Chinese Regime Bans New Year Scrolls

February 3, 2011 9:36 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 5:47 pm

2011 Chinese New Year Spring Couplets/Door Guardians designed by artist and activist Ai Weiwei are banned by the Chinese communist regime.  (Courtesy of Ai Weiwei)
2011 Chinese New Year Spring Couplets/Door Guardians designed by artist and activist Ai Weiwei are banned by the Chinese communist regime. (Courtesy of Ai Weiwei)
The ancient Chinese New Year tradition of decorating your doorway with Door Guardians and Spring Couplets to ward off evil spirits, has just received new inspiration from a prominent artist dissident. And while it’s struck a sensitive nerve in the Chinese regime, Chinese netizens are delighted with it.

With the Chinese New Year approaching, people in China have been turning to the Internet to purchase traditional Door Guardians and Spring Couplet scrolls, or to get ideas for making their own.

This tradition of hanging Door Guardians and Spring Couplet scrolls on their front doors to keep evil spirits away dates back thousands of years. This year, Door Guardians designed by outspoken dissident and artist, Ai Weiwei, have become a very popular New Year charm for scaring evil. Chinese Internet censors quickly removed Ai’s blog. But despite their fast action, Ai’s Door Guardians are well on their way to doors all over China.

Old Tradition

The earliest mentioning of Door Guardians can be found in the 2,200 year-old Chinese mythological text “Classic of Mountains and Seas” or “Shan Hai Jing,” in Chinese. The Door Guardians were two ghost hunters who lived in an enormous peach tree on a mountain in the East Sea. They were very adapt in catching evil ghosts and feeding them to tigers.

The legends of the ghost hunters quickly spread, and people started hanging peach wood with the ghost hunters’ names written on it over their front doors, to protect their homes and families from evil spirits. Thus the ghost hunters became the Door Guardians. Later, the peach wood was replaced by paper scrolls with pictures of the Door Guardians and a pair of rhyming New Year blessings, called couplets.

New Meaning

The Door Guardians and couplets designed by artist Ai Weiwei give this old tradition a modern twist that has made them an instant hit with many Chinese netizens.

One of his couplets says: “Eliminate Cruelty and Evil, We Want Fairness–Diminish Ghosts and Demons, We Want Righteousness.”

Another one, freely translated, says: “Kill the Ghosts and Demons, Let Peace be Our Measures–Escape Police and Special-Forces, Here Come National Treasures.”

“National Treasures” refers to new slang terms invented by Internet users aimed at tricking the regime’s censorship software and breaking through the Internet blockade.

The “grass mud horse, or “Cao Ni Ma,” is one such phrase; its Chinese pronunciation resembles a popular Internet curse word against government censorship.

The “river crab,” or “He Xie,” is another phrase, and it’s pronunciation is the same as the Chinese word for “harmonious,” which the regime frequently uses such as in “harmonious society” to justify cracking down on any kind of human rights demonstrations.

When designing his Spring Couplets, along with depictions of the Door Guardians, Ai blends illustrations of the grass mud horse and river crab. There may also be a brick hidden somewhere in Ai’s New Year blessings to denote a “fierce battle of words” among Internet users and bloggers, and even an @ sign. All these strange looking characters have a special symbolic significance. They all express an extreme dissatisfaction with the regime’s despotic rule.

Many netizens are delighted with Ai’s Door Guardians and regard them as the perfect vehicle to vent their discontent during the New Year’s festivities. Others are concerned about the consequences if they posted these Guardians on their doors.

One blogger said, “Perhaps the legend is true, the Door Guardians can really make evil shiver.”

Another said, "How to put these couplets up is a problem. You have to worry about how your neighbors will look at you and about the possibility that those women working for the Neighborhood Committee might want to have a talk with you."

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