Do you want your students to dig deeper into the stories they read, hear, or view? One way to do this is with high-interest topics. The Chinese New Year is an attention-grabbing topic with several legends your students are sure to love.
Historians believe the Chinese New Year started during the Shang Dynasty under Emperor Wu of Han (140-87 BC). Over time, people told many legends explaining the origins of today’s celebrations. This packet is divided into those legends.
The handout includes links to videos for each activity. Printable handouts, answer keys, and links to the Google Slides versions are included.
Activity #1 – The Legend of Nian
The legend of Nian tells of a wild beast that appeared each year in a village at midnight on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
To scare away the creature, the villagers use loud noises, bright lights, and the color red. Today, this is represented with firework displays, wearing the color red, and lanterns.
Begin your study by showing a Nian story.
Activity #2 – Lion Dance
Two dancers perform the Southern Lion Dance, one in the front who manipulates the head and another in the back forming the rear end of the animal. In the Northern Lion Dance only one performer wears the costume. This contrasts with the dragon dance which is performed by many people.
Opinions of where this dance originated vary greatly especially since lions do not naturally live in China. Some say the lion is a symbolic representation of Nian. Others say the lion is a mythical animal like a dragon.
People perform the lion dance to bring good luck during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).
Have students watch the animated short The Lion Dance and then complete the problem and solution chain.
Activity #3 – Fú
Students will need to know the significance of hanging the 福fú character upside down before watching the film for the meaning of the story to be fully understood. Background information follows the video below.
福 Fú is one of the Chinese characters. In the past, the character meant luck and fortune. Today, it means it means “Bless this house.” People use the symbol to express good wishes for the coming year.
The tradition to paste the 福 fú character on walls, especially on doors, has been practiced since the Song Dynasty (960-1127). When the symbol is pasted upside down (the reversed 福 fú) the meaning changes to mean wishing happiness. The meaning changes from ‘now’ to ‘in the future.’
The Legend of Zhu Yuanzhang
Zhu Yuanzhang was the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He planned to kill a family for insulting his wife, Empress Ma. Zhu told one of his guards to mark the home of the family with the Chinese character 福 fú, so his soldiers would be able to find the family. In order to avoid bloodshed, Empress Ma ordered every family in the area to paste a 福 fú on their doors.
Everyone followed this order. One illiterate family pasted the character upside down. On the second day, the soldiers went out to find the house marked with the 福 fú. When they told the emperor that all homes had the 福fú symbol on their doors but one was reversed, Zhu ordered the soldiers to kill the family that had pasted the 福fú the wrong way.
Empress Ma stopped her husband. She told him that the family had intentionally pasted the 福 fú upside down. She said the upside-down symbol meant 福fú comes today. (Good fortune comes today.) The emperor agreed to release the family. No innocent blood was spilled. From this time on, people have pasted the 福 fú upside down to express good fortune and luck will come and commemorate Empress Ma.
Activity #4 – The Great Race – The Chinese Zodiac Story
The Chinese Zodiac is a fun topic for students to study. The handout includes a list of links to the animated story. Show one of these. Students then complete the provided cloze exercise and use the Zodiac chart to find their Chinese Zodiac animal.
Activity #5 – Giving Red Envelopes for the Chinese New Year
I recommend that students answer all the questions before they see the mystery puzzle to prevent guessing. The puzzle is symmetrical and follows a pattern. Students can easily guess how to color the puzzle without seeing the questions.
“The Mystery Object Puzzle” is set up in groups of 12 questions. Students answer 12 questions after each activity.
Activity #6 – The Chinese New Year
The packet includes all activities from the post. It also contains 12 envelopes (one for each of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals). Print these on red paper for a quick activity for students during their study of the Chinese New Year.
If you missed the handout link earlier, here it is again.