Ambrose Li

Happy (Chinese? Lunar?) New Year

(updated )

Today is New Year’s Day to those like me that celebrate the first day of the year 38 in the current sexagenary cycle, the year of the “golden cow”.‍[Note 1] So despite the unhappy year ahead, Kung hey fat choy (ˈguŋˊhei ˉfatˌtsɔi ‘May you be prosperous’).

Again, as I said a month ago, do not say gōngxĭ fācái; it’s unidiomatic.

I heard from Martin Oei, a critic based in Germany, that Boris Johnson gave a new year greeting and he said Kung hei fat choy;‍[Note 2] but he,‍[Note 3] like me, used the term “Chinese New Year”.

I call it Chinese New Year because I know there are other lunar new years (for example the Jewish and Islamic new years), but Oei believes the term Chinese New Year “should no longer be used”,‍[Note 4] because

not only do the Chinese celebrate this New Year, but also Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese. Some in Japan, of course, also celebrate the old New Year some feasts and festivals follow the old calendar.‍[Note 5]

He recommends that it be called “Lunar New Year”, the term the UK government used back when Hong Kong was under British rule.‍[Note 6]

I buy his argument, but not his recommendation because, as I mentioned, there are other lunar new years. If we shouldn’t call it Chinese New Year and we shouldn’t call it Lunar New Year, what should we call it?

The image that goes with Boris Johnson’s greeting actually says “Spring Festival”.‍[Note 7] Is that the solution? I don’t like the term because I thought it was a Mainland term, but apparently it’s also used in Taiwan.‍[Note 8] The term isn’t common in Hong Kong, but if it’s common enough in Taiwan it might be acceptable?

But then Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese people wouldn’t say Spring Festival, so Spring Festival is still a no-go, no? So the question remains: What should we call it?


  1. Many would say year of the ox, but in the sexagenary cycle even years are feminine, so I feel cow is more apt. “Golden” is a nicer-sounding homonym for the element “metal” or equivalently the planet Venus. (Cf. Wikipedia, Japanese ed., s.v. “十干” [Ten Stems], accessed February 7, 2021, https://​ja​.wiki​pedia​.org/​wiki/​%E5%8D%81​%E5%B9%B2. The stem of 38 is 8, or 辛.)
  2. Martin Oei, “ Boris Johnson 拜年講起” [Let’s start by talking about Boris Johnson’s New Year greeting], February 12, 2021, https://​www​.youtube​.com/​watch​?​v​=​9w​PHk​X3e​OIU.
  3. Or, according to Oei, the civil servant(s) that drafted his speech. See Oei, “Boris Johnson,” 4:48–5:10.
  4. Oei, “Boris Johnson,” 1:38.
  5. Oei, “Boris Johnson,” 1:46–2:18.
  6. Oei, “Boris Johnson,” 1:41.
  7. UK Prime Minister, “Happy Chinese New Year!” https://​twitter​.com/​10​Downing​Street/​status/​1​360​152​104​992​727​042.
  8. 重編國語辭典 [Revised Dictionary of the National Language], s.v. “春節” [Spring Festival], accessed February 12, 2021, https://​www​.moedict​.tw/​%E6%98%A5​%E7%AF%80.


  • #Chinese languages
  • #Chinese New Year
  • #greetings
  • #open questions
  • #geopolitics