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China’s cheeky equine greetings

Publication Date : 31-01-2014

 

The messages for the New Year convey the Chinese’ hopes and goals along with a sassy sense of humour.

Happy Chinese New Year! On this very first day of the Year of the Horse, let’s take a look at the New Year greetings that have swept cyberspace before the Snake could make a slithering exit.

A phrase that begins with ma shang you… is popularly used in the context of Chinese New Year wishes.

Separately, ma means “horse” while shang means “above”. When combined, the two characters form an adverb that means “immediately” or “right away”. Literally, however, they can denote “on horseback”.

Meanwhile, ma shang you… means “get (something) immediately”.

The common greetings include ma shang you qian, ma shang you fang and ma shang you che hao, which mean “get rich immediately”, “own a house immediately” and “obtain a car licence plate immediately” (from the compulsory licence plate lottery before one can own a car, a measure to curb traffic congestion).

Accompanying these phrases are illustrations of horses with ingots, bank notes, houses or cars on their back.

Another cheeky example shows a pair of mini elephants sitting on the back of a horse.

It is used to express a wish of finding a partner in the New Year as the Chinese term for partner, dui xiang, is literally a pair of elephants.

But what if a person wants it all — money, house, car and everything?

Just place an eggplant on the back of a horse because eggplant or qie rhymes with everything in Chinese.

On Taobao, China’s version of eBay, snuggly horse soft toys are currently selling like hot cakes. Many come with eggplants, elephants, money and houses, while others have chariots from Chinese chess to represent cars.

But there are party poopers who have pointed out that horses have a layer of hair, mao, and thus ma shang you… becomes ma shang you mao. The phrase means “have nothing”, which dashes one’s dreams of getting anything at all.

Jokes aside, these ma shang you… phrases can be summarised into one conclusion — the people’s earnest wish for a better life in the brand new year.

According to China Women’s News, this ma shang you… trend is not a new invention.

Traditional decorative items have been found adorned with the illustration of a monkey on horseback, as the Chinese character for monkey, hou, is homophonic to an honorific title in ancient times.

When asked to analyse the ma shang you… trend in the local media, Xia Xueluan, a professor of sociology at Peking University, said that it was a reflection of people’s anxiety in the face of housing and marriage issues in real life.

“It also brings out their aspirations and expectations. Through expressing their hopes boldly, they are setting a goal for themselves and then working hard towards achieving it,” he said.

On that note, here’s wishing you a joyful celebration with friends and family. May the masculine beast bring you whatever your heart desires on its back. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

 

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