As we approach February, it is time to remember this annual festival, which commemorates a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar (a phenomenon in several cultures, combining the lunar and solar calendar.)

The festival is commonly referred to in Chinese as the Spring Festival. In this calendar, spring starts with the first of twenty-four solar periods, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February. Celebrations last up to sixteen days, though only the first seven are considered public holidays (in 2024 this is Feb 10 to 16). The festival is associated with various myths and customs. Within China, regional customs and traditions vary widely. The evening preceding New Year’s Day is often an occasion for families to gather for an annual reunion dinner. It is also a tradition for families to thoroughly clean their house, to sweep away ill fortune and make way for good luck. Another custom is decorating the windows and doors. Popular themes among the decorations include happiness, wealth, and longevity. Other activities include setting off firecrackers (the Chinese invented fireworks) and giving money in red envelopes.

The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme based on this calendar that assigns an animal and its attributes in a twelve-year cycle. 2024 is the Dragon, a most auspicious year. Other celebrated Chinese holidays include Lantern Festival (fifteenth day of the first month in the Chinese calendar, during the full moon), Mid-Autumn Festival (fifteenth day of the eighth month) and Dragon Boat Festival (fifth day of the fifth month).

Chinese New Year has many taboos: 1. Do not say negative words. 2. Do not break ceramics or glass. 3. Do not clean or sweep. 4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects. 5. Do not visit the wife’s family. 6. Do not demand debt repayment. 7. Avoid fighting and crying. 8. Avoid taking medicine. 9. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed. In addition, there are gift-giving taboos, recommended foods, and other specific traditions. Firecrackers are supposed to have been used to drive away a monster that comes from the bottom of the sea. This is also associated with the colour red. Read about other Chinese New Year traditions.

There various events taking place in Melbourne for Chinese New Year in 2024. What’s happening in your town or city?

As for CAE Book Groups, we have identified various books in our catalogue that deal with China. How many of these have you read?

Tartar City Woman

Tartar City Woman by Trevor Hay [B1291]

Subtitled Scenes from the Life of Wang Hsing-Ping, Former Citizen of China. What understanding do you have of China’s history between 1937 and 1990? This remarkable biography will make it live in your nerves and senses, through Hay’s account of the life of an outspoken, irrepressible Chinese woman, now living in Australia.

Iron & Silk

Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman [B1304]

From the age of thirteen, this engaging young American was absorbed by all things Chinese. His account of two years he spent teaching English in Changsha in the early 1980s is a series of entrancing anecdotes about his students, friends and those who teach him more about the literature, calligraphy and martial arts he loves. Unforgettable vignettes of China and the Chinese way of doing things.

The Kitchen God's Wife

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan [B1330]

Winnie’s story moves from Shanghai in the 1920s, through the Japanese occupation of China, World War II and the rise of the communists, to her decades in America after 1949. Her personal life contains much pain, courage and joy. Emotionally charged yet unsentimental, the novel explores relationships, uncovers secrets, and describes Chinese customs.

Behind the Wall

Behind the Wall by Colin Thubron [B1356]

A finely written look at China. The big picture is made up of many tiny portraits of people who are simultaneously common and extraordinary. Thubron parades before us the little lives of babies, people who have nothing, the greedy and the powerful, all as individuals. Informative and rewarding.

Wild Swans

Wild Swans by Jung Chang [B1397]

Three generations, three women’s stories in a period when the world’s most populous nation endured almost unimaginable change. One way to begin to comprehend the recent history of China is through individuals who find the courage to experience and to voice the enormities which are the stuff of their everyday lives. Long, but compulsively readable.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie [B1671]

During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, two sons of doctors are sent to the country for ‘reeducation’. To keep their sanity, they have their sense of humour and also some distraction from the charming daughter of the local tailor. When they discover a suitcase full of forbidden literature, new worlds are opened to them. Delightful, funny and unexpected.

From Rice to Riches

From Rice to Riches by Jane Hutcheon [B1819]

Born in Hong Kong and part Chinese herself, ABC correspondent Jane Hutcheon takes the reader on a journey into her family’s past as well as across the new China. With refreshing directness she recounts her round as a foreign journalist – meeting characters from all levels of society, outwitting the Security Police and writing self-confessions when found out, and sampling the country’s varied and delicious cuisine.

River Town

River Town by Peter Hessler [B1890]

Peter Hessler spent two years in Fuling, a remote city in China’s Sichuan province. This charming travel memoir is remarkable for the author’s frankness, his curiosity and his unceasing desire to understand the people of China. He provides a unique glimpse into the Chinese psyche as he considers the profound cultural differences between China and the USA.


Waiting by Ha Jin [B1897]

Lin Kong is an army doctor during China’s Cultural Revolution. He falls in love with a modern, educated woman, however Lin Kong is trapped in an arranged marriage to a work-worn loyal wife in his village, and until she agrees to divorce him, nothing will be possible. Ha Jin’s novel of love and enforced obedience provides fascinating insights into the chasm between the new industrial China and the ways of its ancient agricultural settlements.

Mr Muo’s Travelling Couch

Mr Muo’s Travelling Couch by Da Sijie [B1930]

Mr Muo, a 40-year-old student of Freud, returns from long years of study in Paris to his country of birth as its first psychoanalyst at large. China offers few patients and he is consumed by a new mission, to liberate his first love from prison where she has been consigned for political dissent. This comic novel follows its naïve hero’s adventures and mishaps through the maze of present-day China.

Bomb, Book and Compass

Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester [B2021]

From the author of ‘The Surgeon of Crowthorne’ and ‘The Map That Changed the World’. A distinguished biochemist working at Cambridge University and married to a fellow scientist, in 1937 Needham was asked to supervise a young Chinese student named Lu Gwei Djen. He fell in love with both Lu and China and established himself as the pre-eminent China scholar, documenting everything from Chinese medicine to philosophy and nautical history.

The Explosion Chronicles

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke [B2262]

Translated from Chinese, the story follows two feuding families and the second-born son’s quest to transform his small village, called Explosion, into an urban metropolis. Poetic and imbued with elements of magical realism, the satirical novel critiques the rampant growth of capitalism in post-Mao China, and the consequences of corruption and greed.

Stone Sky Gold Mountain

Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe [B2355]

Translated from Chinese, the story follows two feuding families and the second-born son’s quest to transform his small village, called Explosion, into an urban metropolis. Poetic and imbued with elements of magical realism, the satirical novel critiques the rampant growth of capitalism in post-Mao China, and the consequences of corruption and greed.

That’s our list. What other books about historical and contemporary China would you recommend?