Fortune turns upside-down for Chinese New Year

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Chinese New Year is just a couple of days away, and it begins a two week celebration full of fascinating traditions and general merriment for Chinese people all over the world.

One of the most interesting things (for me) is the way Chinese people love to play with words. The language has a limited number of syllables, so has quite a lot of homophones. It is not uncommon for these to be switched around to make sayings or even traditions.

At Chinese New Year it is very common to see one character hung on people’s front doors. The character is 福, pronounced fu with a rising tone. The odd thing is that the character is almost always hung upside-down. This is because of the phrase 福到了, fú dào le, meaning fortune has arrived. The middle character 到 has the same pronunciation as the character 倒, which means upside down. So with one character, a whole phrase can be shown: fortune is upside-down, or fortune has arrived. Brilliant.

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