Challenges, Inspiration

Welcome to the Chinese Year of the Dragon!

January 23, 2012

Just when you thought the hubbub of Christmas and New Year party season was over. Here we go again with yet another celebration! But this one has a slightly more oriental feel, as today sees in the first day of the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year, also known as ‘Spring Festival’, follows the lunar calendar. The origin of the festival can be traced back thousands of years through an evolving series of legends and traditions. One of the most famous legends is that of Nien, an extremely cruel and ferocious beast, which the Chinese believe, eats people on New Year’s Eve. To keep Nien away, red-paper couplets are pasted on doors, torches are lit, and firecrackers are set off throughout the night. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal fill the air at successfully keeping Nien away for another year, the most popular greeting heard is kung-hsi, or “congratulations.”

Celebrations for this year’s Chinese New Year are particularly special, as we are entering the Year of the Dragon, which is a mighty and significantly symbolic creature in Chinese culture. Quite the opposite to the Nien and Western Dragon, the Chinese Dragon is a loving and benevolent creature. In ancient China, the celestial Dragon represented the emperor and power. Today, it is the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying success and happiness. It is even said that the mighty Dragon sent down his nine sons to help the first emperor of Ming Dynasty conquer China. These Dragons were invaluable to the emperor as they each had different attributes and appearances. For example, the second sons has large wings and is a strong warrior, and the seventh son has tusk-like teeth and seeks to uphold justice.  However, it is said that the Emperor found the nine sons such powerful allies that he decided to prevent their journey back to the skies by tricking them into spending eternity in China. Enraged by this, the nine sons decided to no longer to serve the emperor and instead turned evil!

Despite this rather unfortunate ending to the story, it seems China is still in awe of the nine sons, and they each play an important role in Chinese culture and architecture. For example, the image of the music loving first son can be found as a decoration for musical instrument, such as two-stringed bowed violin, and the image of the 5th son (who loves quiet and tranquillity) can often be seen on and around temples.

On our Great Wall Discovery and Cycle Challenges you have the opportunity to experience Chinese culture, and see the influence of the dragon and his nine sons first hand! The famous Forbidden City (which you have plenty of time to explore on both these challenges) is a whole world of dragons!  There are 19 dragons painted in gold on the throne, 79 carved in the folding screen behind the throne. Plus dragons carved in the golden table and other furniture, making a total of 590 dragons in the hall alone. Add on to that the 6 golden pillars swirled by dragons and the ceilings painted with golden dragons all around, and there are 40 doors in the hall and 5 wooden dragons on each door, which equal a massive 3, 504 dragons in total, which is only the tip of the iceberg  in regards to the Dragon’s influence and embodiment in China!

So if you’re interested in combining dragon hunting and exploring Chinese culture with exercising, raising money for charity, and frankly doing something incredible! Then click here to check out all available departure dates for our Great Wall Discovery and Great Wall Cycle challenges. For a taster of the spectacular Great Wall Discovery Challenge, click here to watch a video of the trek, filmed by China Operations Manager Jo last year.

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