Spring Festival Reflections

The author makes a new friend at the San Ta or Three Pagoda temple in Dali, Yunnan Province.

In the past three weeks I have taken advantage of the Spring Festival holiday period to travel extensively in China. Starting from Beijing I first of all travelled 2,087 kilometres to the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in south-west China. I then went on a further 350 kilometres to my first base, the city of Dali. Then another 300 kilometres south from Dali to the border city of Tengchong which is very close to the border with Myanmar.

After a return journey to Kunming I then cross-crossed central China, travelling to the city of Hangzhou, close to Shanghai and the capital city of Zhejiang Province. This is a further 2000 kilometres. From Hangzhou I climbed high into the mountains around the town of Lishui to a tiny village nestled in the mountain peaks called Songzhuangcun. The next leg of my journey was the 1000 kilometre trek northwards to Qingdao, a coastal city in the province of Shandong. Finally from Qingdao it was a simple matter of 650 kilometres back to Beijing.

Approximate map of the Spring Festival travel.

Let me share with you some reflections from my journey.

If you’re thinking of any journey like this, I’d strongly suggest you travel by train. Cities across China are well connected by domestic flights and I could have halved my travel time by taking to the air. But you lose so much. Quite simply, your train window is a cinema on China. Or maybe more like an artist’s canvas with a constantly changing scenery of villages, towns, cities and nature. You journey between the familiar and the unknown. The flatlands between Shanghai and Qingdao remind you of the land reclaimed from the sea in East Anglia. The long dives through subterranean tunnels where the darkness is broken by sudden flashes of remote villages hung between precipitous valleys as you enter Yunnan is unlike anything you’ll experience in Britain.

The unfolding panorama is one reason for travelling by train. The second is the fact that train journeys connect you to not just the country but the people themselves. The longer your journey the more the chances of falling into conversation with fellow passengers. I find most Chinese people to be as reserved as us British, but if you have just enough Chinese to spark up a conversation you will be made welcome. From Beijing down to Kunming I was made to feel part of an extended family going home for the Festival. In Tengchong I improvised English lessons for curious 14 year olds who had never spoken to a foreigner before. From Shanghai to Qingdao a young entrepreneur entertained me with stories about his start up film business. Believe me, my Chinese is not good, but all Chinese people study English in school and a good number can hold a conversation in this second or even third language. How many of us could do the same in Chinese! There’s always a digital translation APP to fill in the gaps. And underneath it all is a friendliness and a tolerance that ease communication. In all those long kilometres of travel, at all times of the day and the night, there was not one unpleasant encounter.

Finally and perhaps most important, there’s the sheer efficiency and quality of China’s rail network. Of course it saves on the emissions caused by jet fuel. Currently approximately 30% of China’s electrical capacity is generated from renewables, with a target of 50% by 2025. I’m afraid to say Chinese trains are everything that currently British trains are not. They have excellent staffing with helpful conductors, regular in-travel cleaning and a catering service that regularly supplies snacks or even heated meals delivered to your seat. There’s even an APP now that allows you to book restaurant cooked food ahead in your next destination, which will be delivered to your carriage as you wait on the platform! Travelling in style! Furthermore the timekeeping of the high speed trains is legendary. My longest train journeys were all of approximately ten hours duration – and each trained cruised elegantly into its arrival destination at precisely the scheduled time.

Gleaming ‘gāotiě’ high speed train in Spring Festival sunshine in Qingdao station.

Next I’d like to reflect on the diversity of travel experiences that China can offer a traveller, a diversity which often has its equivalents in Britain.

Encounters with history and culture are a given. For history, let’s take the ancient town of Heshun on the outskirts of the Yunnan city of Tengchong. The town is unaltered since the Ming and Qing dynasties, when it was an important centre for trade across south-east Asia. Walking in its narrow, cobbled streets delivers exactly the same feelings of nostalgia and connection with the past you get in a Cotswolds village in England.

The Cotswold village charm of Heshun Ancient Town near Tengchong, Yunnan Province.

For culture, let’s drop in on the New Year’s Day festivities at Songzhuangcun village, visiting a small temple perched on the mountainside. We all know that firecrackers and fireworks are a critical part of new year procedures to drive away bad luck. However in many cities lighting up firecrackers is banned, largely for environmental reasons. No such restrictions apply here and I’m thrust into the middle of the most enthusiastic and the most cacophonous ‘bàozhú’, firecracker display I have ever witnessed, where long lines of the little explosive devices are laid out along the mountain paths leading to the temple door. Soon the path is dripping red with debris and the air reeks of gunpowder and smoke. No chance of any evil spirits straying this way! And it would be exactly the same as dropping into some of the best bonfire nights for Guy Fawkes in England, the same high spirited, defiant revelry, fuelled by high octane pyrotechnics.

Firecrackers spark the New Year festival into raucous life, Songzhuangcun Village, Zhejiang Province.

So far, so mainstream. But equally significant for me was the quirky, or even outright eccentric, characters I met along the way, showing different, unexpected faces of China. In Dali I stayed several nights in what we would recognise in England as an ‘alternative lifestyles centre’. Members of the ‘Veggie Ark, Future Space’ community in Dali are committed vegetarians, many of them vegans. Life in the community revolves around a communal kitchen where buffet meals are shared for the inspirational cost of £3:50. For even more dedicated vegans, meals entirely consisting of raw foods are available. The community has a programme of events focused around creativity and wellbeing. I meet a foreigner, from Switzerland, who had joined the community and teaches alternative therapies. It’s all very middle class. Guardian readers from the UK would feel very much at home here. The founder is called Wu Hongping. He’s an incredible character. He comes from a farming family. After travels abroad he returned to Dali, started growing food for himself and then realised that his home-grown, organic philosophies were increasing important to a materialist society. Now he is a farmer, a social entrepreneur and a wonderfully charismatic, inspirational teacher.

Veggie Ark, Future Space’ , Dali, Yunnan Province, where Wu Hongping is creating a wholesome wellbeing community.

Another alternative lifestyle presents itself at Songzhuangcun, my homestay village in the Zhejiang mountains. If I said an ‘artist’s village’, or a ‘creative community’, you’d probably think of somewhere like St Ives in Cornwall, where art is a key part of vibrant cultural tourism. Come with me now to a remote mountain-top village, where Sun Yingying is striving to achieve the same magic. Songzhuangcun ought to be a dying village. Like so many other rural areas in China, it has been devastated by urbanisation. Yingying shakes her head and tells me there are no young people left at all in the village, they’ve all moved to Lishui, the nearest town in the valley or to nearby Hangzhou or Shanghai. Therefore there is no economic activity in the village. Indeed some of the beautiful mud-brick and wooden houses look shabby and forlorn. But Zhejiang Province has a hard won reputation as the leading area for rural revitalisation in China as the whole country strives to rebalance itself after decades of urbanisation and Yingying is making her own unique contribution.

I’ve seen wonderful village projects in my travels in the south-westerly provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan, but this one has a special beauty. Sun has worked with leading designers and local craftspeople to transform a number of retired properties into a stunning homestay accommodation. The project is called ‘Tao Ye’ – ‘Wild Peach’. The beautiful rooms are instant Instagram hits – or WeChat Wonders to give the Chinese equivalent. Tao Ye is successfully calling cultural and artistic travellers from across China and in future from across the world. But here’s the genius part. To kick start the creation of an ‘artist’s village’ Sun is developing the artistic and creative skills of the older people still resident in the village. She takes me to the art gallery in another restored abandoned local house to see their work. It has the wonder and authenticity of naive art. How much is from the artists and how much is from Sun herself is impossible to say, but their work is organic to the village environment. It might be the subject matter in paintings of the village itself, it might be the media, using raw, natural materials from the local environment or it might be the artists themselves, using their hands daubed in colour to create their designs.

Sun Yingying, who is revitalising a remote village in Zhejiang Province as an artistic and cultural centre.

Sun introduces me to one of her artists, a sprightly octogenarian called Ye Jin Juan. This woman should be the national symbol of rural revitalisation. When I meet her she’s setting up a demonstration of the rural craft of soy milk making for some visitors and will not stand still for one moment, except for a shy photograph. Sun tells me that Ye only left the village once in her life, for a short visit to nearby Wenzhou to see the sea, which apparently didn’t impress her much because she came straight back to village life. Her glowing, wrinkled skin and bird like twinkling eyes are witness to the wellbeing of mountain life. She drops her head humbly when I praise and encourage her art, but I can sense that developing these skills has given her a pride and meaningfulness in her life, revitalising her, alongside her village.

The author with Ye Jin Juan, taking a brief pause from brewing up traditional dòujiāng, soy milk.

The trouble with travel is that we find it extraordinarily difficult to let things, people and places be as they are, just unfold naturally in front of you. We tend to two extremes of equally unhelpful reactions. On the one hand things can easily become uncontrollably ‘different’ and we condemn them as ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’. We see everything through the squinting eyes of anxiety. Or on the other hand we put on rose tinted spectacles and start to gush about how ‘wonderfully exotic’ everything is. Either way we are overlaying our travel experiences by projecting our own emotions, past experiences and prejudices. It’s easy to get China wrong. Even after ten years I know I sometimes do. That’s why I always try as hard as my limited communication skills will allow to tune in to local voices.

It’s like China’s vast and intriguing cuisine. You have to get out of the standardised, commercial restaurants to stand a chance of experiencing the local. Honestly, there will be things you can’t stomach. I love spicy food, but for me the third and highest level of spice in a Chongqing hotpot is forever beyond my range. Honestly, there will be times when you end up with a case of what the Chinese call ‘lā dùzi’, loose bowels. But only if you come to each meal with an open mind, and an open stomach, will you be able to appreciate the range of textures and flavours that compose the diverse symphonies of Chinese cuisine. And in time some of these will become your new taste of home. There’s a humble little roadside restaurant in Tengchong city, Yunnan where one taste of a bowl of rice noodles has all of the home comforts that a farm made pasty and locally brewed cider bring me in Dorset.

A homely bowl of fresh rice noodles, local greens and a handful of lamb meat.

Bridges of understanding are waiting everywhere for you to explore .

Traditional stone bridge, Songzhuangcun Village, Zhejiang Province.

新年快乐 – xīnniánkuàilè

Happy New Year!

Author – 周尚, Zhou Shang

New Year – a time for Family Reunions

The scenery outside the window swept by, and some unmelted snow lay lazily in the shade of the trees. The wind also took off a few withered yellow leaves and ran away by itself. The friction between the wheels and the rails gradually subsided. Standing on the platform, even the air was full of joy. At this time, there will always be unspeakable emotions pushing tears out, half thinking about finally returning to my hometown, and half thinking that the four seasons have finally finished changing shifts and have started a new round.

Chinese 高铁 – gāotiě – high-speed railway

For Chinese people, the New Year is red, like the rising sun, bringing light into thousands of households and shining on the next round of four seasons; like a new life, flowing bright red blood, with incomparable vitality. When I first returned to my home in Nanjing, my home was still old, with white walls and black bricks, green trees and blue sky, and everything seemed serious and indifferent. This is not in line with the New Year’s atmosphere.

So under the two osmanthus trees facing the window, I brought a ladder, picked up a longer branch, stuck the small lantern on the branch first, then found a branch between the leaves, picked up the lantern and hung it on it. After a lot of effort, the whole tree was finally covered with small lanterns, as if a string of red fruits had grown.

New Year lanterns in the trees

As the saying goes, “Thousands of families are in the sun, always replace the new peaches with old charms”. The two sides of the gate should be pasted with Spring Festival couplets. People dip in ink and write on the red paper what they hope for the next year. Stick it next to the door god. It is always a happy experience to enter and go out. In Chinese, “inverted” and “to” are homophonic, so the word “fu” in the middle of the gate or on the window is always pasted upside down, which means: ‘lucky arrival’. With the last window flower pasted on the window, the home finally seemed to be ready for the Spring Festival.

春联 – chūnlián – Spring Festival couplets

It’s the New Year in a blink of an eye. This day of the New Year is to pay tribute to the Kitchen Lord. It is said that the Kitchen Kord of each family will return to heaven on this day to report the good and bad things that people have done in this year. When I get up early in the morning, I follow my parents to clean the stove, put incense in the incense burner in the middle of the two stoves, and then put two plates of bright fruit on both sides. When I was a child, my grandmother also told me an anecdote: Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was poor when he was a child and could not afford meat to eat. He found a meat seller during the Spring Festival, hoping he can give him a piece of meat to eat. When the shopkeeper saw where the wild boy came from, he opened his mouth and asked him to go outside. Then Zhu Yuanzhang said that if no one wanted the pig’s head, he would take it. The boss still drove him away. Therefore, Zhu Yuanzhang shouted to the boss that he would become emperor in the future. Later, when he became emperor, he decreed that he would add another year to the calendar, but the distance between the north and the south was different, so there was a difference of one day. But it’s just an anecdote. Emperor Hongwu ascended the throne in Yingtianfu, which is today’s Nanjing. If the story is really as it says, how can he notify the north first and then the south?

Offerings for the Kitchen Lord

In Nanjing, Jinling, we will make a special dish during the Spring Festival, which is a stir-fry with 16 to 19 kinds of vegetables such as cauliflower, snow berry, soybean sprouts, etc., which are called ten kinds of dishes, also known as assorted dishes. Each vegetable tastes different, and the order of cooking is different. The whole family work hard together on the cooking, which shows the moral meaning of such a dish : “peaceful and long-lasting”.

Nanjing Spring Festival stir-fry

For children like us, the Spring Festival is undoubtedly the most anticipated season of the year, and because of this, they often start to calculate the distance from the New Year after the solar calendar, as if the Spring Festival is a distant and difficult place to reach. One of the reasons is that you will receive New Year money in the New Year, which was originally meant to suppress and exorcise evil spirits, but in fact, in our opinion, when we make a lot of money, when we see the elders, we will bow to the New Year, and our pockets will be full after Spring Festival. The second meaning is to take a step closer to growing up. One year older, the New Year represents a new round and growth. At the same time, the elders will take the descendants to worship their ancestors, so that the sleeping ancestors can also see our growth in the past year.

However, as I get older, I’m worried about another problem: it’s not far from the age of 18. Is it my turn to give New Year’s money to the younger generation? That’s really a big expense. Sure enough, tradition takes turns. When you grow up, you have to pass on the lucky money you received when you were a child. Last year, a lot of things happened, and I also began to gradually understand that the elders had a lot of emotions about the New Year, and it seemed that they had quite complicated emotions. After a year, the children, relatives and friends from other places will visit each other, and neighbours will visit each other to pay New Year’s greetings. It is a happy reunion. This is a joy. The clouds do not last all day long, and the shower does not end. The New Year’s departure is another spring rain that sweeps the elderly, and I often see the rain falling in the eyes of my grandparents. This is a sadness for me.

年夜饭 – niányèfàn – family reunion dinner on lunar New Year’s Eve

For us, the New Year symbolises the proximity to society and the maturity of the mind. Therefore, when I show the elders the harvest of this year, I can always hear the firecrackers ignite in their hearts, which is an unbearable joy and pride. However, this also reminds them of time flying by and their lives. The Chinese people’s words are implicit. The sentence “one year older” and the sigh inserted between the laughter hide all their helplessness, but they are happy in the present, and the world is at this time.

I lit the sky rocket firework inserted in the yard. With a sharp sound, it cut through the long night and knocked on New Year. After that, the fireworks and firecrackers were all on, and the night world was as bright as the day. It is not only entertainment for children, but also the custom of celebrating the New Year. Under the glow of fireworks, every family sits and eats dumplings made together, each with different flavours, which is the tone that people will recall in the future. It seems that there is a Spring Festival every year, 365 days or 366 days. We should cherish reunions more. Many things seem irrelevant at the time, but they become rooted in memory for a long time. For many years, they can seem to be dormant. When the memories wake up, they look at your hurried life and fell asleep slowly. But when I see them again one day, I see that time has worn out many so-called events in life, and they are firmly stuck there and have an incomparable weight.

When I realised this, I began to record my thoughts and I began to think about what life could create and leave behind. As the writer Shi Tiesheng said: “

“The process! Yes, the meaning of life is that you can create the beauty and brilliance of the process, and the value of life lies in the fact that you can calmly and excitedly appreciate the beauty and sadness of the process.”

开门炮 – kāiménpào – firecrackers set off at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day (a Chinese tradition)

Finally, sitting here at the dining table, I use my camera to leave behind this moment when we clink our glasses and celebrate this New Year of 2024.

British friends, please join us. Happy New Year to us all!

(Original photographs by the author)

An Introduction to the Chinese New Year Festival

Original art by painter Liu Liyong

The Chinese New Year or Lunar Festival or Spring Festival is one of the largest cultural events in the world. It is estimated that over two billion people will be involved in celebrations of one form or another. There will be public holidays not just in China but also across Asia. Of course there will be festival activities across the globe, including events for us to join in most major British cities. Already many signs of the imminent festival are in place here in Beijing, especially the ever present lanterns, shining splendid and scarlet from buildings and lamp posts, golden tassels catching the January sun. In Blogs over the next few weeks I will share some of the flavours of festival, but before everything begins, let’s make sure we know what this festival is all about.

We can start with the question, why is the Chinese New Year different from the western version? The answer is the difference between a solar calendar based on movements of the sun and a lunar calendar based on the passages of the moon. The western, solar calendar is called the Gregorian calendar and has a fixed date for New Year – January 1st. The traditional Chinese calendar is based on the moon. A new lunar month starts when the moon moves into a straight line with the earth and the sun. The first day of the festival begins on the New Moon sometime each year between January 21st and February 20th. The holiday and festival lasts 16 days from New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the New Year which also happens to be the Lantern Festival. In 2024, Lunar New Year starts Saturday, Feb. 10 and ends Saturday, Feb. 24.

In 1912, the government decided to abolish Chinese New Year and the lunar calendar, instead opting to adopt the Gregorian calendar and make January 1 the official start of the new year.This new policy was unpopular, so a compromise was reached: both calendar systems were kept, with the Gregorian calendar being used in government, factory, school and other organisational settings, while the lunar calendar is used for traditional festivals. In 1949, Chinese New Year was renamed the ‘Spring Festival’, and was listed as a nationwide public holiday.

红灯笼 hóngdēng lǒng, a Spring Festival Lantern

We are all fascinated by the culture and customs of the New Year Festival, but before we dive into what makes this Chinese celebration unique, let’s take a moment to reflect on the threads of connection and similarity. The most obvious is of course that both celebrate the renewal of a new year. Surely the origins of both festivals lie in the agricultural year, a shared sense of joy that the worst of winter is over and warmer days lie ahead. At the heart of both British and Chinese celebrations we find feasting. The famous British Christmas dinner parallels the Family Reunion meal which is the highlight of Chinese New Year for many.

It’s not just the fact of feasting, it’s the act of family reunion that I think is the deepest cultural connection. A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend the new year days themselves with a Chinese family and the amount of eating and drinking were exactly like an English Christmas and so too was the feeling of family warmth. Could it be the family gathering is also an ancestral memory of needing to keep everyone together under the protection of a family roof to survive the hardships of winter and get everyone safely through to Spring?

A family feast

Now we’ve cultivated our shared roots, let’s turn to the distinctive Chinese characteristics. I think most of us are familiar with the customs of the festival – the colour red, the lanterns, the firecrackers, the dancing lions. What we might be less aware of is the symbolism of all of the various aspects of New Year. Actually the symbolism can mostly be traced back to a single legend – the story of a monster called Nian. It’s a great story for children to read in detail, but I’ll just give the main points here.

“ Once upon a time in ancient China there lived a monster called Nian. Nian lived in the depths of the sea and only came out once a year, on New Year’s Eve to devour whatever it could, including people. The local people developed the habit of fleeing into the mountains for safety before Nian arrived every year. One particular year everyone in Peach Blossom village had fled except for an aged grandma living at the end of a lane. As the evening approached, and the time when Nian would appear, an old beggar wandered into the village, with a silver beard, a walking stick and a bag in his hand. The grandmother came out to greet him. She offered him food and advised him to leave immediately. He said, ‘If you can let me shelter in your house tonight, I’ll stop this Nian forever’. The grandmother agreed. When darkness fell Nian roared into the village. He sensed something was not quite right. At the end of the alleyway, the grandmother’s house was brightly lit up, with red paper stuck on the doors. He screeched in anger. He hated lights. He hated the colour red even more. Bellowing, Nian charged at Grandmother’s house but suddenly came to a halt. There were loud explosions which the monster found terrifying. And then the final straw. An old man burst out of grandmother’s house, all dressed in red, howling with laughter and throwing firecrackers in bamboo sticks. It was all too much for the monster who turned and fled, never to return again.”

The monster Nian (image courtesy of CGTN)

I’m sure the symbolism of many of the things you will see and hear at any New Year festival event is now much, much clearer. The tradition of dragon or lion dances emerged in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) growing out of folk entertainments The dragon is well-known as a symbol of wealth, power and vitality. Lions are mythical creatures in China because no lions actually live there. Lions are believed to have the power to drive away evil spirits. In fact you will find carved stone lions at the doorways of traditional houses all over China. A dragon or lion dance is sure to drive away any lurking evil that might want to ruin your new year luck! Of course this year is the Year of the Dragon, an idea I’ll discuss in more detail in another Blog.

We can’t leave the colour red without talking about one of the most popular parts of the festival, especially for children. One of the most eagerly anticipated New Year customs is the giving of ‘hong bao’ or ‘red packets’. A red packet is a small red envelope in which an amount of notes are wrapped to be given as a new year gift. Hong bao are traditionally given by parents to children and by younger people to show respect to their elders. However as I know from my workplace hong bao are also used by employers to show appreciation for workers. Hong bao are not exclusive to New Year, but they are extremely popular at this time of year. The point is not the value of the gift, but the symbolic luck which the money brings, although this is not the sentiment I’ve heard from my colleagues!

Nowadays a ‘Hong Bao’ can be given at the click of a button on your mobile phone

Let’s finish by discussing the heart of the New Year for most Chinese families – the return to your hometown. The New Year is the occasion for one of the largest migrations on the planet as millions of city living Chinese return to their roots. Tomorrow morning (Saturday 27th January) I will join an estimated 143,000 passengers at Beijing West Railway Station starting journeys home all over the country. In my case this is to the remote south-west province of Yunnan, sadly not my actual home in China, but certainly my spiritual home here. China Railway Beijing Group is projected to handle 39.13 million passenger trips during the period, up 14.1 percent compared with the same period of 2019. The travel peak before the Spring Festival will be on February 7, with 1.32 million passenger trips expected to be made. The return peak will be on Feb 25, with 1.35 million passenger trips projected. Altogether it is estimated the holiday will see 9 billion passenger trips. Staggering!

For the last few weeks in school I’ve felt the anticipation amongst my colleagues as they gossip about going , who they’re going to see, what gifts they will take and family activities that will take place.

There are loose connections with British culture I think. There’s an echo of the excitement in Britain before Christmas when people begin to talk about travelling home to see their families. But this doesn’t capture the almost spiritual feeling that accompanies ‘home town’ in Chinese lives. Many Chinese families still have a direct and living connection to roots in towns and villages outside of the cities. Urbanisation is not a completed process as in the UK but a part of living experience. As recently as 1975 only a quarter of the Chinese population lived in cities. As of 2022 this figure had increased to 63%. By comparison this figure in Britain is 84%. The majority of my teaching colleagues are first generation city dwellers with families ‘back home’ in the provinces around Beijing – Liaoning to the north, Shandong to the south or Hebei – the province which curls around Beijing. Of course going home for the holiday is about being reunited with family with all of the traditional Confucian values involved. But I think that in the face of the pressures of urbanisation, it’s also a form of ‘pilgrimage’, a re-connection with your own roots and a re-connection with an authentic Chinese identity.

The significance of this part of New Year can be seen from the amazing success of a 2020 film called ‘我和我的家乡’, ‘My People, My Homeland’ which altogether made 433.2 million dollars. The film consists of five short stories, each created by a different director and each narrative telling a bitter sweet tale about what has been lost in city life and what can be rediscovered in returning to your hometown. If you want to share the flavour of the hometown migration I’d recommend adding this movie to your Chinese New Year celebrations. There’s a popular Chinese expression – 美不美家乡水 – měi bù měi jiāxiāng shuǐ – whether it’s sweet or bitter, water from your hometown is the best. This movie comes as close as anything I know to expressing this feeling.

The author joins the Spring Festival departures from Beijing West railway station

How can you feel closer to Chinese New Year in Britain? Well one thing you could do is to hang bright red scrolls of calligraphy couplets next to your door. This is a very common festival custom all over China. In Chinese they are called ‘Chunlian 春联’. There are three parts to a chunlian. The First Line or Upper Scroll is called a Shanglian 上联|上聯. Shàng lián is the first line of the couplet, traditionally placed on the right side of the door. It is written in vertical columns from top to bottom. It usually has 5, 7, 9 or 11 Chinese characters. The Shanglian typically conveys blessings or good wishes for the New Year. The second is the Lower Scroll or Xialian 下聯|下聯. This is placed on the left side of the door. Like the Shanglian, it is also written in vertical columns. The Xialian often complements the Shanglian and completes the couplet with a response or continuation of the message. The third part is the Horizontal Scroll or Hengpi 横批 (Héng pī). The Hengpi is a shorter phrase (usually 4 characters) that is placed horizontally above the doorframe, connecting and summarising the meaning of the couplet.

Here is an example of all three parts of a complete chunlian.

Shanglian : 迎新春事事如意 (yíng xīn chūn shì shì rú yì)

English: May everything go as you wish in welcoming the Spring Festival.

Xialian : 接洪福步步高升 (jiē hóng fú bù bù gāo shēng)

English: May good fortune come your way, and may each step bring you higher and higher.

Hengpi : 好事临门 (hǎo shì lín mén)

English: Good things come to your door.

Spring Festival couplets in the early spring sunshine in Dali, Yunnan Province

This Spring Festival, may good things come to all our doors!