Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

Today is Chinese New Year, and as Google has commemorated, it's the Year of the Rat. This is my year, since I was born in Nov. 1972. A friend just posted on my Facebook wall that he came across this description: "Rats are said to be imaginative, charming and very generous to those they love - although they do have a tendency to be quick-tempered and over-critical. They are supposed to make good writers, critics and publicists."

I've seen that description before (probably on a restaurant placemat), and it's funny because I've been a writer/author, a book critic/reviewer, and a publicist. The Wikipedia entry says that rats' positive traits are: Meticulous, intelligent, shrewd, compassionate, charismatic, charming, ambitious, practical, industrious, honest, eloquent, versatile, familial, creative, hard-working, neat, organized, lovers of music, loving. But their negative traits are: Controlling, obstinate, resentful, lacks-a-sense-of-humor, manipulative, cruel, vengeful, power-driven, critical, possessive, stingy, bossy, fickle, defensive.

Hmmm. I think zodiac/horoscopes (whether Chinese or other) are generally a bunch of hooey, since if this were true, then everybody in each high school class would have basically the same traits. But a few of these are close to the mark. More than once I've been advised to be less critical and to let things go. My lack of humor came out recently when commenting on a blog about the use of humor.

The way these things are written are usually general enough that anybody can find themselves somewhere in these categories. Or we interpret these descriptions in light of our own experience to make them fit. Wikipedia says that rats' professions include "espionage, psychiatry, psychology, writing, politics, law, engineering, accounting, detective work, acting, and pathology." Well, that's long enough a list that folks will find at least one thing that works (like writing, in my case). I think it's interesting that espionage, detective work or acting are listed, as that might suggest a common theme of pretense/stealth/being someone you're not. I was in theatre in high school, read mystery novels and like James Bond movies. Played an espionage role playing game in junior high and dubbed my character "005." But I'd be of no use to anybody as an accountant or engineer. I'm not wired that way.

As I've mentioned before, I find Myers-Briggs and Enneagram typologies much more useful. One career book I have says that ENFPs are well-suited to be journalists, columnists, musicians, reporters/editors, copy writers, publicists and conference planners - all of which I've done in some form or another.

At any rate, this is far afield of my initial impulse in posting on Chinese New Year, which was to celebrate my ethnic/cultural background and to also to let it serve as a prayer trigger for the church in China. If the 19th century was the British century and the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century may well be China's. And despite decades of repression, the church in China has seen explosive growth, with estimates possibly running as high as 100 or 130 million Christians in China.

And actually, I'm a second-generation Taiwanese American, so I actually have more of a sense of affinity with Taiwan than with mainland China per se. Part of me resists Chinese identity because of China's oppressive relationship with Taiwan, but I also am reminded that Chinese history goes back 5000 years and predates the political situations of the 20th century. I'm proud of the feisty independence of the Taiwanese people, whose identity has been distinct from mainland China for generations. Christianity in Taiwan is minimal, with less than 5% of the population Christian of any kind.

But a century ago my great-grandfather Ong Liao came to Christ through the work of a British missionary. Though my great-grandfather was blind, he started a church and school for the blind and translated the Bible and a hymnal into Taiwanese Braille. This was the beginning of the Christian story in my family heritage, and I am grateful for God's work in Taiwan and in China throughout the decades. He has not left himself without witness. So happy Chinese New Year, and do pray for the church in China and Taiwan. Thanks!


Helen said...

Fellow rat here...1984. And yeah, I agree that things like horoscopes are generally hogwash, the traits in the rat category fit me really well...Funny how that works.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I've always hated rats, and maybe that says something about myself. Though for whatever it's worth from what you share here, they must have some saving grace to be elevated so highly in Chinese culture.

It actually does make me want to learn a little more about rats. And to pray for the church in China, and for China. Amen.

Friar Tuck said...

Good info here. Thanks!

Pilgrim said...

What a great family history. . . .

Unknown said...

I had no idea your family had been Christian for so many generations. That's really neat/exciting!

I went to my second-ever Chinese New Year celebration Saturday night at a local church, whose college ministry our IV chapter is developing a relationship with. (I also accidentally tuned into the annual Gala on CCTV-9 the other night before realizing what it was... I had no idea when even got Chinese TV at UNC! But it was pretty cool...) I don't know how other Chinese- and Taiwanese-American Christians celebrate the new year, but my friends' church uses it as a really neat outreach event, combining traditional songs celebrating the Spring Festival with songs and a message celebrating God's spiritual blessings. Some white Christians might be weirded out, some non-Christian Chinese Americans might feel it's watered down or missing the pt... but it's cool to see what the New Year means to their particular community, and it has been a powerful reminder to me that God desires to give all of us so many good things (~Eph 1).

Unknown said...

*er, that "when" is a "we" (in the CCTV sentence...)

Al Hsu said...

Ashleigh - Glad you were able to go to a Chinese New Year celebration. Chinese New Year is about as significant in China and Taiwan as Christmas is here in the U.S., with multi-day events and different things to do on particular days. So it makes sense for Chinese churches to celebrate Chinese New Year in outreach/ministry ways, just as churches find ways to celebrate Christmas (and other national holidays) that are evangelistic and such.

Every Square Inch said...

Happy Chinese New Year.

Would you be willing to share how you celebrate the occasion? How do you do so as your family is immersed in a predominant culture that doesn't celebrate this day?

Al Hsu said...

Sure. As the Wikipedia article on Chinese New Year talks about, a primary way the new year is celebrated is by spending time with the respected elders of the family. In our case, that means we'd usually visit with my mother, but she happens to be in Taiwan right now this year (visiting her elders!). New Year is also known for lots of food, often special rice cakes or other treats. This year we (our immediate family) just went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

When I was a kid, our local Taiwanese Association would host a big banquet/party, with tons of food and games. Often has the festive feel of Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. Folks might perform music or dances (often several people together would be the long dragon in a mini-parade). Fire codes permitting, there might be firecrackers. Sometimes there were pinata-type things (can't remember what they're called now) with candy and toys inside. I remember once they lined up all the kids on stage by year and we recited which year/animal we were.

The kids are given red envelopes with cash. I always liked this part because it was a bonus holiday gift that most of my friends didn't get! So this is something that my mom gives to our kids. Since Chinese New Year comes pretty close after Christmas, we try to minimize the loot-gathering-ness of it. Our kids already got enough stuff at Christmas.

One of the days after the new year is also designated for remembering relatives who have died. If we were in Minnesota, we might have visited my father's gravesite, but we've actually not been in Minnesota during the time of Chinese New Year since he died ten years ago.

Some years I stop at the Chinese supermarket and pick up some cookies or treats to bring in to share with coworkers. I forgot to do that this year, though.

My mom has been e-mailing me from Taiwan and filling me in on her Chinese New Year week, which evidently has been day after day of visiting with friends and relatives. Lots of food, lots of shared storytelling and passing on family history and all that. And what's cool is that her youngest sister (my fiftysomething aunt), who has been unchurched for most of her adult life, went with my mom to church yesterday and was so moved by the experience that she said she would start going regularly now. So that's the coolest new development in my family's story. Thanks be to God.

Every Square Inch said...


thank you for sharing. The reason I ask is because my children are half Chinese and half German (25%), English (12.5%) and French (12.5%).

My kids are like any American children and I find the challenge of engaging them in my native culture but also realize that they do not have my upbringing nor my exact heritage. So I'm looking to learn how others tackle this challenge.

Al Hsu said...

Every Square Inch - What's interesting is that having a better understanding of our kids' Taiwanese/Chinese heritage also has helped us appreciate the Irish/German side as well. When Josiah was a baby, we happened to be playing a Celtic worship CD, and his face lit up and he started spinning around and dancing. We like to think that he was getting in touch with his Celtic heritage!

And it's been interesting for us to see parallels between our cultural origins that encompass both empire (China, Germany) as well as fiercly independent/plucky islander national identity (Taiwan, Ireland).

One helpful resource is Check All That Apply by Sundee Frazier about multiracial identity. More for the adult child working through ethnic identity issues, but helpful for parents as well.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts - much appreciated. I've typically centered our identity as a family first and foremost in Christ but our cultural heritage and racial identity do matter as well - not simply acknowledged but also celebrated.