How the beast Nian was tamed by immortal god

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 February, 2000, 12:00am

The origin of the Lunar New Year is too old to be traced. Several explanations hang on the word 'nian', which in modern Chinese means 'year'. It was originally the name of a monster that preyed on people the night be fore the beginning of a new year.

One legend has it that the beast Nian had a very big mouth that would swallow a great many people with one bite. One day, an old man came to the people's rescue, offering to subdue Nian. He told Nian: 'I hear that you are very capable, but can you swal low the other beasts of prey on earth, instead of people who are not your worthy opponents?' So, Nian swallowed many of the beasts. The old man disap peared riding on the back of the beast. He turned out to be a god. Now that Nian is gone and other beasts of prey are also scared into the forests, people begin to enjoy a peaceful life.

Before the old man left, he had told people to put up red pa per decorations on their win dows and doors to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, for red is the colour the beast feared the most.