Chinese New Year, also known as New Year in the Agricultural Calendar, is just round the corner. As billions of people get ready to welcome in the New Year we have had a look into the role botany plays in the festivities and at some of our more important Chinese donations.
Oats are important in the celebration of the New Year. On the eighth day of the lunar month before the new year a traditional porridge is made and served to each member of the family called làbāzhōu (臘八粥), pardon my Mandarin…
Bamboo sticks, along with fireworks and firecrackers, are burnt to make as much noise as possible on the first day if the New Year. This is practiced to chase off evil spirits.
At midnight on the eighth day of the New Year the Hoklo people (Han Chinese people whose traditional ancestral homes are in southern Fujian) will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven, commonly offering sugarcane. Legend states that the Hoklo people were spared from massacre by Japanese pirates by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor’s birthday. As a symbol of their gratitude the Hoklo people will offer sugarcane on the eve of his birthday.
Also in the preceding days to the New Year debts of gratitude are often sent, commonly gifts and rice are sent to business associates and extended family members.
Here in the herbarium we have a rather large collection of plants found in South-East Asia, mainly China, collected by Wai-Yu Lee, a Chinese botanist. He donated over 1000 plants from his personal herbarium in 2002.
We also have several specimens collected in China by the botanist Augustine Henry (1857 — 1930). Although he regarded his work as a hobby, he became one of the most important botanical collectors to have worked in central China.
Why not celebrate the Year of the Snake by making porridge, bashing bamboo sticks or offer sugarcane to past Emperors? If these celebrations don’t take your fancy, you could just watch some fireworks, details of the 2013 display in Manchester can be found here.
Blog post By Alyssa, Herbarium Placement Student.