Spring Festival Couplets (Chunlian)
What is Chunlian?
Spring Festival couplets or Chinese New Year couplets, also known as Chunlian 春联|春聯 (chūn lián) in Chinese, are traditional poetic verses written on red paper strips and displayed on and beside the front doors of homes during the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. They are an essential part of Chinese New Year decorations.
The content of the couplets can vary, but they usually include themes such as family unity, positive aspirations, flourishing business, and well-being. The phrases are carefully chosen to bring blessings and best wishes to the household. Chinese calligraphy is used to write the couplets, which adds an artistic touch to the overall presentation. People often spend time selecting or crafting meaningful couplets or seek the services of professional calligraphers.
The placement of Spring Festival couplets is believed to ward off evil spirits and attract good luck into the home. Spring Festival couplets not only serve as decorative elements but also hold cultural and symbolic significance. They add a festive atmosphere to homes and communities during the Chinese New Year celebrations, and the tradition is still widely practiced in China and among Chinese communities around the world today.
What are the 3 Parts of Spring Festival Couplets?
The “Chunlian” or Spring Festival couplets consist of three parts:
The First Line (Upper Scroll) or Shanglian 上联|上聯 (Shàng lián)
This is the first line of the couplet, traditionally placed on the right side of the door. It is written in vertical columns from top to bottom. It is usually with 5, 7, 9 or 11 Chinese characters. The Shanglian typically conveys blessings or good wishes for the New Year.
The Second Line (Lower Scroll) or Xialian 下联|下聯 (Xià lián)
This is the second line of the couplet, placed on the left side of the door. Like the Shanglian, it is also written in vertical columns. The Xialian often complements the Shanglian and completes the couplet with a response or continuation of the message.
The Horizontal Scroll or Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī)
The Hengpi, also known as the horizontal scroll or horizontal piece, is a shorter phrase (Usually 4 characters) that is placed horizontally above the doorframe, connecting and summarizing the meaning of the couplet. It is usually shorter and concise, capturing the main message or theme of the couplet.
Together, these three parts form a complete set of Spring Festival couplets, representing good wishes, blessings, and aspirations for the upcoming year.
However, it's important to note that sometimes the positions of the Shanglian and the Xialian of the 'Spring Festival Couplets' may swap. This is due to the reading order of the Hengpi. If the Hengpi is read from left to right, then the left side would be the Shanglian and the right side would be the Xialian."
How to Paste Chinese New Year Couplets?
The timing for posting Spring Festival couplets varies by region and custom, though they are generally posted on the Chinese New Year's Eve.
In general, Spring Festival couplets are posted between 6am to 12pm on New Year's Eve. The new couplets are put up, symbolizing getting rid of the old and welcoming the new, and hoping for good fortune in the coming year.
Some areas post the couplets in the afternoon of New Year's Eve, mostly local businesses who then close up shop and rest for the New Year after putting up the couplets.
The pasting order is: Shanglian -> Xialian -> Hengpi.
As per Chinese tradition, the conclusion of the New Year period is marked by the Lantern Festival. Hence, it's generally advised to ensure that the Spring Couplets are securely posted, with an expectation to retain them at least until the Lantern Festival.
History of Chunlian
The origins of Chunlian (Spring Festival couplets) can be traced back to ancient Chinese customs and traditions. The practice of hanging couplets during the Spring Festival has a long history and has evolved over time.
One possible origin can be found in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), when people would write the names or images of two deities, Shen Tu and Yu Lei on Taofu( peach wood charms) and hang them on doors to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. These peach wood charms eventually transformed into paper couplets with written blessings and well-wishes.
Another origin can be attributed to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), when people began writing auspicious phrases on red paper and pasting them on gates or doors during the Spring Festival. This was believed to bring blessings and good luck to the household for the upcoming year.
Meng Chang, ruler of Later Shu(934-966CE) ordered one of his scholars to compose a new year charm in the form of a couplet scrolls to decorate his bed-chamber door, but the result did not please him. So he wrote a couplet himself which was the now regarded as the first pair of Spring Festival couplets: 新年纳余庆，佳节号长春 (xīn nián nà yú qìng, jiā jiē hào zhǎng chūn) - "The New Year embraces all good luck and gladness; The great festival is named Perpectual Spring."
Chunlian gained popularity among the general population during the Ming Dynasty (1638-1644). And the name ”Chunlian” was coined then. The Emperor Hongwu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, was a big fan of Chunlian. He issued a decree mandating that every household, regardless of social status or wealth, must display a spring couplet on their main door on New Year's Day. Curious to observe his subjects' compliance, the Emperor disguised himself and set out to witness their efforts. Most had beautifully crafted couplets, except for a certain illiterate butcher (also in business of Pig Castration) who had enlisted someone else to fulfill the imperial order. In an act of amusement, the Emperor personally wrote a couplet on scrolls, which read: 双手劈开生死路 ，一刀割断是非根 | 雙手劈開生死路, 一刀割斷是非根 (shuāng shǒu pī kāi shēng sǐ lù, yī dāo gē duàn shì fēi gēn). "With one blow of the hands, the road to life and death is cleft open; With one stroke of the knife, the root of right and wrong is cut off." People began hanging the couplets on their doorways, believing they would bring luck, fortune, and protection for the household in the coming year.
Over time, the tradition of hanging couplets during the Spring Festival spread and became more widespread, with the couplets taking on their characteristic red color and poetic style. The use of red paper is associated with the belief that red can drive away evil spirits and bring good fortune.
The couplets themselves are often written in poetic form, following specific rules and conventions of Chinese poetry. They contain wishes for abundance, prosperity, happiness, and good luck. Today, the tradition of hanging Spring Festival couplets continues to be an important part of Chinese New Year celebrations. They are seen as a way to welcome the new year with positive energy and to bring good fortune and blessings to the household.
4 Popular Chunlian Examples along with English Translations
1. Shanglian 上联 (Shàng lián): 天增岁月人增寿 (tiān zēng suì yuè rén zēng shòu)
English: May the heavens bestow more years and grant longevity to people.
Xialian 下联 (Xià lián): 春满乾坤福满楼 (chūn mǎn qián kūn fú mǎn lóu)
English: May spring fill the world and blessings fill the house.
Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī): 四季长安 (sì jì zhǎng ān)
English: Peace and stability throughout the seasons.
2. Shanglian 上联 (Shàng lián): 迎新春事事如意 (yíng xīn chūn shì shì rú yì)
English: May everything go as you wish in welcoming the Spring Festival.
Xialian 下联 (Xià lián): 接洪福步步高升 (jiē hóng fú bù bù gāo shēng)
English: May good fortune come your way, and may each step bring you higher and higher.
Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī): 好事临门 (hǎo shì lín mén)
English: Good things come to your door.
3. Shanglian 上联 (Shàng lián): 和顺一门生百福 (hé shùn yī mén shēng bǎi fú)
English: With a harmonious family, all things prosper.
Xialian 下联 (Xià lián): 平安二字值千金( píng ān èr zì zhí qiān jīn)
English: The value of peace and safety is priceless.
Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī): 五福临门 (wǔ fú lín mén)
English: May the five blessings(Longevity, Happiness, Health, Wealth and Peace) arrive at your door.
4. Shanglian 上联 (Shàng lián): 春雨丝丝润万物 (chūn yǔ sī sī rùn wàn wù)
English: The gentle spring rain moistens all things.
Xialian 下联 (Xià lián): 红梅点点绣千山 (hóng méi diǎn diǎn xiù qiān shān)
English: The red plum blossoms adorn the mountains.
Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī): 春意盎然 (chūn yì àng rán)
English: Spring is in full swing.
Are you eager to begin your Chinese cultural journey?
Drop us a line and we will promptly connect you with our leading China expert!