China Expats and Culture Blog

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorABC Chinese. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology.
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Recent Posts

Why Chinese New Year Is The Best Holiday Ever.

Sara Lynn Hua | January 21, 2020

Chinese New Year can be referred to as 农历新年 (nóng lì xīn nián) or "Agricultural New Year", or more commonly 春节 (chūn jié) or "Spring Festival." It’s bigger than Mardi Gras. It’s bigger than the 9.3 billion-dollar Chinese holiday, Singles Day. It’s even bigger than Christmas in the U.S.

Because instead of presents, you get money.

Yes, you read that right.

红包 (hóng bāo), literally “Red Envelopes,” are ostentatiously decorated envelopes filled with money, often presented to children or single relatives by married couples. The amount inside can vary, but many may choose to incorporate the lucky number 8. For example, 288 yuan. Amounts never contain the number 4 due to the phonetic similarity of the word to 死, or “to die.”

Related: Lucky and Unlucky Numbers in China

拜年 (bài nián) is the term “to wish [someone] a happy new year.” Many younger children will be taught to “磕头 (kē tóu) ”, or bow before elders as a sign of respect. 磕头 specifically refers to “touching the head,” which means the children will often touch their forehead to the ground in front of their elders. After doing so, they may receive their 红包.

A child demonstrating "磕头" for a red envelope.

 Chinese New Year is about more than receiving “红包”, however. This 5,000-year-old celebration is a time for families to reunite, eat, drink and make merry. Common traditions include setting firecrackers and hanging red decorations.

These traditions have their roots in mythology. It was believed that “Nian” (the word for Year) was a giant monster that would devour livestock, crops and even children. The villagers soon learned that Nian was afraid of the color red, and of loud noises. To protect themselves, they hung red paper cutouts on the houses and lit firecrackers to scare it away.

Check out some of the current traditions below:

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Chinese Thanksgiving: Mid Autumn Festival- The Legend and The Traditions

Sara Lynn Hua | September 10, 2019

Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival 中秋节 (Zhōng Qiū Jié) as it’s known in China, is the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar. This puts it in September or October on the solar calendar.

Mid-Autumn Festival is considered a harvest festival, and some people even compare it to Thanksgiving in American culture.

This is a time for families to hold reunions, and many Chinese people travel back to their hometowns. The moon is the fullest on this day, and the circle shape signifies "reunion" in Chinese culture. Reunion is "团圆 (tuán yuán)" and "圆 (yuán)“ means "round."

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Chinese Valentine's Day: Qi Xi Festival

Sara Lynn Hua | August 05, 2019

The Qixi (七夕) festival is about a romantic folk story of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

When is Chinese Valentine's day? 

The Qixi (七夕) festival is commonly known as "Chinese Valentines’ Day." The characters 七夕, when taken apart, actually means the seventh (七) night (夕). Indeed, this romantic holiday always falls on the 7th night of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, which means the day for the festival is constantly shifting in the Gregorian calendar we commonly use. This year, the Qixi festival falls on August 7th, and will fall on August 25th in 2020.

Many Chinese couples also choose to celebrate St. Valentine's Day on February 14th, especially since China is becoming more Westernized. However, Qixi Festival is a romantic holiday that is inexplicably tied to Chinese culture.

>READ MORE: 6 Terms Of Endearment In Chinese


The Qixi Festival actually traces its roots back to astrology, with the stars Vega and Altair representing two lovers in a folktale dating back to the Han Dynasty.
In the folktale, Niu Lang is a handsome and kind cowherd who lived alone herding cattle and farming. He married a beautiful girl named Zhi Nu, who is a weaver. Zhi Nu soon gave birth to two children, and the family lived happily. But little did Niu Lang know, that Zhi Nu is actually the seventh daughter of the goddess of heaven, and the goddess is furious at Zhi Nu for coming to earth and for marrying a mortal.

The goddess soon found Zhi Nu, and forced her to return to her previous post, weaving clouds in the sky. Niu Lang filled with sorrow after his wife was taken and mourned daily with his children. Seeing his sorrow, Niulang's ox suddenly began to talk, and told Niu Lang that if he killed the ox and put on its hide, he would be able to fly up to Heaven to find his wife. Niu Lang put on the ox’s hide, took his children, and started flying up to heaven. But just as he was about to meet with Zhi Nu, the goddess discovered him. She then took out her hairpin, and scratch a big river in the sky so that the two lovers would never meet.

Moved by their devotion to each other, magpies would fly in one night of each year, on the 7th day of the 7th month, forming a bridge over the big river so the two lovers could meet. The big river eventually was named the Milky Way, and this special day became the Qixi Festival.


While in modern day,七夕 has become more of a Westernized holiday complete with chocolate, wine, and dozens of red roses; traditionally, the Qixi Festival has many unique customs. In fact, the traditional Qixi festival was as much of a holiday for single girls as it is for couples in love.


For single girls in ancient China, needlework symbolized one of the most desired qualities in being a good spouse. Competitions would be held among groups of unmarried women to see who could thread a special nine-hole needle fastest. Those who are able to thread the needle in one try are said to be blessed with needlework skill for the upcoming year.


Single women would also visit the temple in groups, praying to Zhi Nu to bless their needlework, beauty, and marriage prospects. On the night of Qixi, the girls would bring offerings of tea, wine, flowers and fruits, and quietly pray towards the star Vega.


Since the ox took a tremendous sacrifice in the folktale of Niulang and Zhi Nu, Qixi was also an occasion to celebrate the importance of the ox to people’s livelihoods. Children will often make wreaths out of wild flowers and hang them on the ox’s horns.


Lastly, no Qixi Festival is complete without stargazing into the night sky. On this day, people will gather outside to look for Vega and Altair, and the third star forming the symbolic bridge between the two, reiterating the ancient folktale. Even today in modern China when many of the traditional customs have been forgotten, the Chinese people still gaze into the stars on the night of Qixi, retelling the story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu as they wish for love, romance, and marital bliss.

>READ MORE:Tips of giving gift in Chinese culture


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What Is A Qipao?

Sara Lynn Hua | May 05, 2018

Recently, a Caucasian high school student in Utah stirred up controversy for wearing a qipao to prom, sparking another debate on cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation. While we’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that, we’d love to shed some light on what a qipao is, and what history it has. 

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Was The Great Wall of China Actually Effective?

Sara Lynn Hua | March 26, 2018

The Great Wall of China is a historic landmark, one that every traveler should add to their bucket list. It made our list of “8 Places in China That Will Take Your Breath Away” and continues to be popular tourist destination, especially in Beijing. With border walls being a hot topic of discussion in today's political climate, we decided to take a closer look at the effectiveness of the Great Wall.

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8 Places In China That Will Take Your Breath Away

Sara Lynn Hua | March 15, 2018

China is a huge and beautiful country, filled with sprawling rice terraces, breathtaking mountain formations, and intricate temples. Here are 15 pictures of locations in China that will make you want to plan your next trip ASAP.

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