Why Gōng xǐ? 為什麼要說恭喜?

I had long wondered why the expression translated ? “congratulations” forms part of the Chinese New Year greetings. I got the answer to that puzzle and a better understanding of Chinese culture, especially as it relates to Chinese New Years celebrations, last week. I observed the celebration as a guest of my Taiwanese friend Ray and his family in Chiayi.

我很久以來都一直在想,中國人為什麼過年時看到人都會互相說恭喜!” ,上個禮拜我到嘉義的朋友Ray的家和他家人一起過年,才終於得到了解答。


According to Ray, Chinese – whom I consider very superstitious long ago believed that on Chinese New Years eve night a beast(s) roamed the earth and consumed people. The following day those persons whom you saw would have been those who had not been consumed by the beast, hence the congratulatory remark.

Ray 告訴我,很久以前有的中國人認為除夕那夜裡野獸會出來吃人,所以隔天看到你的人會跟你說: 恭喜. 他們的意思是 恭喜你, 你沒有被野獸吃掉.”

And Ray, being his jovial self, did much to convince me that I should be extremely careful since “chocolate flavor” is a scare commodity and would have attracted much attention from the beast(s).

Ray是一個很活潑的人. 他一直開了我的玩笑說因為野獸很少有吃到巧克力口味的人,所以我得特別小心.

To my comfort, Ray ensured that I stayed up past mid-night and, during a visit to his cousin’s house, his cousin at midnight set off a few firecrackers, believed to scare off all the uninvited entities.


On a more serious note, spending Chinese New Year in the home of a Taiwanese family was a not only a great opportunity for me to better understand the significance of the festival but was also a chance to see how Taiwanese in that part of the country may live on a day-to-day basis.

跟台灣人一起過年真是一個多了解台灣 (中國)文化的好幾會. 我不但能明白這個節日對他們有多重要而且能知道他們一般的時候怎麼生活了.

The festival, like most Chinese festivals, is a lunar one and marks the beginning of the lunar New Year. It is characterized by the giving of red envelopes containing money to relatives and friends, cleaning the house, praying at family shrines and at temples and, among other things, having big feasts, gambling, eating sweets, setting off firecrackers and fireworks, and play a Chinese game like dominoes called Majiang. It is a time of merriment. The festival is a family oriented one and most people will go back to their home town to be with their families.

過年像很多期他的中國節日一樣是一個農曆的節日, 除了回老家、把全房子弄乾淨、發紅包、拿紅包、吃大餐跟到廟裡拜拜以外,台灣人大部分過年的時候會吃糖果,放鞭炮和打麻將,趁著這個機會享受這歡樂的時光,這也是出外工作的人回家鄉與家人團聚的時候。

I think it important to mention one of the major differences that I noticed in the attitude towards foreigners of people in rural Taiwan and that of people in more urban area, such as Taipei.


To illustrate, while foreigners are less common in rural Taiwan and would naturally attract more attention, that attention is not given in a way that is offensive or invasive. Rather it is given in a way that shows that they are just curious about that which is not as common, in this case, me, a person of African descent.



A case in point was when Ray and I went to pick up one of his friend with whom we later had dinner. I noticed that people began to trickle out of the house, obviously to see me. However, one of the members of the group came over to me and inquired about who I was, where I was from, my experiences in Taiwan etc., even inviting me into the house (we had to refuse the invitation since time was against us).

有一天我跟 Ray 去接他的朋友一起去吃晚餐,我發現人們一發現屋外有個外國人,就馬上出門來看我,然而有一個先生過來跟我講話,問我我是哪一國人、我在台灣過得怎麼樣等類似樣的問題,他還請我進房子坐一下,可是因為我們沒有時間所以我必須拒絕他。.

In Chiayi, people speak to you, whether it is in English, Chinese or even Taiwanese. In Taipei, you are more like to have someone stare at you, point at you or whisper something to someone while looking in your direction – much to ones discomfort.


I, like many other people, have stereotyped the people of Taiwan at some point or the other, and I have come to realize that most of the time that I have stereotyped I have been wrong. The more I interact with the people of this country the more I realize that Taiwanese’s attitude to foreigners is indeed More Than Skin Deep.


Additionally, I am seeing more clearly what my country mate Jeana Noel, who has been living here for the past three and a half years meant when she said: “The overwhelming positive reaction and attitudes of people have been such that I dont remember bad experiences.” I have come to see that while Taiwan is fraught with potential negative experiences, ones attitude to the country and her people will to a large extend determine his or her experiences here.

我有一個聖文森朋友叫Jeana. 她已經在台灣住了三年半了. 我最近才開始懂她說的我在台灣因為大多人都對我很好,所以不會記得不好的經驗的意思。我發現在台灣的外國人,尤其是皮膚比較黑的外國人,對台灣有不好的印象或有不好的經驗與我們對台灣人的態度有關係。

Like I say in the following video in which I speak of my experiences there and Ray explained the significance of the festival, Taiwanese have “their own style”. One just has to take time to at least understand, if not accept it.


I want to thanks Ray and his family for welcoming me into their homes. It was an unforgettable experience.

我要謝謝Ray和他的家人歡迎我來他的家過年. 我不會忘記那麼好的經驗.

So here we go, and, since you are reading this, “gōng xǐ!” you have escaped the beast.

因為你能把這篇文章看完所以我知道你沒有被野獸吃光. 恭喜發財! 紅包拿來!

View my photo album here. 看所有的照片.


8 thoughts on “Why Gōng xǐ? 為什麼要說恭喜?

  1. Hi Kenton,

    I like your articles very much. This one is also very meaningful to me, cause it’s the first time that I didn’t spend the Chinese New Year with my family ( feel a bit sad) and it’s very interesting to know what a foreigner thinks about Chinese New Year. I am curious to experience different culture (although it sometimes makes me frustrated), and also know foreigners’ opinion to Taiwan. I am very glad you had an unforgettable Chinese New Year experience!!


    Maggie (in the UK)

  2. cool article!!
    I almost forgot the beast story!!
    It seems you enjoyed your Chinese New Year very much.
    There is a China town in London, so I went there to watch dragon dancing with my friends. Are you back in Taipei now? What’s your plan for the vacation before next semester start?

  3. I saw your Iraq video and this video! both of them are very great!! we can spread these videos to many peole, so that these people can understand more about Iraq, China, and especially Taiwanese culture and stuff. hope a lot of people would see these video that you make and hope many people will be interested in Iraq, China and Taiwan.

    Great work, Kenton!! you are on the process of being jornalist ha^^

    keep it up^^ thank you!!

  4. Hey Kenton,

    Your blog was great, I am glad to see that you’ve learnt about the beast story very early. I admire the tradition and culture that makes up the nation of Taiwan and more so the Chinese people, yes these are things that most western cultures including our very own nation have forgotten or refuse to re-embrace.

    My experiences in Hong Kong was similar in nature in relation to the curiosity of the natives to outside cultures and there willingness to embrace the new although there are some exceptions to the rule. All of my time was spent in the urban setting and we all know how that works.

  5. Thanks for the info, now i know the meaning behind “gong xi”. Unfortunately for me who spent the season with my Chinese family in Hualien, I only thought of fulling my stomach every few mins instead of educating myself on old traditions. After all they said bie keqi (don’t be polite; eat all you want) so i took the opportunity to do just that and eat food that i normally would not get to eat on a day-to-day basis. So, after all, it was not that bad.

    I will advice all foreigners in Taiwan to travel to Hualien. The scenery is breath-taking, the people are great and the food is absolutely fei chang, fei chang hao chi (extremely delicious). If you do go, you must visit Taroke. If I tell you why you should visit this particular site I’ll be ruining the surprise for you. Just do it, ok.

    Thanks again Kenton for the info behind the expression “gong xi”.

  6. Oh my goodness!!!
    Your mandarin has become unbelievable good….
    I am really glad you can enjoy the life in Taiwan well and makes so many local friends.

    Sorry for reading your blog so late….

    Jay (in Australia)

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