Chinese New Year 2014 – Year of the Horse

2014 Year of the Horse, Chinese New Year

I am excited to be in Shanghai, China to experience the energy and excitement of preparations for the Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival. Much like our New Year, it is a time of celebration and an occasion for joyous family reunion to welcome a new beginning. Eastern culture follows lunar cycles – the 28 day cycle of new moon to full moon, versus our solar focused calendar – thus the difference in dates; specifically, Chinese New Year is a spring festival that begins on the second new Moon after Winter Solstice, with the Sun and Moon in Aquarius and 2014 welcomes the year of the Horse.

Zhouzhuang Village, Shanghai, ancient Chinese fishing village

School girls walking in Zhouzhuang water village decorated for Chinese New Year

Those born in the year of the Horse (1918, 1930, 1942, 1954,1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014) are considered to have an amazing capacity for hard work and are very independent. While intelligent and friendly, you have a strong streak of selfishness and sharp cunning and should guard against being egotistical. Your sign suggests success as an adventurer, scientist, poet, or politician {Source: China Today}

The spirit of the Horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. It is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able – a good sign to be born in. While in Shanghai, my husband hired a promising young bilingual Chinese man whose wife is expecting their first child any day now and every day he urges her to hang in there so their baby can be born a Horse and not a Snake! To read more about the sign of the Horse, click here. Not sure of your Chinese zodiac sign? Click on the link and enter your birth date.

According to  astrologer Susan Levitt, this year is a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. Energy is high and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast in a Horse year. If you are not 100% secure about a decision, then don’t do it. Events move so quickly in a Horse year that you don’t want to gallop off in the wrong direction.

Zhouzhuang Village, ancient Chinese fishing village, Shanghai

Zhouzhuang water village

This was the third time I’ve traveled with my husband to Shanghai and, unfortunately, it was particularly smoggy this time around. There were two days when I didn’t venture out of the hotel without a protective mask because the Air Quality Index (there’s an app for that) was hovering between 252 and 284 which is “very unhealthy, protection recommended”. For anyone who travels frequently to China on business (or pleasure) you should have this app on your phone. Most Westerners have read or heard about the horrid pollution in Beijing, but Shanghai has had its share this year as well. China Air Quality Index apps have raised public awareness and, from what I read in the Chinese newspapers, provincial governments have finally started levying fines against regulatory agencies and indicated that legislation will be stepped up. “The government’s drive to improve the environment has become one of the major themes of this year’s round of official debates” {Source: China Daily}

We got home last night and, in the spirit of Chinese New Year, I’d like to share a few of the scenes I captured along with a simple recipe for celebrating Chinese New Year. Highlights of the trip included a Night Markets Tour to experience some of the local street eats from hawker stalls to dingy “hole in the wall” cafes; a half-day trip to Zhouzhuang – an ancient water village on the outskirts of Shanghai, and shopping the artsy, boutique galleries and stores tucked in the alleys of Tianzifang.

Zhouzhuang Village, Shanghai, ancient Chinese fishing village

Travel to Shanghai is all business for my husband; I go along to keep him company and indulge my adventurous side while he’s hammering out deals and working on relationships. We visited Zhouzhuang on Sunday – the one day he took off to be a tourist. Zhouzhuang is one of the most famous water townships in China and is known for its profound cultural background, the well preserved ancient residential houses, elegant watery views and strong local traditions. Most of Zhouzhuang’s structures were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which spanned 1368 to 1911.

Zhouzhuang is a very popular tourist attraction – there is an admission fee of 100 yuan (about $16 US) – and a wonderful escape from the bustling city.  The serene, picturesque landscape of Venice-like canals and bridges evokes ancient China, especially in the winter with the barren trees and gray skies. The lush, colorful foliage and flowers of spring and summer are prettier, but there are also more tourists. There are many artisan, craft and curio shops featuring everything from combs made from ox horns, handmade baskets, loomed rugs and fabric, calligraphy and Japanese painting brushes, to loose tea and portrait painting. After walking the town and taking a gondola ride where your driver will sing a beautiful Chinese song for a tip, stop at one of the numerous tea houses or waterside restaurants. I even spotted a bar that has entertainment if you’re there later in the evening.

Zhouzhuang Water Village, Shanghai, ancient Chinese fishing village

Along the waterways were many boats as most of the residents of the water village are fishermen, just as they were thousands of years ago.

Zhouzhuang fishing boat, ancient Chinese fishing village

Fish is one of the Chinese New Years foods which are very important to Chinese people. Families come together to eat at Spring Festival and fish, along with Chinese dumplings, spring rolls, and niangao are usually eaten. All these delicious foods are steeped in tradition. In ancient times (dating back to the Han dynasty, 206 BC – 220 AD) the word “fish” – which sounds like ‘surplus’ not only represented the auspicious sound of  “surplus” but was also thought to repress evil. Tradition has carried on and fish is served as the last dish before the New Year because Chinese like to have a “surplus” at the end of the year and believe that if they managed to save something, then they can make more in the next year.

grilled whole fish, Chinese New Year traditions, Chinese New Year food


Grilled Whole Fish for Chinese New Year
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Eating fish is a tradition on Chinese New Years Eve and this traditional soy-ginger preparation is quick, easy, and delicious.
Serves: 3 servings
  • 3 whole red snapper* (cleaned and scaled)
  • 1 bunch of green onions, washed and sliced into 1½ pieces
  • 2 limes, sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
For the sauce:
  • ⅓ cup of low sodium soy sauce *
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • red chile flakes (optional)
  1. Heat the grill to medium-high. A heavy grill pan can be used for grilling inside.
  2. Oil the outside of the fish with sesame oil and stuff fresh cilantro and sliced lime inside the fish cavity. Other herbs and lemon can easily be substituted.
  3. Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar and chile flakes.
  4. Place the fish on a rimless cookie sheet and slide onto the grill. Grill with lid closed for 6-8 minutes, depending on thickness. Flip and grill on the second side until the flesh is opaque (white) and flakes easily, another 6-8 minutes. Remove the fish from the grill using a fish spatula and slide onto the cookie sheet. Serve with sauce and additional sliced green onions.
*Allow one fish per person. I use Coconut Aminos (paleo) which are lower in sodium than low-sodium soy sauce. You can purchase Coconut Aminos at a natural foods store.

red snapper with soy ginger sauce, fish for Chinese New Years

Normally, the head would be left intact and even the eye is eaten, but to protect squeamish Westerners, I removed it here.

Zhouzhuang Village, Shanghai, ancient Chinese fishing village

Zhouzhuang Village, ancient Chinese fishing village, Shanghai

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

(Mandarin – translation: Wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.)

Happy Chinese New Year! 

Zhouzhuang water village, Shanghai, Chinese New Year

 Chinese New Year flowers

4 Responses to “Chinese New Year 2014 – Year of the Horse”

  1. Ally January 23 at 10:30 am #

    Fabulous, Priscilla!! The year of the horse…my hubby is one! Love this recipe and think I can use it for say brown speckled trout? Whatcha think? Of course, I can find some snapper, but the trout is abundant in our river in the spring/summer :)

    • Priscilla January 23 at 5:09 pm #

      Hi Ally! Trout would be equally as delicious I’m sure – especially fresh from the stream :)

  2. Laura (Tutti Dolci) January 24 at 3:09 pm #

    Beautiful photos, I didn’t visit Zhouzhuang when I was in China but what an exciting time to be there!

  3. Rachael (Fuji Mama) January 29 at 10:05 pm #

    What a gorgeous post! Love the insight into Chinese New Year.

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