Whose New Year is it anyway?

« previous post | next post »

The struggle for cultural priority, supremacy, and naming between China and Korea is perennial:  fishing nets, printing with metal movable type, kimchi….  Now it's over the lunar new year that is currently being celebrated.

"NewJeans' Danielle apologizes for calling the 'Lunar New Year' 'Chinese New Year'"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/21/23)


"Chinese netizens terrorize the Instagrams of Korean celebrities who gave lunar new year greetings, including IVE's Wonyoung and CL"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/22/23)

Might be better to avoid the orthological controversy altogether and just refer to it as the Lunar New Year.

Selected readings

From Alex Baumans


  1. Jenny Chu said,

    January 23, 2023 @ 9:52 pm

    Meanwhile, here we are still calling it Tết and watching the drama …

  2. Jenny Chu said,

    January 23, 2023 @ 9:52 pm

    And: Chúc mừng năm mới

  3. AntC said,

    January 24, 2023 @ 9:13 am

    Might be better to avoid the orthological controversy altogether and just refer to it as the Lunar New Year.

    Yes that's the advice in my local paper: New Zealand has as well as several Chinese/Taiwanese/HK communities, Koreans, Thai, Malaysians, Philippines, … all marking Lunar (something).

  4. DaveK said,

    January 24, 2023 @ 11:02 am

    Of course, it’s not the only lunar new year. Muslims also use a lunar calendar and I believe their new year falls in the summer this year.

  5. Freddy Hill said,

    January 24, 2023 @ 1:50 pm

    Having flown into Hanoi a couple of days ago, having waited for immigration for over 3 hours because of the enormous influx of Vietnamese coming home for Tet (sorry, too lazy to look for the proper tilde), and seen, upon exiting the airport, a few hundred happy Vietnamese families with flowers and gifts for their loved ones, I’ll say, I don’t care what you call it.

    It’s a good party.

  6. Mark S. said,

    January 25, 2023 @ 1:18 am

    @DaveK, properly speaking the lunar new year, as observed in China, Taiwan, and elsewhere 'round these parts, is based on a luni-solar calendar like the Hebrew calendar but unlike the Western (Gregorian) solar calendar or the Islamic lunar calendar. But "Happy Luni-solar New Year" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

  7. ~flow said,

    January 25, 2023 @ 4:14 am

    Happy Sino- and Sinoxenic-Luni-Solar New Year everyone!

  8. Chau Wu said,

    January 25, 2023 @ 1:39 pm

    Historically, there has never been a term like 中國新年 'Chinese New Year' used in China or anywhere else in Sinosphere. The term "Chinese New Year" was coined by Westerners along the line of "chop suey" and "fortune cookie".

    On January 21, 2023, People's Daily Online had this article titled, "FM expresses appreciation to diplomats. Qin Gang sends festive greetings for Lunar New Year to foreign missions."

    There, it is official. That's right, it is Lunar New Year, not Chinese New Year.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 26, 2023 @ 8:27 am

    "Lunar New Year" also appears to be the phrasing adopted in the official English translation of President Tsai's remarks. If you scroll down to the end she apparently also extended New Year's greetings in four separate Sinitic topolects, although the English version translates rather than transliterates so you don't actually get a sense of the variousness.


    That said, it is highly unsurprising that exonyms will add some sort of qualifier/modifier that an endonym might not, at least if the exonym-giver uses a different calendar with a different New Year.

  10. pfb said,

    January 26, 2023 @ 2:20 pm

    As a liberal, I try to avoid complaining about this kind of chip-on-the-shoulder grievance mongering. But WTF?

    "Lunar New Year" is not an astronomical phenomenon. It is a purely cultural construct, with different meanings in different cultures. As several of the other commentators have pointed out, there are many other lunar and lunisolar calendars in current use. There are more than a billion people in India alone to whom holidays under the various Hindu calendars are far more relevant than Tet.

    "Chinese New Year" is simply the conventional way of referring to New Year's Day of the Chinese calendar. It is recognized in those countries, and ONLY those countries, whose traditional calendars were modeled on China's.

    Is it still acceptable to speak of "Chinese characters", when these are used to write languages other than Chinese? For that matter, may we talk about an "English language" when the vast majority of its speakers are not, in fact, English?

  11. Jongseong Park said,

    January 27, 2023 @ 3:03 am

    Take a look at the linked second article again. Are we all missing the fact that the celebrities were attacked and accused of cultural appropriation precisely because they called it Lunar New Year instead of Chinese New Year?

    @pfb, Chinese characters are called Han characters in the non-Chinese countries that use them and are widely recognized as being Chinese in origin, Han being the name of an old Chinese dynasty and the dominant ethnic group in China.

    The traditional lunisolar calendars in use in those countries however are not referred to as Chinese, even though they are mainly derived from the one used in China, just as we do not refer to the Gregorian calendar as Italian. The traditional lunisolar new year celebrations are not referred to or thought of as being Chinese in these countries. It comes as a shock to many when their traditional celebration is called Chinese New Year in English. Finding a more inclusive way to refer to these various celebrations isn't grievance mongering but an effort to avoid genuine confusion.

  12. wanda said,

    January 28, 2023 @ 2:40 pm

    "Are we all missing the fact that the celebrities were attacked and accused of cultural appropriation precisely because they called it Lunar New Year instead of Chinese New Year?"
    The second article is referring to a different problem than the first article. The second article is saying that nativist Internet trolls from China are disrespecting the traditions of other peoples. It is clearly the trolls who are being disrespectful, not the people saying Lunar New Year. In the first article, a celebrity said Chinese New Year, and the article said she was chided for not respecting the traditions of other peoples.
    What the first article doesn't say, which the article's readers might know but Language Log readers might not, is that the celebrity in question is a member of a Korean girl group. In that context, it was particularly bad for her to wish her fans a happy Chinese New Year.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment