Lions, Dragons, and Nian: Animals of the Chinese New Year

The most important festival in the Chinese calendar is the New Year or Spring Festival. One of the annual events used to commemorate the festival is a colorful parade complete with animated dragon and lion figures. These fantastic creatures manipulated by expert dancers move through city streets and in and out of businesses during the festivities. Expert dancers animate a large, undulating cloth dragon and prancing lions that make their way through the flurry of excited spectators. Frequent bursts of firecrackers are heard along the parade route.

In the first activity the student will learn the major differences between Eastern and Western dragons and discover why Eastern dragons are associated with Chinese New Year. They will hear a story about how the dragons came to rule major rivers of China. In the second activity, they will also learn about the Chinese New Year Dragon Parade and discover why firecrackers are used to drive off evil spirits, especially one called the Nian.

In the third activity the students will see images of parading dragons, including sound-enhanced video and read poems about the New Year. In the fourth lesson the students will discover that the Chinese lion has imaginary characteristics similar to the dragon. They will view images of the lion and hear about how this highly stylized beast once fought the ferocious Nian. They will learn about the lion dancers in the New Year parade and compare them to the dragon dancers. Finally they will make their own lion masks.

Guiding Questions

What are the characteristics of the Chinese dragon?

Why is the dragon connected with the Chinese New Year?

What is the dragon dance?

Why are firecrackers ignited during the New Year parade?

What do Chinese lions look like and why are they considered protective guardians?

Why do lions dance in the New Year parade?

Learning Objectives

Understand the symbolism of the dragon in Chinese culture and its role in New Year celebrations.

Become familiar with a popular origin myth about the Chinese New Year.

Discover the function of firecrackers during the New Year parade.

Learn about the appearance and characteristics of the Chinese lion and its role in the New Year celebrations