York professor offers insight into the origin of the Chinese New Year

The festivities surrounding Chinese New Year, which this year fell on Feb. 18, are ancient in origins and rich in cultural and mythological symbolism. York Professor Jay Goulding spoke about the background and symbolism of this holiday at the Chinese New Year celebration held at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto on Feb. 7.

Goulding, a professor in the School of Social Sciences in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, is a specialist in classical and modern Chinese and Japanese philosophy, religion and culture. He was a keynote speaker at the museum’s day-long Chinese New Year event, co-sponsored by the York Centre for Asian Research.

Left: Tom Bata (left), unidentified participant, Vivienne Poy, Jay Goulding and Sonja Bata

In the afternoon, Goulding delivered a presentation to the museum’s patrons and the media about Chinese New Year, explaining that it originated up to 5,000 years ago during the mythological era of China’s first emperor Huangdi.

This year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, it is the Year of the Pig. In keeping with this theme, Goulding, in his presentation, outlined the symbolism of the pig in Chinese culture. He explained the creature’s significance as a loyal creature of fertility, citing the famous fable Journey to the West, in which a pig (Pigsy) was a key figure.

Goulding also drew on examples from a current Bata Shoe Museum exhibit called Watched by Heaven, Tied to Earth: Summoning Animal Protection for Chinese Children. Featuring children’s shoes and garments, the exhibit explores the hidden meanings of symbolism of the Chinese zodiac and explains the reasons why children are dressed in clothes adorned with these traditions symbols and images.

In the evening, after an introduction by Senator Vivienne Poy, chancellor emerita of the University of Toronto, Goulding spoke on "Chinese Philosophy and Popular Culture".

"As we move toward the 2008 Beijing Olympics, popular culture becomes the meeting ground for the emergence of a new world inter-culture that is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of ‘all under heaven’," said Goulding. "New Year celebrates this new global culture."

Making reference to Poy’s new book, Profit, Victory and Sharpness – The Lees of Hong Kong (jointly published by the York Centre for Asian Research and the Hong Kong Institute of Education), Goulding explained how Chinese philosophy and popular culture are linked through the centrality of storytelling.

Goulding discussed the ancient tales from the Daoist classics of Zhuangzi and detailed a fluid continuity between the stories of ancient and modern worlds, noting that pigs, turtles, fish, camels, dragons, tigers, monkeys and elephants appear throughout.

He enhanced his lecture with a comprehensive slide show from his fall lecture tour at Peking University and Beijing Foreign Studies University. After his presentation, Goulding fielded questions from the audience during a question-and-answer period moderated by Poy.

The event was sponsored by the Bata Shoe Museum and the Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture (Central Ontario) Inc., and co-sponsored by York’s Centre for Asian Research and the Asian Institute of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.