年的故事: The Lunar New Year Story of Resistance

tonight is the eve of the lunar new year, the most important celebration for those who draw their lineage to the ancient chinese tradition of moon-worship. in practice, it’s a time of reunion with loved ones at the dinner table. in spirit, it’s a moment of recentering and regrounding; to remind yourself of what is important and who has been/is/will be there with you for the new year to come.

as i’m celebrating tonight, i’m honoring all my loved ones. especially my ancestors, known and unknown, whose love nonetheless made my existence possible. i’m honoring those in my blood lineage and those who aren’t, whose fight has afforded me the privileges i have today.

as my palms come together in prayer, i’m honoring my refugee ancestors who fled the chinese empire a century ago to settle on the island now known to my family as taiwan (while still recognizing the violence of settler colonialism). in the same breath, i’m also honoring the black, latinX, asian, indigenous, queer, trans, disabled, and femme ancestors who have fought for survival and liberation in the US empire. these two ancestral lines converge in my being, through my palms, and into this prayer.

as i look to the new year colored with fear and anxiety, i’m reminded of the folktale behind our lunar new year traditions. the story goes that once upon a time, up in the mountains, there lived a ferocious demon known as 年 (mandarin: nian, cantonese: nin). every year, on the first day of the year, 年 would wake and descend upon our village. it would ransack our homes and devour our grains and livestock. any unfortunate children left outside would be disappeared. our village lived in fear each year of this relentless monster and would board up our homes to hide on the eve of each new year.

however, one year, a child with a drum decided that they didn’t want to hide anymore. they believed they could scare away the beast. they reasoned, “why should we be scared? we are many and the beast is but one! surely, it cannot swallow all of us.”

many of the villagers thought the child to be naive and even scolded them in fear of their safety. they reminded the child that they had been able to stay safe by hiding, that we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by fighting back. but the child could not agree with their logic to live in fear. the child resisted their calls and still prepared a plan to scare away the beast.

the child remembered that they themselves was scared of loud noises and reasoned that the beast must be scared too. so the child gathered as many firecrackers as they could. they planned to set off explosions throughout the village when 年 came on the eve of the new year. that would definitely scare it away! the child prepared their drum to make even more noise.

on the eve of the new year, the village boarded up their homes and prepared for the worst. but the child was ready. as 年 began its descent into the village, the child stood their ground, matches in one hand and their drum in the other. the moment that the eyes of the beast locked on the child, they set off the firecrackers! the loud explosions startled the monster and as one link of firecrackers set off another, the child saw the monster recoil away. “it’s working!” shouted the child proudly. all the loud noise and the child’s triumphant cheers drew out some villagers who were cautiously curious to see what was happening. they witnessed in awe the child loudly banging their drum and scaring away the beast.

but just as 年 seemed to have been scared off, the last link of firecrackers had finished its final spark. as the embers slowly dropped to the ground, a stillness set upon the village. the child stopped cheering, uncertain of what would come next. the 年 shook off the last wave of noise and resumed its climb into the village. with nothing but a drum to guard against the beast, the child stood alone and vulnerable. the child felt their bravery leaving their body and they stood frozen in fear as 年 drew closer. they could see the beast bearing its teeth and fangs into a devilish grin that blinded any way to safety. the child’s hope was lost. suddenly, other villagers jumped out of their homes to stand with the child.

in witnessing the child’s power against the beast, some villagers gathered together their own noisemakers to join the child. and they rushed out just in time. they banged together their drums and their pots and pans. some brought out firecrackers of their own to set off. and others even used their own voices to shout and scream to scare away the beast. both 年 and the child were taken aback. but whereas the beast stood stunned at the overwhelming noises from all sides, the child felt their strength returning to them. they picked up their drum and started to beat it alongside other villagers. 年 started to retreat again which led to more cheers and louder noises from the villagers. gradually, the lonely beat of one gave way to a collective symphony of resistance. everyone was out on the streets doing their best to make noises in their own individual ways.

the villagers continued their relentless resistance to the silence that gave 年 its strength. and the village lit up with bright light and song, pushing the beast further into the mountains. emboldened with their newfound voice and power, the villagers continued their resistance into the night and stayed up until dawn to ensure that the beast would not return. throughout the night, the villagers celebrated each other’s company and uplifted the child for their bravery. the child was proud of their village and continued to beat their drum loudly until they tired out for the night. they rested with a smile, knowing that the village had won against 年. indeed, the village continued this tradition on the eve of every year since. and that’s how we have our lunar new year traditions.

on this new year’s eve, i fear the oncoming 年 as my ancestors did. in 2017, i see 年 in the form of an emboldened fascist regime that holds the power to destroy families and kill people without mercy and logic; all while gaslighting us and avoiding accountability. and while i haven’t yet found the brave child in me nor my drum, i find strength in my loved ones and the truth that i’m not alone. i’m spending this weekend grounding myself in my truths of life, love, and compassion. also i’m sending love to those who i’m in solidarity with and are in solidarity with me.

as we find strength in each other tonight, i am reminded by the child and their drum of our creative power and bravery to resist. while certain tactics, strategies, and institutions may have served us and kept us safe, i’m reflecting on how some of them push us further into hiding rather than tapping into our different instruments of resistance. as one chinese american ancestor, Grace Lee Boggs, who fought alongside black workers in Detroit for collective liberation has said, “a revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.”

may the lunar new year remind us of our power to find our drums, to fight silence, and to grow collectively; all while celebrating each other along the way with good food and prayer.

新年快樂,恭喜發財!

“Year of Fighting Fascists” art by Linda Luu (tw: @lndaluu). a crowing rooster defiantly steps over a wall #NoBanNoWall.

title image source: 南華早報 (South China Morning Post)

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