The Chinese Lantern Festival: The Last Day of the Lunar New Year

Often confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival in the fall, the Chinese Lantern Festival is actually the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations and falls on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. It is supposed to be the first day of the new year when the full moon can be seen. The Lantern Festival is also called the Yuan Xiao Festival in Chinese.

This day marks the last day of the Lunar New Year holiday in early spring (also known as the Spring Festival), and is therefore an occasion for festivities and celebration, before people have to go back to work after the holiday.

Celebrating the Lantern Festival

On the day of the Lantern Festival, people will go out to eat with friends or family, and paper lanterns will be hung outside temples and other buildings. In China, many buildings and even street lights are hung with red lanterns in celebration of the Chinese New Year. People will light fireworks and firecrackers, as well as sky lanterns that, after being lit, float up into the sky like hot air balloons.

Many people who celebrate the Lantern Festival eat the traditional glutinous rice dumplings – known as tang yuan. These round dumplings are filled with sesame-seed paste, peanuts, and other fillings. They are boiled, and then served in a sweet soup flavored with rock sugar and ginger.

In some cities, huge lanterns are built by master craftsmen. Measuring dozens of feet tall and lit by electric lamps from within, these lanterns are shaped like animals, pagodas, and mythical heroes.

Legends of the Chinese Lantern Festival

There are many stories associated with the Chinese Lantern Festival, but one of the most popular of them has to do with the immortal Jade Emperor of Chinese folklore.

According to this legend, the Jade Emperor was angry with a certain village for hunting and killing his favorite goose, which had flown down to earth from heaven. To avenge himself on the villagers, the Jade Emperor planned to destroy the town by fire from heaven. However, the Jade Emperor’s daughter had compassion on the village and told the villagers about her father’s plan.

The villagers, terrified, devised a plan to trick the Jade Emperor into sparing them. On the day of the planned attack, the villagers hung red lanterns up in the village, lit bonfires, and set off firecrackers. When the Jade Emperor’s Imperial Troops arrived at the village, it appeared that the village was already on fire, so they left without harming a single villager. After that, every year on the anniversary of the thwarted attack, the villagers lit lanterns to celebrate their narrow escape from death.

Four Attractions Visitors to Beijing Must See: Tian’anmen, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace Lead the List

Four Attractions Visitors to Beijing Must See: Tian’anmen, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace Lead the List

To return home without seeing all of them is to not have really seen the Chinese capital. Tian’anmen, Forbidden City, Great Wall and the Summer Palace are the heart and soul of Beijing.

Tian’anmen Square

Tian’anmen Square, especially, is the heart and soul of Beijing. When something happens – good or bad – the Chinese flock to the square. Now centuries old, it’s one of the largest squares in the world.

Independent tourists can see Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City on the same day since these attractions are across the street from each other. It’s recommended that tourists start at the south end of Tian’anmen, then walk north toward the Forbidden City. On the way, see the statues memorializing the People’s Liberation Army which flank the mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong. Long lines of Chinese surround the mausoleum. They’re waiting to see Mao’s body.

Just north of the mausoleum is an obelisk, the first monument to the People’s heroes. This is where the students erected their Goddess of Democracy during the 1989 Massacre. The Great Hall of the People, where China’s congress meets, is to the west of the square; museums are to the right.

Forbidden City, Home to Emperors

The Forbidden City was home to the imperial family for centuries. It got the nickname Forbidden City because originally only the imperial family and their entourages were allowed inside the gated walls. Its official name today is the Palace Museum. Because it’s so popular, it can be very crowded. Most tour groups go there in the morning. Independent tourists may be able to miss out on some of the crowds by going later in the day. Audio tapes narrated by British actor Roger Moore are available for rent at the south entrance.

The Bernardo Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor, was filmed here. Watching it provides a good introduction to the Forbidden City, with its thousands of rooms and treasures.

Great Wall of China

Walking on the Great Wall of China is a profound experience and the highlight of the trip for many people. Man’s greatest engineering feat which snakes over the mountain tops around Beijing can only be described as “awesome!” Badaling is the closest site to Beijing; it’s where the Chinese government takes visiting leaders from other countries. It can get extremely crowded, but there are ways to avoid this.

Other sites close to Beijing include Huanghua, Mutianyu, Simatai and Jinshanling. Simatai has especially sharp peaks. Seeing the Great Wall arch up and down with them is very impressive. Many people like to spend the day hiking between Simatai and Jinshanling.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace has won accolades from around the world for its impressive beauty and intricately landscaped gardens. UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site because of its gardens. Focal point of the Summer Palace is the man-made Kunming Lake, a delight to walk around on hot summer days. Other features are the Long Corridor, with its thousands of small paintings, and Suzhou Street, where shops line a canal in the fashion of Ming Dynasty Suzhou, a city near Shanghai.

Tian’anmen Square is open around the clock, and is free. The other sites open at 8:30 a.m., with admission fees of 60 yuan (about US$8) for the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. Admission fees for the Great Wall vary by site, with the Badaling fee usually including admission to the Great Wall Museum.

Modern Chinese Money Isn’t a Puzzle: How to Recognize China’s Currency and Understand Money Changing

Modern Chinese Money Isn’t a Puzzle: How to Recognize China’s Currency and Understand Money Changing

China’s currency is called Renminbi, usually abbreviated RMB or CNY which stands for Chinese yuan. Although the lowest denomination is called fen, it is rarely used because it is worth so little. Ten fen are equal to one jiao, also called mao, which is approximately 1.5 American cents. One, two and five jiao notes are in circulation but, like pennies, not always used. Many business people just round up or down to the nearest jiao. Ten jiao are equal to one yuan. Yuan, or more commonly called kuai, is circulated in notes of one, five, ten, twenty, fifty and one-hundred.

When it Comes to Chinese Currency, Size Matters

Each denomination is a different size with the one being the smallest. Each note in the succession is five centimeters longer than its predecessor with the one-hundred being the largest. There are three different widths. The one and the five are the same and the thinnest. The ten, twenty and fifty are all the same and the one-hundred is the widest.

All of the notes are colorful with subtle patterns on both the front and the back. The bill’s denomination can be identified by the color:

  • 1 – predominantly olive green with a pale orange accent
  • 5 – the main color is purple with some tan, blue and pink details
  • 10 – primarily blue with gray-green and pink bleeding into each other in a center band
  • 20 – orange with accents of turquoise and pink
  • 50 – forest green with a bit of purple
  • 100 – mostly red with some yellow, orange and blue

Chairman Mao Zedong’s picture is on the right hand side of the face of each of the yuan notes. Slightly left of the center of each note, and in the right hand corner, is a number, the value. Under the number each denomination has a different flower.

The reverse sides of the notes each show a different scenic or historical site along with the denominational number in all of the corners except the right bottom one.

Exchange Foreign Money in China With ATM Machines and the Internet

It is against the law to use foreign money in China or to buy Chinese money from a private person. Banks and some hotels are approved to make such transactions. However money changing is not as difficult as it once was. ATMs can be found thoughout China and many accept foreign cards. There’s no limit to the amount of foreign money that can be changed into Chinese money but it is important to keep the receipts. When leaving the country, foreign currency can only be purchased up to the amount exchanged.

Historically, the exchange rate has fluctuated independently. More recently it has stayed within a few cents of an exchange rate of 6.8 yuan for one dollar even though the exchange rates for other countries has changed. Current rates of exchange are available online.