NEWSMAKINGNEWS
 
THE BAYCITIES OBSERVER
Virginia McCullough


Have I missed the  mark, or, like a true archer,  do I strike my mark?
Or am I a prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?"
                                                     
Cassandra, as reported by Agamemnon

CELEBRATING CHINESE NEW YEAR IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON -- YEAR 4698            
CHINATOWN, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

 

 


NEWSMAKINGNEWS  expresses its appreciation for the Asian Americans who have influenced the United States and enriched its citizens' lives by sharing their rich heritage and culture.  We extend our best wishes and our sincere admiration to the Asian American community as they celebrate America's Lunar New Year.  In this auspicious Year of the Dragon in the new millennium, we wish one and all:

                                                             Gung Hay Fat Choy! (Cantonese)
                                                             Gung Xi Fa Cai! (Mandarin)
                                                             Wishing you prosperity! (English)

                                                              Xin Nien Kuai Le! (Mandarin)
                                                              Sun Nin Fy Lok! (Cantonese)
                                                              Happy New Year! (English)

According to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project [virtual museum/virtual library] the Year of the Dragon began February 5, 2000.  That date makes the first day of the Year of the Dragon even more auspicious, since it falls exactly on the Chinese "Beginning of Spring" (Li-chun), the date on the Chinese solar calendar halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  So we have: the Millennium (Christian calendar) plus Year of the Dragon plus 1/1 of the Chinese lunar calendar plus "Beginning of Spring" on the Chinese solar calendar.  A highly auspicious day!

In the past the New Year has been celebrated at different times, depending on when the current emperor wanted to start a New Year.  Today celebrations are based on Emperor Han Wu Di's almanac.  It used the first day of the first month of the Lunar Year as the Chinese New Year.

In the Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes  author Theodora Lau states that the emperor Huang Ti introduced the concept of the lunar calendar in 2637 B.C.  The lunar calendar runs in 60 year cycles which are further divided into five year cycles of 12 years each.  Click to see this authentic Chinese Menu of Horoscopes.

Lao writes that the concept of animal horoscopes stems from a Buddhist legend.  Supposedly Buddha summoned the whole animal kingdom to bid him farewell before he left earth.  Only twelve animals came to say good-bye, so Buddha rewarded them by naming each year in the cycle after them in the order they arrived:  rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.      

Legends tell of a village in China, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by a monster one winter's eve.  This devastation happened again the following year.  Before it could happen yet a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away.  Red banners were hung everywhere.  It is believed that red protects against evil.  Firecrackers, drums and gongs were used to create loud noises to scare the beast away.  The plan worked and celebrations lasted several days during which people visited with each other, exchanged gifts, danced, and ate tasty foods.
 
Chinese New Year is a celebration of change --- out with the old and in with the new! Many believe that New Year's Day may impact the rest of your life so one must be careful in his/her actions.  Be careful with what  and with whom you eat.  Be certain to be gracious to friends and acquaintances who you feel will bring you joy.  Positive energy should be generated at both your home and your business.  New Year's Day is associated with good fortune.  For the do's and don'ts of the New Year celebration go to: http://www.familyculture.com/chinese_new_year.htm

For an excellent writeup on the history of San Francisco's Chinatown go to the home page posted by the Museum of the City of San Francisco at http://www.sfmuseum.org. Scroll down to read the history of "San Francisco's Old Chinatown" by Commissioner Jesse B. Cook (1860-1938) who was the former Chief of Police of the City by the Bay.  It is a compassionate and thoughtful article that contains background that cannot be found anywhere else.

The traditions of this holiday are still followed by Asians the world over.  Debts are paid, hair is cut, and new clothes are bought as preparations for the celebration begin.  Spring cleaning is started about a month prior to the new year and must be completed before the celebrations begin.  It is the symbolic way of sweeping away ill fortune and welcoming good luck.  Paper cut-outs decorate doors and windows representing happiness, wealth and longevity.  Incense is burned in homes and temples to pay respect to ancestors and ask for good health in the coming year.

Red packets filled with lucky money called "Lai-see" [also called Hong-Bao]  are given to children by their parents.  The family visits relatives and neighbors to wish everyone good luck.  It is a time for forgiveness and generosity.   Spring Couplets [short poems] are traditionally written with black ink on red paper.  They are hung in storefronts in the month before New Year's Day expressing good fortune and best wishes.  They often remain up for two months.
                                                                                                              
New Year's Eve finds families coming together to share feasts such as jiaozi [a steamed dumpling] to nian gao [a sweet rice pudding].  At midnight the new year is welcomed with fireworks,  intended to drive away evil spirits.  The lights burn throughout the night.

The western version of celebrating New Year's Eve is often one of debauchery.  Excessive alcohol, loud parties, and crowded city squares teaming with celebrants is the picture of America's traditional New Year's celebrations.

The traditional Chinese New Year's celebration, also known as the Spring Festival, is a private holiday, reserved for family, relatives and friends.

The westernization of Chinese Americans has produced a hybrid culture.  Some citizens no longer burn incense in home and in temples for their ancestors because they now believe in Christ.  It is interesting to note, however, these same people now burn candles in churches in honor of their ancestors.

Asian Americans, who gave us this unique and special holiday, have gifted their fellow Americans with a combination of the Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter rolled up in a celebration we all can enjoy.  Unlike the traditional event in China where workers often take two weeks off to celebrate, the festivities here have been adapted for evenings and/or weekends.  Spring Couplets are seen in Chinatown stores everywhere, but these are now bought from the Chinese Hospital as a fundraising effort.  In the 1920's lion dancers would go from store to store to dance and wish the businessmen luck.  Now the storekeepers give the dancers Lai-see packets which are then donated to benefit the Chinese Hospital. 

The Chinatown dragon parade held in San Francisco  is now always held on a Saturday so that as many as possible can watch.  The parade is a combination of typical American marching parades and the traditional Lantern Festival.  The dragon dance is a traditional part of the Chinese celebration.  However, the parade now includes beauty pageants, floats, and marching bands obviously inspired by non-Chinese models.  This much loved parade, which first began in 1953, is sponsored by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.  It now attracts spectators numbering in the thousands who come from the world over to be a part of the festivities.        

Since the massacre at Tinanamen Square, politics have become an integral part of Gung Hay Fat Choy.  This year  politics will also be an essential part of the celebration.

NewsMakingNews urges all visitors to this wonderful event to stop at the street fair booth dedicated to Justice for Wen Ho Lee.  This is the second year that the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce has offered one of their street fair booths to the Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund.

Mr. Lee, 60,  is the fired Los Alamos scientist being held in jail without bail on alleged security violations.  The government also said that Lee should remain in jail because of his strong ties to Taiwan, his professional contacts abroad and HIS ABILITY TO SPEAK CHINESE!!!!   Lee has pleaded innocent to 59 counts lodged against him under the Atomic Energy and Espionage acts.  His lawyers said that in the FBI's previous interviews of Lee, agents lied to him telling him that he had failed polygraph tests when, in fact, he had passed  them with flying colors.  The FBI then threatened Lee with references to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the only Americans ever executed for espionage.

In contrast to Lee's case is the manner in which the U.S.  Department of Justice is treating former CIA director John Deutch.  Deutch left the CIA post in December of 1996.  Prior to his departure he had put large quantities of classified material on a CIA-supplied unsecured computer in this home.  He used the same computer for email access knowing that the risk of hackers accessing these types of computer was far greater with high- speed connections such as cable modems.  These type of computers are always connected to the internet.  Hackers, once access has been gained, can seize control of such computers, stealing anything found on the computer accessed, including classified documents.  The hackers could also access the pornography a member of Deutch's household had been viewing.

To compare the two cases go to: http://www.wenholee.org/DeutchvsLeeVersion8.htm

In the meantime NewsMakingNews urges all attendees of the Chinatown's New Year's Street Fair and Parade to strike a blow against racism and for justice.  Stop by the booth promoting the Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund, at open at Grand and Pacific from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday, and sign the petition, donate some funds to help, and/or buy bumper stickers and "Free Wen Ho Lee" buttons.   

                                                                  Gung Hay Fat Choy!
                                                                  Sun Nin Fy Lok!

                                                                  Gong Xi Fa Cai!
                                                                  Xin Nien Kuai Le!
 
                                                                  Wishing You Prosperity!
                                                                  Happy New Year!

Virginia McCullough © 2/15/00