Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 23, 2007

The pig - a lovely and genuine animal

I have always wanted to go to Kansas State University's Chinese New Year celebration, but other things always seemed to get in the way. But this year, I made a special effort. Jianqin, whose English name is Jenny, was the director of the gala. She is a K-State graduate student in my department and she had encouraged all of us to attend.

On the day of the festival, winter had returned with a blustery fury. We bundled up, but husband Art, oldest daughter Mariya, Mom and I were still glad to reach the warmth of McCain Auditorium. The Chinese New Year is a major holiday for the Chinese, so the seats filled quickly.

We had fun watching people before the show started. Behind us a group of young women with purple shirts chattered excitedly in Chinese. Parents carried little children in bright red or blue outfits and many women wore red silk tops. The color red is significant in Chinese New Year festivals as it is believed to scare away evil spirits.

Jenny and several others served as MCs for the event. The women, attired in sparkling evening gowns, and the men, dressed in suits, announced each of the numbers, first in Chinese and then in English.

The two-hour variety show had something for each of us. Art liked the singing, which had a distinctive nasal tone. Mariya preferred the flute player. Mom liked what she called the "sleeve dancers," a group of performers from Kansas City who were dressed in bright blue Tibetan folk costumes with flowing sleeves. My favorite was the Tai Chi demonstration, complete with red hand-held fans. We all got a kick out of 12 American students who are taking Chinese at K-State. Each represented one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac and, in turn, said a few words in Chinese, delighting the native Chinese speakers in the audience.

The day after the festival, I asked Jenny about the significance of one of the animals - the golden pig, which is the 2007 symbol. She told me that Chinese astrology has a 12-year cycle of animals, referred to as the Chinese Zodiac. The fortune-telling system is derived from the animals of the Zodiac - rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig - and the five elements of Chinese thought, which are wood, fire, earth, gold and water.

Jenny explained that the ancient Chinese astronomers called the five major planets by the names of the element they were associated with: Venus corresponds to metal or gold, Jupiter to wood, Mercury to water, Mars to fire and Saturn to earth. According to Chinese astrology, the position of these planets, along with the positions of the sun, moon and any comets in the sky, as well as a person's time of birth and Zodiac sign, can determine a person's destiny.

The combination of the 12 Zodiac signs and the five elements - 12 multiplied by five - creates a 60-year cycle, starting with wood rat and ending with water pig.

Art mentioned that he had heard a report on the radio that hospitals in China are gearing up for a banner year. This year's combination of gold and pig "is a very significant one," Jenny said. "Couples are planning to give birth to their babies this year, so that the little ones can have all those things in their personality and destinies."

"Anything gold is perceived to be precious by the Chinese people," Jenny said. "It means wealth, health, luck, wisdom and things like that." Then she added, "And we know a pig is a lovely and genuine animal."

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