Couplets are a very important part of a Chinese home’s decoration during the Spring Festival. There is also a special day for hanging them according to the Lunar Calendar – the 28th day of the twelfth lunar month (or, for this year, on January 29th according to the Gregorian Calendar). Traditionally, on that day, Chinese people decorated their homes with couplets, but nowadays, they often do it much earlier.
The Spring Couplets consist of three scrolls – the upper (first line), the lower (second line) and the Horizontal (sums up the meaning of the previous two lines). Upper and lower scrolls have to consist of an equal amount of characters and be related in meaning. To read them, look at the horizontal scroll first. If its characters are written from left to right – the upper scroll will be on the left side and the lower scroll will be on the right. And, logically enough, if the horizontal can be read from right to left, the upper scroll will be the right one and the lower scroll will be the left one. For those of you who do not read Chinese characters – get a native or send over a picture to help you decipher them!
Very often, these Spring couplets, or Chunlian, have meanings such as “good fortune”, “longevity”, “happiness” etc.
The tradition to decorate homes with Couplets appeared many ages ago, and – as is so often the case with Chinese traditions – is based on a legend. There once was a peach tree as the gate for ghosts to pass between the two existing worlds: the underworld and the world of the living. Ghosts were allowed to cross the gate only at night time and had to return to the underworld before the early morning. Two gods, Shentu and Yulei, were standing guard by the peach tree and could dispel all the demons that would harm people. So, many families started to use two peach wood boards on which they wrote the names of the gods and hung them on the sides of the door to protect them and theirs from demons. Later, at the time of the Tang dynasty, people no longer wrote the names of the gods only but added some blessings to symbolize good fortune as well as express their hope and best wishes for the new year; and since the Ming dynasty, red paper has replaced wooden boards. At the beginning, those Couplets were made by hand on red paper with black or golden ink, but now, of course, there are printed versions for mass-marketing purposes as well. If you have a Chinese friend well-versed in calligraphy, however, you could ask them to write you some Couplets with ink and brush – wouldn’t that be special?
Here are some popular Chinese Spring Couplets with their English translation:
上联： 丹凤呈祥龙献瑞 (dānfèng chéng xiáng lóng xiàn ruì in pinyin)
下联：红桃贺岁杏迎春 (hóng táo hè suì xìng yíng chūn in pinyin)
横批：福满人间 (fú mǎn rén jiān in pinyin)
Upper Scroll: The dragon and the phoenix bring prosperity
Lower Scroll: Peach and apricot blossoms welcome the spring
Horizontal Scroll: Blessing on the Land
上联：红梅含苞傲冬雪 (hóng méi hán bāo ào dōng xuě in pinyin)
下联：绿柳吐絮迎新春 (lǜ liǔ tǔ xù yíng xīn chūn in pinyin)
横批：欢度春节 (huān dù chūn jié in pinyin)
Upper Scroll: The red plum’s bud stands the snowy winter
Lower Scroll: The green willow’s catkin indicates the new spring
Horizontal Scroll: Happy Spring Festival
上联：精耕细作丰收岁 (jīnggēng xì zuò fēng shōu suì in pinyin)
下联：勤俭持家有余年 (qín jiǎn chí jiā yǒu yú nián in pinyin)
横批：国强民富 (guó qiáng mín fù in pinyin)
Upper Scroll: Hard work makes for a year with a good harvest
Lower Scroll: Thrift gains a handsome savings
Horizontal Scroll: Strong country, wealthy people
上联：迎新春事事如意(yíng xīn chūn shì shì rú yì in pinyin)
下联：接鸿福步步高升(jiē hóng fú bù bùgāo shēng in pinyin)
横批：好事临门(hǎo shì lín mén in pinyin)
Upper Scroll: The new spring lets everything go according to your wishes
Lower Scroll: Your career rises steadily as you wish
Horizontal Scroll: Luck knocks on the door
上联：万事如意展宏图(wàn shì rú yì zhǎn hóng tú in pinyin)
下联：心想事成兴伟业(xīn xiǎng shìchéng xīng wěi yè in pinyin)
横批：五福临门(wǔ fú lín mén in pinyin)
Upper Scroll: Expand the blueprint with everything you accomplish
Lower Scroll: Achieve success with your ambition fulfilled
Horizontal Scroll: Luck rings in
Another Spring Couplet trend in the last years have been humorous or ironic Spring Couplets, and even some in English. Here are some you might find funny:
The one with the Chinese characters just says “ha ha ha” on all of the scrolls.
And which Spring Couplet are you going to hang on your door? You can leave your answers in the comments or send a DM. Happy Spring Festival!