Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Chinese New Year Songs

I (teach and) sing two different Chinese New Year songs with groups. One is:

Xin nian kuai le, Gong xi fa cai,
Xin nian kuai le, Gong xi fa cai,
Xin nian dao.

For Gong Xi, Gong Xi ni, I teach the chorus and sing the verse myself. The chorus is:
Gong xi, Gong xi, Gong xi ni,
A, Gong xi, Gong xi, Gong xi ni,

Kiddy House has new English words for this traditional Chinese New Year Song titled Smile at everyone you see.

Chinese for Families has a pdf for a Chinese New Year song posted on their website but I can't find the tune.

To hear a lovely (although nontraditional) Chinese New Year song, visit.

Can Teach has English lyrics about Chinese New Year set to common American/English tunes at http://www.canteach.ca/elementary/songspoems54.html

Collections of Chinese New Year MIDI files - Some of these are good for parading!

Or see, Music Lesson Plans

Last updated: February 2007

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Nai-ni Chen's Year of the Dog Disappoints

We started the Chinese New Year with the Nai-Ni Chen Dancers special Chinese Zodiac production that incorporates dance, contemporary music, and martial arts. Each year they create dances based on the Chinese Zodiac animal and I had always heard great reviews – but never gone. In 2006, we saw traditional Chinese dances and three of the company’s new dances: The Double Lion Dance, the Peacock Dance and a Double Spear Dance. One seemed especially long for the younger audience members as it was mostly instrumental with only a tiny bit of dancing.

I think the educational version would have been better for us - I heard good reviews about that performance. (I heard that they 'taught' a bit of body percussion demonstration in that - although I don't know if that is what they called it.) I enjoyed much of what I saw - but even for me, as an adult, 'that' instrumental piece was quite long!

The “Year of the Dog” was not written up last time I checked, but I recommend their other study guides.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

The Year of the Dog is Here.

Since this more an educational site than really date specific, I have gone back and added information to past posts. You may want to see the new recipes in my Chinese Food entry, or just wander around.

Suggestions welcome. All the best for you and yours!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chinese Characters (for the holidays)

I just found Good Characters site that shows how to write "Gong xi fa cai!" wishing you a prosperous new year (a.k.a. Happy New Year) - including the right stroke order. And if you are a child - and want to reply with the "classic" give me a red envelope line, you can also see how to write that "Hong bao na lai". The reply is both rude and cute but it really is for children.

"Hong bao" in Mandarin (or "lai see" in Caontonese) are the traditional lucky red envelopes. You can give them to children, or people in the generation younger that you for New Years and you can use them to present money to people on other occasions as well. Holidays - not for paying bills or the mundane!

"Fu" is luck and for Chinese New Year you want to post it upside down - because of the sounds of the phrase "Fu dao le" it is then read as "luck is here". This is the only time that I know where you can get away with posting the characters upside down. Care2 Greeting cards takes about it toward the end of their Chinese New Year page, and they have a "Fu" e-card that (yes) shows the stroke order, and then turns it upside-down for you. Luck to you in the coming year!

The stroke order really is important to create characters that look balanced. Even a beginner using a ball point pen will have a much better looking character if they follow stroke order. I have had people who know no Chinese look at two attempts at creating a character - they so far have always said that the one that used the correct stroke order looks 'better' or more balanced or more artisitic.

Chinese New Year characters
is gold. (no stroke order.)

The Good Characters is a company specializing in the art and science of Chinese naming - they say they can create "good names" for you or your business in Chinese. I am not endorsing them, I don't know them and I don't usually link to commercial sites. I just love that you can see the character being created. They also have a page for the literal "Happy New Year" Xin Nian Kuai le.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Spring Festival Couplets - Chun Lian

You may want to look at Greg Choong's photo of "Chun Lian & Red Latterns". The origin of chun lian is given in this article from Australia's Chinatown. Pure Insight provides this information.

Some couplets are written using simple characters, but I have nto yet found a complete pair that is good for beginners. I will keep loooking. You may be able to write these:

Lǎoshào píng'ān –All is well.

Dà jí dà lì – Good luck and great prosperity; expression of good wishes.

Dàdìhuíchūn – Spring has returned to the land.

Watch your stroke order please - they will look so much better! Here's the glossary:

lǎo - old
shào - few, little
老少 lǎoshào - the old and young
píng - level, even
ān - still, quiet
平安 - safe & sound

dà - big
jí - lucky, auspicious
大吉 - great, good fortune
lì - benefit, profit

大地 - earth, mother earth, world
- return
- spring (season)
回春 - bring back to life

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Body percussion

As you might suspect, "body percussion" is the sounds that you can make with your body. You might be able to picture this more easily thinking of martial arts than of traditional Chinese dance. It has certainly been incorporated into modern Chinese dance. Think more of the sound of your hand hitting your chest or your foot, or your elbow on your hand, than the sound of your hands clapping.

It may be harder to find good "body percussion" references than I thought. Certainly dancers from Japan and New Zealand today also practice body percussion - but I am not sure of the historical background in either country. I have seen referecnes to this as an Australia art from - but I don't know how similar it might be to what I saw. It is certainly more than the claps and ham-bones used to teach basic rhythm patterns in the USA!

This Chinese Lion Dance lesson plan for 4th grade, talks about percussion instruments and suggests that students try the rhythms using body percussion before trying the instruments. The unit was designed to cover 3 sessions.

Crafts for Upper Elementary

Chinese dragons.  Have them compare & contrast Eastern & Western dragons and draw them or do dragon origami. To help you, look at Eastern dragons and learn about dragons in general:

Origami covers lots of skills:(advanced)direction following, math: symmetry, geometric figures, ... Check out my Dog & Dragon, or Paperfold Pig origami. (If you think following directions is 'too easy' try having one child describe what to do and another attempt it.)

Make lanterns from "hong bao" envelopes - or any red rectangles. Ideas at:
Chinese Lantern Handicrafts for kids or my discussion of Hong Bao Lanterns.

Chinese knots. Use what is called "rat-tail", it is smooth and easy to use but stiff enough to hold a shape. You can show them knots - or if you have a bit of time, you can make the basic knot and have them "trace" it with a second thread. (I actually find it easier to tie the "double coin knot" myself than to trace it but it does take a while to figure out how to explain it!) For a diagram of 4 basic knots:

Have them try some Chinese Paper Cutting - and show them the possibilities. Chinese Papercuts includes a list of samples that you can see online. You may also want to read the story behind papercuts or a paper cut lesson plan for 5th & 6th graders and their example paper cuts. Paper Cuttings talks about the histiry of this art and describes the various forms with a few pictures. Chinese Paper Cuts divides the art into three categories.

Have them try Chinese Calligraphy: Chinese New Year decorations are a great excuse. Or find out what a Chinese Chun Lian (New Year's Couplet) is and have them try their hand at some. If that is too much, try one character, fu (luck) (when posted upside-down is "luck comes"). Care2 Greeting cards takes about it toward the end of their Chinese New Year page, and they have a "Fu" e-card that (yes) shows the stroke order, and then turns it upside-down for you. Or read more on Chinese writing or Chinese Calligraphy in general

Chinese New Year's Greetings (characters) to Color: Decorate your room with Chinese New Year greetings from Childbook.com. Students can color these jpg images for the classroom or bring them home for friends and family. (Stroke order is not given.)

Happy New Year
Good Fortune/Prosperity

or, really Write Chinese: Have students become acquainted with Chinese Calligraphy and Chinese ideograms or characters. (Please tell them about stroke order. In fact write a character following the stroke order and then in some other order and see if the students find that one just looks right, one more appealing.)

Not a craft - have them make/fold their own spring rolls, or wonton. You may want to take them home to cook & then run them back - depending on what facilites your school has. I bet you could fry the spring rolls in an electric fry pan but check with your first that it does get hot enough.

Not a craft - but focus on the lantern festival instead of Chinese New Year. Have them try to solve traditional lantern festival riddles (in English), or make their own.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Heart of the Lion energizes!

Heart of the Lion, Chinese New Year multi-media dance education program with H.T. Chen & Dancers in NYC. We went before the New Year and came back energized - and very interested in learning more about body percussion.

After the show, we went out for dim sum, and then returned for an afternoon choerography session. Wow!

Enroute to lunch we saw a two lion "lion dance" dance for an association with drums, cymbals, and receiving 'hong bao'. As we were walking around I am sure I heard firecrackers as the lions went to other associations and businesses.

Check out pictures of the H.T. Chen's work at:

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ready for the Kitchen God to report?

Next Friday, the 23rd, the Kitchen God returns to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor on the family's behavior during the year.

Traditionally Chinese families had a good dinner to send him off with a good report, and might make an offering of sweets or smear honey on his lips so he will say sweet things to the Jade Emperor about the family, or he may be fed sticky things (like nian gao rice cakes) so that his mouth is stuck and he can not say much of anything! (Think about how much you can say with a spoonful of peanut butter in your mouth.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

What Year Is It?

The most authoritative discussion I have found of “what year is it on the Chinese calendar” is from The Mathematics of the Chinese Calendar by Helmer ASLAKSEN, Department of Mathematics at the University of Singapore. It seems that most overseas Chinese and the Chinatown of San Francisco will be calling the Year of the Dog starting in 2006, 4704.

My summary: The Chinese started the year count with each emperor and did not use a continuous count for the years. There are several possibilities for what year it is. However, the one year issue – and why you may see 4703 and 4704 both as dates for the Year of the Dog starting on January 29th, 2006 – could be due to at least two different reasons. It could be due to starting with zero instead of year 1 for an epoch, or the difference may come from those who believe that the (mythical) Yellow Emperor started his reign with the Winter Solstice. (So less than a month later, the 2nd year of his reign would have started at the Chinese New Year.)

Dog and Dragon Origami

Origami (so what’s the China connection?)

Origami is the word for Japanese paper folding, but there is also a tradition of paper folding in China. Some historians believe that it started not longer after Ts'ai Lun invented paper in China in A.D. 105. Many say both paper and paper folding were introduced to Japan in the late 6th century by Buddhist monks. Unfortunately, there are no records of Chinese paper folding, and the oldest Japan records are from 1797 (in the 18th century). Separately paperfolding originated in Spain (Arabs brought the secret of paper to them in the 12th century).

Children can benefit from origami in many ways – the listening skills, sequencing, fine motor, attention, math skills (geometry, congruence, symmetry). I just saw a piece on the web about how it helps in using both sides of the brain. Whether you research it or not, Enjoy!


Look at these great origami dog sculptures, or this Grand Dragon (instructions are not available for it) - only if you will still be willing to try something simpler. Directions are available for the rest of the origami that is listed.

For a simple origami dog face you need only a square of paper and a pencil or something to draw the face. You can also make it "talk". (Or try a similar cat.) This dog's head uses a different approach.

There are some (easy but) harder dogs too. The "Patient dog" can be folded two different ways, one with a tail and one without. One might be easier for you to do than the other.

If you are interested, learn more about Origami Basics.

To try this advanced dog you may also need to download the turkey instructions which is the base.

Dragons are generally harder to fold. My friend Lorna found some simple ones from Tammy Lee. One based on the fortune teller you probably learned in school and a basic dragon puppet. When you are ready, Marc Kirschenbaum’s Rearing Dragon (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6) is a high intermediate dragon. This Eastern Dragon [PDF file of instructions] is a also high intermediate.

The Year of the Pig starts in 2007 I am ready with a pig, pig's head and a picture of The World's Largest Origami Pig. When the cycle begins again in two years, with the year of the rat, I will want to remember this simple mouse and these which I can not fold!

For more see my Musical Mandarin Paperfolding entry.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Research for Older Children

  • Create a Chinese New Year timeline of what happens when. The time line should probably go from lunar dates 12/16 (or at least 12/24) to 1/15. When does the Kitchen God go to Heaven? When are there Lion Dances?
  • Compare and contract New Year celebrations around the world. Or Chinese New Year with their own celebrations.

  • Research Lion Dances and Dragon Dances. Compare and contrast.
  • Research Lantern Festival (1/15 lunar). It is also called “Yuan Hsiao Chie” (the Festival of the Night of the First Full Moon) although “Lantern Festival” is the English name. The Lantern Festival began during the Han Dynasty (206B.C. - A.D.220). Have students research important events that occurred during that period and make a time line. Resources include:

Children's CNY Crafts and Activities

Children's CNY Crafts and Activities

While these activities are split roughly into two groups, activities can be adapted for any age range. (Older students can do research to present themselves, more complex crafts just for upper elementary, or if the school has multiple grades and you start early older students can use any of these activities to set up stations for the younger ones.)

Preschool - ~3rd Grade

PBSkids online game to Countdown to the New Year (some require a Flash Plug-In)

Coloring Pages

Dragon Dance Coloring Page
Chinese New Year Lion Dance Coloring Page
CNY Boy in Traditional CostumeZodiac Animals

Or, see a list of just Coloring Pages.

Paper Lanterns

CNY Word Search: http://www.cstone.net/~bry-back/actpag126.html

Dragon or Lion Masks:The Lion Dance is performed during the Lantern Festival with performers wearing Lion Masks at the end of Chinese New Year. Lions are believed to bring good luck and scare away evil spirits. Have your students make lion masks —scary, cute, or funny—to help them celebrate. Or, make their own dragon puppets or a mask for a parade or for decorating the room.

Make a Dragon (html file)
Parade Dragon Puppet (html file)
http://www.kidsdomain.com/craft/chindragonhard.html (html file)

Read about it: I like Enchanted Learning's books – it seems worth subscribing just to get these. In 2006, the price was $20 for a year.

For early readers

For fluent readers

More craft ideas:

More for Upper Elementary grade levels

Chinese New Year's Greetings (characters) to Color: Decorate your room with Chinese New Year greetings from Childbook.com. Students can color these jpg images for the classroom or bring them home for friends and family. (Stroke order is not given.)

Happy New Year
Good Fortune/Prosperity

(General) New Year Quiz (recommended for grades 6 – 8) :New Year Celebrations Around the World (PDF file) and New Year Celebrations Around the World Answer Key (PDF file)

Red Gift Envelopes: It's traditional in China to give gifts of money in red envelopes at New Year's. Have your students make their own Chinese Gift Packet. Rather than money, have them write good luck wishes to send.

Firecracker, Firecracker! Make “firecrackers” out of rolled cardboard tubes to simulate Chinese New Year's Firecrackers.

Paper mache Dragon Head

Crossword Puzzle: Eduplace.com has a Happy New Year (PDF file) puzzle and Happy New Year Answer Key (PDF file).

Chinese Zodiac Word Finds (from eduplace.com):

Chinese Zodiac (PDF file)

Chinese Zodiac Answer Key (PDF file)

Write Chinese: Have students become acquainted with Chinese Calligraphy and Chinese ideograms or characters. (Please tell them about stroke order. In fact write a character following the stroke order and then in some other order and see if the students find that one just looks right, one more appealing.)

Activities on the Web for Everyone

Chinese New Year Parade photos

Enjoy photos from previous years' San Francisco Chinese New Year parades. Not from New Year's - but here is a video slip of a Parade Dragon.

Other photos:Lion dancers must show their courage by dancing close to the exploding firecrackers. The dancing unicorn is distinguished by its narrow horselike jaw. The feisty red-faced lion prepares to solve a ritual puzzle. The shaggy yellow costume of the northern lion totally conceals the dancers who perform an entertaining acrobatic show

Download CNY music: Popular Spring Festival songs in both MP3 and Midi formats. It is mostly in Chinese but the song titles and download links are also in English.

Study the Lunar Calendar: I can email you a copy of a 2006 lunar calendar. Write me at mus-mandarin@wubison.com

Make a Calendar for the upcoming year. Other important Chinese holidays include: Summer Solstice, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Winter Solstice. For more on Chinese festivals and holidays, see:

Printable Calendar pages (Western months, not lunar)