By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Have you been hearing the traditional Chinese New Year greeting, “Kung Hei Fat Choy,” lately? Should you say it?
While it is 2019 to us, it is the year 4716 in the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Much has changed in the 21st century. Kung Hei Fat Choy, which means “wishing you to make lots of money or a fortune,” is popular for two reasons. It’s mostly said among Cantonese during the New Year. Chinese who emigrated from Guangdong Province to the United States and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, were in search of a better life or fortune as it might be perceived. Naturally, foreigners assume that this is the only Lunar New Year greeting. Mandarin speakers who wish their friends and loved ones a Happy New Year, or Hsin Nien Hui (“Wish you well in the New Year”), are less inclined to greet others with Kung Hei Fat Choy.
Secondly, Kung Hei Fat Choy was the name of a 1985 movie, about the Money God, which was produced in Hong Kong. Since then, many international media have published Kung Hei Fat Choy as headlines during the festival.
It’s not that I am not interested in having wealth. However, Kung Hei Fat Choy is simply outdated. This phrase creates the impression that Chinese are narrow-minded and greedy, who dream of nothing except making money. Can you imagine saying this to Bill Gates, who works hard to donate his fortune? His ultimate goal in life is to help ordinary people, and to give back. Having money doesn’t solve all of life’s problems. Nor is this greeting appropriate for someone who is searching for love, happiness, challenges, or courage. If you say Kung Hei Fat Choy to gamblers, stock traders, and business owners, this would be a sure win.
So what are some of my own Lunar New Year greetings?
In the Year of the Pig, may you have joy, hope, and peace. May you have courage, health, and wisdom to conquer your challenges, and, may you have prosperity, especially in building lasting friendships. Those are what many of you are looking for in life. If you have all those wishes fulfilled, you have more riches in life than you can ever imagine!
Here are my favorite traditional greetings. (I have included phoenetic pronunciations of two of my favorites.) In the Year of the Pig, I wish all my readers and customers the following:
May you have “the spirit and energy of a dragon and a horse.” (“Long ma jin shen.”) This one is widely used in the Year of the Horse and Dragon. Yet, it is acceptable for every year of different zodiac animals.
May you “smile all day long.” (“Xiao kou chang kai.”) I wish I would always remember to smile when I work, write, exercise, and chat with people.
May “your heart’s wishes come true.”
May “all your hopes be fulfilled.”
“Everything works out.”
“May you have progress in the New Year,” to those in school and work.
“Peace and prosperity.”
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org