers of China’s Xinye County hope the dawn of the Year of the Monkey will give their industry a much-needed boost.