Yuan-Xiao Festival

The Yuan-Xiao Festival, which is also known as the Lantern Festival or the Sweet Dumpling Festival, arrives this time of year.

China Online.com says, “Chinese started to celebrate the Lantern Festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 221 AD) then it regained popularity during the Tang and Song Dynasties.”


Yuan Xiao (
元宵 or 元宵節) is an ancient Chinese tradition that celebrates a new beginning and a fresh start on life.

This is a festival for people to have fun. On the night, people go to streets with a variety of lanterns under the full moon, watching Lion or Dragon Dances, playing Chinese riddles and games, enjoying the typical food called Yuan Xiao (sweet dumplings) and setting off firecrackers.

The sweet dumplings are made of glutinous rice flour and may be stuffed with either a sweet or a salty filling.  Sweet fillings may have walnuts, sesame seeds, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, tangerine peel, bean paste or jujube paste.

The salty Yuan Xiao is filled with a minced meat and/or vegetable mixture.

Traditionally, this day marks the end of celebrations of the Lunar New Year.

Lighting paper lanterns is a tradition during this festival, which is why it is also known as the Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival was once a version of another Chinese Valentine’s Day but has been gradually losing its romantic allure while the Western Valentine’s Day is gaining in popularity among younger Chinese.

If you pay attention to Chinese holidays, eating is important.  China is an eating culture where family and friends gather to stuff themselves and have an enjoyable time.

Learn more of China’s Eating Culture

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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11 Responses to Yuan-Xiao Festival

  1. Alessandro says:

    Y Chan, I think that mr Lofthouse was referring to the fact that it was called nonetheless “yuan xiao” in the video…regardless of the fried or not fried (and, anyway, as u can see from these few webpages in chinese, “fried yuanxiao” or exactly 炸元宵 are not at all “unknown” in China, and is therefore not at all a case of reversed “chinglish”)
    http://www.ttmeishi.com/caipu/b1b0113b0bca1fb2.htm
    http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/2728193
    http://v.ku6.com/show/xEIimoWIK9lF12AU.html

    Anyway, as I already said, Yuanxiao and Tang (NOT Ton as u previously stated) yuan are practically the same thing. They are more called “Yuan xiao” in the north, and tang yuan in the south.
    As for ur translation of 元宵,it is not completely correct. 元 yuan means “initial/chief”, and yes, 元月 means january..but name 元宵 yuanxiao as in 元宵节 yuanxiajie comes from the other name of the Lantern Festival, which is 上元节 shangyuanjie. 宵 means night.

  2. Y Chan says:

    MY GOD !

    Are you running an Chinglish website?

    There is no such thing as “Deep Fried Yuan Xiao”. I have never heard of it and whoever puts it on the sub-title in your video is simply a BAD TRANSLATOR. Chinglish in reverse.

    In the Chinese language (Manderin or Cantonese), Yuan means January and Xiao means evening. How can you Deep Fried a January Evening as a dessert?

    At least, you cannot buy such a thing as “Deep Fried Yuan Xiao” in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, just as there is no such thing as Fortune Cookie in Chinese food.

    Everytime when I come across Chinese being translated wrongly into English (or vice versa) I just cannot stop laughing my head off. I give you some examples from Chinese Restaurants:

    Special cocktail for ladies with nuts
    Chicken without sex life
    Palace explode chicken diced meat
    Crap Eggs with Bamboo Flavour
    Fragrant and Hot Marxism
    Drunken chicken
    Husband and Wife Lung Fries
    Vegatable with double bacterias
    Snow Ear Soup

    Enjoy your meals.

    • Alessandro was correct. I was referring to the fact that it was called “yuan xiao” in the video…regardless of the fried or not fried… I also mentioned that I found “yuan xiao” used to describe the dumpling on other sites some (which I did not mention) with “cn” in the HTML code identifying them as sites in China.

      China is a vast country. There are differences in the way the language is used/interpreted (spoken and written) from south to central to north from east to west with completely different languages, dialects and usage. The spoken language may also change from region to region.

      In addition, Alessandro is also correct, “Anyway, as I already said, Yuanxiao and Tang (NOT Ton as u previously stated) yuan are practically the same thing. They are more called “yuan xiao” in the north, and tang yuan in the south.”

      In fact, eating habits are different in different parts of the country. One example is the fact that in the south the primary grain is rice while in the north the primary grain used in the diet is wheat.

      As for your flippant, “MY GOD! Are you running a Chinglish website?” You are wrong again!

      No, I’m running an English language Website from America and my sources of research are mostly in English.

  3. Alessandro says:

    As for the rest of the issue..I think it’s impossible for any one person to know everything there is to know and understand about China (not even a Chinese, born and raised in the country could). Given the usual propaganda that usually goes around about China, I always welcome open-minded, sincere analysis like the ones you write. Sometime exact knowledge of Confucius or whatever else (though helpful for sure) is useless if we don’t make the simple effort of trying to understand with open mind a culture and a society so basically different from our own (as we already said regarding people who just see communism and communists behind each and every thing that happen or exist in China nowadays). Though descending from the same root, there are many differences between European and American societies and cultures…let alone China, and east asian civilization in general, which are even more ancient and completely different on many basilar levels..

  4. Alessandro says:

    Hi Lloyd, glad you liked my comment, and happy it could give you a somewhat new perspective on the issue. Having been since childhood fascinated by languages and especially by different writing systems, I devoted to the topic quite some time. As I will have little time now to write an organic post about it, I’m more than happy if you want to use my comment on your blog…or as a guideline for something more complete.

    Alessandro

  5. Alessandro says:

    This thought about China unifying written language (that in thousands of years have helped shaping the conscience of belonging to a one, big cultural sphere) and the different languages in Europe have been lingering in my mind for quite sometime now…I have little time now, and I intend to come back on this issue later, but to say it simply, the fact is also related to the “nature” of chinese and latin writing systems. Latin alphabet is a phonetic one, and as such, it simply reproduces the sounds of the spoken language, making it more susceptible of changes whenever the spoken language changes..Chinese hanzi, on the other hand, convey almost no “phonetic” informations by themselves (the only exception could be the radicals, that more or less can suggest the pronounce of different characters..but it is a completely different issue) in them by themselves; this factor helped keep the writing language stable regardless of the temporal or geographical changing in the spoken language.
    Both Europe and China have had political upheaval and long period in which they were divided, but having a more stable writing system that doesn’t change as much as an alphabetic one helped them not to lose an important element of cultural unity, therefore of “national” identity (it’s worth to keep in mind that, at least till XIX century and the encounter with the western imperialist powers, China concept of “nation” had nothing to do with “nation state” concept common in Europe..European nation states’ are more or less based on ethnicity, while in China it was – and somewhat it still somewhat is – on cultural elements..u were chinese cause u shared a common culture, cause u acted as a chinese and assumed chinese customs). Europe never regained the unity (also linguistic) that had during the roman empire..while China always strove to regain unity after each period of division..thus the traditional saying “合久必分,分久必合“ 。。。more or less “after unity comes division, after division comes unity”

    • Alessandro,

      Thank you. This is a great topic and if you do not have the time to write a post about it, I would like to take this comment, edit it a bit, and post it on the Blog where it may gain a wider audience. This comment opened up a new vista for me regarding my perception of the Chinese culture. Even most Chinese may not be aware of what you have revealed since sometimes being too close to the source is a form of blindness.

      On another note, yesterday a comment was posted under my Review for “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.

      Not wanting to take the time to write a response, I deleted this comment but it may return.

      This person says he was a teacher in Europe and claimed to teach four languages. The person demanded that I stop writing about China since I know nothing of Confucius. I have no idea how this person worked in the Confucius criticism as a comment for my review of Amy Chua’s memoir. This person also said I knew nothing of teaching since American teachers are not trained as well as those in Europe. This person (I don’t know if it was a woman or man) kept tossing around the word “pedagogy”.

      He also insinuated that I’ve never had children (yet I have a 34-year-old son and a nineteen-year-old daughter attending Stanford). It was a poorly worded rant, which is another reason I deleted it.

      I’ve never claimed to be a China expert and for sure I don’t know all there is to know of Confucius. Is there anyone that is a total China expert and knows all there is to know?

      I may get it wrong occasionally but I strive to do my best to present a balanced picture of China instead of the often-biased one I see presented in the Western media and the Blog posts and comments of Sinophobes.

  6. Alessandro says:

    Actually, Y Chan, those are called TANG yuan (汤圆)in mandarin, as soup is called 汤 tang in putonghua, not TON yuan. Anyway, difference between tangyuan and yuanxiao are pretty small, and many times the name are used interchangeably, cause even many chinese do not know the difference.

    • Alessandro,

      Thank you.

      I wonder if the differences you point out are due to the many spoken languages and dialects in China. If someone lived in Beijing and another person in Shanghai, would a native of each region refer to the soup as one word or the other? China is unique in that it has one written language but so many different spoken ones. The one written language seems to have also bridged the gap between the fifty-six minority cultures that still exist in China.

      Compared to how the US has treated its native minorities, China appears to do much better at that and has done so for centuries.

      Now I’m going to drift off topic—Where the EU has only the Euro to unify it, China has one written language, one currency, etc.

      The EU on the other hand has language barriers in both spoken and written.

      It would seem that having one written language would be a stronger unifying force than currency. Where the EU could fall apart easily, China has already held together for more than two millennia with just the one written language as the main unifying force even though China could easily become like Europe—a land of many countries.

  7. I’m not saying you are wrong. However, did you notice the words printed lightly at the bottom of the embedded video? They say “Deep Fried Yuan Xiao”. In fact, I found most of the descriptions that I used to describe the dumplings at other Websites (more than one since I cross referenced) and they all said “Yuan Xiao”. One was a travel Website for touring China.

    Of course, “Yuan Xiao” was what I used in my Google and YouTube searches, which might explain why all I found was the use of “Yuan Xiao” to describe the dumplings.

  8. Y Chan says:

    Sorry.

    The round dumpling that you descrbed is not called “Yuan Xiao”. It is called “Ton Yuan”, which literally means “soup round” in Chinese.

    Your description of both sweet and salty Ton Yuan is correct.

    The most popular stuffings for the sweet Ton Yuan should be peanuts or sesame paste. The round dumplings are cooked in sugar syrup and served hot.

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