Header image courtesy of Lao Ma (via Shutterstock)
We’ve all been there—surrounded by aunties and uncles, all eyes trained on you as you stand in front of a set of beckoning red packets. All that stands between you and a little extra pocket money are a few phrases, a few Chinese New Year well-wishes, and you’re set. But in that moment, dressed in your new outfit, fingers still oily from the radish cakes you just ate, your mind panics and no well-wishes come to mind. Well, let us not repeat that humbling experience this year—these Chinese New Year greetings and their meanings (as well as who to say them to) should help you along.
Chinese New Year may be a time to spend with family, but we should share the festivities and goodwill with everyone we meet. Here are some general Chinese New Year greetings that can be used to greet everyone, from your parents to security guards and strangers you come across during this auspicious season.
Pronunciation: San1 nin4 faai3 lok6; xīn nián kuài lè
Meaning: Happy new year!
Pronunciation: Fu2 nin4 daai6 gat1; hǔ nián dà jí
Meaning: Happy new year of the tiger!
Pronunciation: Maan6 si6 jyu4 ji3; wàn shì rú yì
Meaning: May everything go as you hope!
Pronunciation: Gat1 coeng4 jyu4 yi3; jí xiáng rú yì
Meaning: I wish you good fortune on all of your desires.
Pronunciation: Sam1 soeng2 si6 sing4; xīn xiǎng shì chéng
Meaning: May your heart’s desires come true.
After two years of face masks and hand sanitisers, it’s no surprise that we’re all looking for a breakthrough in Covid-19 news. Together, we can fight the virus, starting with some Chinese New Year greetings centred around health and well-being. Hopefully, this year will bring us only health and happiness!
Pronunciation: San1 tai2 gin6 hong1; shēn tǐ jiàn kāng
Meaning: May you have good health!
Pronunciation: Zuk1 bou3 ping4 on1; zhú bào píng ān
Meaning: May you only hear good and peaceful news.
Fun fact: The purpose of lighting firecrackers during Chinese New Year is to announce that the family is well and no tragic incident had befallen them during the past year. They were also lit to scare off demons and evil spirits at the start of the year. The modern firecracker is constructed of paper, but originally, they were made of bamboo (竹; zuk1). As such, this Chinese New Year greeting literally translates into ”Bamboo reporting peace!”
Pronunciation: Jat1 faan4 fung1 seon6; yī fān fēng shùn
Meaning: May you have smooth sailing in all your endeavours.
Fun fact: This greeting emerged from sailors and travellers, reporting good winds for (literal) smooth sailing.
Pronunciation: Seoi3 seoi3 ping4 on1; suì suì píng ān
Meaning: May you experience peace in the years to come.
Pronunciation: Ceot1 jap6 ping4 on1; chū rù píng ān
Meaning: May you experience safety and peace wherever you go.
In Chinese, the saying “家和万事兴” (gaa1 wo4 maan6 si6 hing1)—“The family that lives in harmony will have prosperous affairs“—fully encapsulates the value of the family unit in Chinese culture. During the Chinese New Year season, it’s not uncommon to bestow words of well-wishing on someone’s entire family as part of your exchange. Here are some family-friendly Chinese New Year greetings!
Pronunciation: Hap6 gaa1 fun1 lok6; hé jiā huān lè
Meaning: Happiness and joy for the whole family!
Pronunciation: Hap6 gaa1 hang6 fuk1; hé jiā xìng fú
Meaning: Happiness and good fortune for the whole family
Pronunciation: Gaa1 zaak6 on1 ning4; jiā zhái ān níng
Meaning: May your home be filled with peace and tranquillity!
Pronunciation: Siu3 hau2 soeng4 hoi1; xiào kǒu cháng kāi
Meaning: May your year be filled with laughter and smiles!
Fun fact: “哈哈大笑” (haa1 haa1 daai6 siu3) means to laugh heartily and loudly, and is an extension of the saying mentioned here. Its tones match up with traditional Chinese New Year dining, too, as families often eat shrimp (蝦; haa1) during this season of festivities. The Chinese word for shrimp is a homonym for “哈哈” (haa1 haa1), which is the Chinese equivalent of “Haha!”
Pronunciation: Gaa1 fei4 uk1 jeon6; jiā féi wū rùn
Meaning: May your family be prosperous!
Fun fact: The literal translation of this Chinese New Year greeting is “Family fat, house moist.”
Filial piety, or respect for elders, is taught to children from a young age, so it should be no surprise that there are specific Chinese New Year greetings frequently used to wish our grandmas and grandpas a good new year!
Pronunciation: Lung4 maa5 zing1 san4; lóng mǎ jīng shén
Meaning: May you have the spirit and vitality of a horse or dragon!
Pronunciation: Lung4 zing1 fu2 maang5; lóng jīng hǔ měng
Meaning: May you have the spirit of a dragon and the ferociousness of a tiger!
Pronunciation: Zau6 bei2 naam4 saan1; shòu bǐ nán shān
Meaning: May you live a long and prosperous life (as the Zhongnan Mountains).
Fun fact: This saying is actually part of a couplet: “福如東海 ，壽比南山” (fuk1 jyu4 dung1 hoi2, zau6 bei2 naam4 saan1). The first half of the couplet means, “May your happiness and luck be as vast as the East China Sea (東海),” as water from here supposedly brought luck. The second half refers to the people who lived in Zhongnan Mountains (终南山), who supposedly lived longer and healthier lives. As such, this is a common couplet to say to the elderly, especially on birthdays.
Pronunciation: Fuk1 sau6 soeng1 cyun4; fú shòu shuāng quán
Meaning: May you enjoy both longevity and good fortune.
Pronunciation: San1 zong3 lik6 gin6; shēn zhuàng lì jiàn
Meaning: May you be healthy and strong.
It’s been a tough year for students as they grapple with online classes and not being surrounded by peers. On top of lai see packets, give your youngest friends some encouragement as they finish the academic year strong!
Pronunciation: Gam1 bong2 tai4 ming4; jīn bǎng tí míng
Meaning: I wish you success and top marks in your examinations.
Fun fact: The imperial examination was the civil servant entry examination system, and only the best and brightest of China could pass. Scholars who passed would have their names recorded on the jīnbǎng (金榜; gam1 bong2), a tablet with gold inscriptions with the names of those who passed the exam, signed by the emperor. This accomplishment brought great honour and status to their families and has become a saying for students today.
Pronunciation: Hok6 yip6 jau5 sing4; xué yè yǒu chéng
Meaning: May you have academic success and achievements.
Pronunciation: Paang4 xing4 maan6 lei5; péng chéng wàn lǐ
Meaning: May your future prospects be bright and brilliant.
Fun fact: The péng niǎo (鵬鳥; paang4 niu5) is a mythical bird that supposedly could reach up to 90,000 miles in altitude, and create waves that would rise up to 3,000 miles with a flap of its wings. This saying compares the future prospects of the recipient with the prowess of the bird.
Pronunciation: Hok6 yip6 zeon3 bou6; xué yè jìn bù
Meaning: May you have academic progress.
Pronunciation: Cung1 ming4 ling4 lei6; cōng míng líng lì
Meaning: May you be clever and quick-witted.
Hong Kong is a hub for innovation and opportunities, and in a city of the hustle economy, we could all use some extra luck in our workplace and career this year. Here are some Chinese New Year greetings for professional success.
Pronunciation: Nin4 nin4 jau5 jyu4; nián nián yǒu yú
Meaning: I wish you an abundance/surplus year after year.
Fun fact: The character “餘” (jyu4) means “surplus,” and is a homonym of the word “魚” (jyu4), which means “fish.” As such, certain regions of China will fry two fishes before the new year, keep them in the fridge until after the new year before consuming, in a symbolic act of hoping the year provides a surplus of income and wealth.
Pronunciation: Ziu1 coi4 zeon3 bou2; zhāo cái jìn bǎo
Meaning: May wealth and prosperity be ushered in.
Pronunciation: Saang1 yi3 hing1 lung4; shēng yì xīng lóng
Meaning: I hope your business thrives and is prosperous.
Pronunciation: Wo4 hei3 sang1 coi4; hé qì shēng cái
Meaning: May amiability bring you wealth.
Pronunciation: Bou6 bou6 gou1 sing1; bù bù gāo shēng
Meaning: Each step brings upward growth.
Fun fact: A Chinese New Year food staple is the new year pudding (年糕; nin4 gou1) and the radish cake (蘿蔔糕; lo4 baak6 gou1). The “糕” (gou1) is a homonym with “高” (gou1), and thus, these dishes are eaten to symbolise the phrase “步步高升!”