Chinese New Year brings many things: food, family reunions, hong bao (red packets with money inside), mandarin oranges, just to name a few. It also brings the Chinese New Year Lion Dance, also known as Cai Qing. There are other types of Lion Dance, but this particular dance, cai qing, is practiced during the Lunar New Year. Cai Qing means “plucking the greens”. Business owners or families who have commissioned a Lion Dance will put out auspicious greens and fruits, such as mandarin oranges, along with a hong bao for the Lion Dance troupe. Sometimes the greens and hong bao will be placed in a high place, such as on a pole, and the lions will have to jump to retrieve the hong bao, while leaving behind or tossing away the greens. Other times, the greens and hong bao are set on the floor. This dance is said to bring good fortune to the business owners who offer red packets to the Lion Dance troupe. Lion Dances during the Chinese New Year in Singapore are very common. Many offices will host a dance troupe and malls all over the island have performances scheduled during this time of year. This past week West Mall, near my home, hosted Lion Dances almost every day. I went down to the mall several times to watch the Wenyang Sports Association perform Cai Qing. They were truly excellent, both full of energy and artistically expressive. I was able to see both their golden costumed Lion Dancers, as well as the LED Lion Dancers.
Each lion is manned by two dancers. After entering, the lions dance around, accompanied by drums and cymbals. Soon they notice the greens and hong bao. They become very excited, jumping and standing with one dancer on the other’s shoulders.
The lions begin stalking the greens, dancing in tandem, up and down, side to side. They get closer and closer to inspect the greens. Finally, realizing they want that hong bao, the lion dancers jump on top of the greens. The dancers inside quickly begin peeling the oranges and shredding the lettuce. They also take any other objects that will please the crowd, such as those stuffed goats, and prepare to pass them along to the audience.
The Lion Dancers toss the greens from the lion’s mouth. Next they begin tossing oranges or other fruits to the crowd from the lions’ mouths. One of the sheep landed right at my feet, but by the time I let go of my camera to pick it up, someone else had reached for it too and was pulling it away. I really did want that sheep, but I wasn’t going to fight for it so I let go. Fortunately, I caught an orange a few minutes later. It’s considered lucky to catch these items from the Lion Dancers. I brought my orange home and put it into a yellow cake. The cake tastes great, but it’s too dense to share the recipe so I’ll have to keep working on Lucky Orange Cake.
The lions release scrolls with auspicious sayings or couplets amid a burst of confetti. Below where they were sitting previously, lucky numbers and characters created from the mandarin oranges are revealed. Many people play the lottery with these numbers.
If you are in Singapore during Chinese New Year and would like to watch a Lion Dance performance, it’s easy to find. Check with your closest mall for performance times and arrive a few minutes early to get a good view. Good luck catching a lucky orange or stuffed toy!