The Edit


chinese new year music


We’re getting excited about celebrating Chinese New Year 2023, which falls on Sunday, January 22nd. But what are the traditions associated with Chinese New Year, and what is 2023’s animal zodiac sign? 

We’ve got everything you need to know – as well as plenty of music for Chinese New Year playlists!

Why Does Chinese New Year Fall on a Different Date Each Year?

The date is determined by the Chinese Lunar Calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon and sun and is generally 21–51 days behind the Gregorian calendar that’s used in the West.

Although the date changes every year, it always falls between January 21st and February 20th. The day of Chinese New Year is a new moon day, usually the second after the winter solstice.

How Long Is the Chinese New Year Holiday?

It’s good news if you want to really plan a party – Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally last for 16 days – from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival.

Celebrated throughout Asia, it’s first and foremost a family celebration, where all relatives gather at the oldest family member’s house. Each day of the festival has a dedicated name and a specific purpose or meaning. New Year’s Eve is the time when there’s a family reunion dinner and you stay up will midnight. New Year’s Day is when families traditionally visit their ancestors’ graves, whilst the Day of the Horse (January 27th 2023) is believed to be the best day to get rid of old, unwanted things.

Keep your fingers crossed for good weather on January 29th, the Day of the Grain, as that symbolises good crops for the year. It’s also the day when many families have a second mini reunion dinner. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the celebrations, with lanterns being lit and hung or flown, and people watching dragon and lion dances in the streets.

chinese new year dragon

What Are the Other Chinese New Year Traditions?

If you’ve ever wondered why the colour red, and fireworks or firecrackers play a big part in Chinese New Year celebrations, then you can trace it back to the legend of Nian. A man-eating beast in ancient China, Nian was able to enter houses imperceptibly. However, Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the colour red and therefore could be chased away with firecrackers or fireworks and red decorations.  

Red, in Chinese culture, also represents good fortune – hence the money-filled red envelopes – ‘hongbao’ in Mandarin and ‘lai see’ in Cantonese – which are exchanged at New Year.

The Animals of the Zodiac

Another legend surrounds the zodiac animals: one day the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to him, but only 12 appeared. To reward them, Buddha gifted them each a year, and attributed them specific qualities and characteristics.

The animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Which animal represents 2023? It’s the Year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit represents longevity and good luck and is one of the most likeable signs of the Chinese zodiac. Rabbit people are known to be affectionate, agreeable, generous and laid back. The Rabbit is also known to be the luckiest of the 12 animals and symbolises mercy, elegance and beauty.

As Chinese astrology also incorporates the elements water, metal, wood, earth and fire, each year has a different element, meaning that 2023 will be the year of the Water Rabbit. Water represents sensitivity, intuition and the way of inner peace, so the Water Rabbit year promises a much-need period of rest and reflection, after the dynamic Year of the Tiger.

animals of the zodiac

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Chinese New Year Music Playlist

With 16 days of celebration, you’re going to need plenty of music! Here’s our top 16 picks:

1. Festive Dance - Jiang Li

Let’s kick off with ‘Festive Dance’ by Jiang Li, which is a fast, cheerful Chinese track that’s definitely going to make you want to move. ‘Festive Dance’ features the traditional erhu, ‘suona’ (a trumpet) and ‘dizi’ (a flute).

2. Yang Me Tu Qi - Michael Tedstone, Maryann Tedstone & Ling Peng 

When you’re looking for a track for your dragon dance, ‘Yang Me Tu Qi’ is perfect. Wild and frenetic, it captures the joyful movement of the dragon and has plenty of dragon drums and gongs.

3. Chun Gu - Michael TedstoneMaryann Tedstone & Ling Peng 

Or try ‘Chun Gu’, which blends its fiery Chinese dragon drums with flourishes of bright dulcimer, flute and erhu.

4. Dragon Fire - George Shaw, Marc JB

George Shaw’s epic, East meets West celebration gets the remix treatment from prolific producer Marc JB (Lady Gaga, The Killers).

From this track you can expect emotional lush strings, Chinese instruments, percussion and soaring female vocal over deep trap inspired groove and filtered synth bass. 

mythical china remixed

5. Lanterns - Michael TedstoneMaryann Tedstone & Glenn Sharp

The Lantern Festival is the final day of the Chinese New Year celebrations – choose gorgeous track ‘Lanterns’ as they float up into the sky. The track brings together Far Eastern riffs and a Western backdrop of guitars.

6. Yuyuan Garden - Michael TedstoneMaryann TedstoneLing Peng & Glenn Sharp

Yuyuan Garden’ would be a great choice for Chinese New Year background music at a family gathering, with its lilting erhu and guitar, plus gentle percussion.

7. Dance Of Swords - George Shaw 

Dance of Swords’ is a warm, sweeping orchestral theme, whose graceful cello and guzheng beginning develops with the use of Chinese instruments.

The track is by George Shaw, a composer who expertly blends Eastern and Western music traditions.

mythical china

8. Crescent Crossroads - Marc Jackson Burrows & Michael Tedstone

More hybrid music comes courtesy of ‘Crescent Crossroads’, in which Chinese pop mixes traditional and contemporary elements. A catchy electro groove underpins riffs on the dizi and erhu.

9. Through The Blossom - Marc Jackson Burrows & Michael Tedstone

As New Year is a spring festival, it’s not long till blossom season arrives. Prepare for all that beauty with ‘Through the Blossom’, a track that’s full of joyful, playful Far Eastern woodwind and zithers – with relaxing synth beats.

10. Shoal Of Koi - Marc Jackson Burrows & Michael Tedstone

A faster electro track with uplifting erhu and pipa melodies comes courtesy of ‘Shoal of Koi’.

dance of foo dog

11. Junk PoetPete Davis & James Banbury

When you want to make a big impact, choose ‘Junk Poet’, a grand Chinese theme with bold orchestra and plenty of percussion.

12. Pangu Creates Heaven And Earth - George Shaw 

Another George Shaw track is ‘Pangu Creates Heaven and Earth’, a really cinematic piece that builds from a reflective opening to a big finale complete with soaring female vocals.  

13. Bamboo Market - Marc Jackson Burrows & Michael Tedstone

Create more of a modern party atmosphere with ‘Bamboo Market’ in which Chinese erhus and bamboo flutes meet electro production for a great, quirky and upbeat pop workout.

14. Flight Of The Crane - Marc Jackson Burrows & Michael Tedstone

Flight of the Crane’ is for you, if you’re looking for a laid-back electro groove with added Hulusi and dizi melodies. The ideal music to have on in the background as you make your lanterns for the festival or get ahead with a bit of cooking before the family arrives for dinner.

15. Temporal Flame - Martin Felix Kaczmarski

Make it modern with Martin Felix Kaczmarkski’s ‘Temporal Flame’, a gorgeous slice of upbeat, minimal electronica with a lo-fi edge.

sunlight chase

16. Foo Dog - Michael Tedstone, Maryann Tedstone & Glenn Sharp

After 16 whole days of celebration, you need to put something calming on – ‘Foo Dog’ is just the thing, as erhu, flute and guitars mix the best of laid-back East and West vibes.

What Music Is Played On Chinese New Year?

Traditional Chinese New Year music is upbeat to usher in the new season. According to traditional Chinese beliefs, sound – and by extension music – influences the harmony of the universe.  

When it comes to what music is played on Chinese New Year, one of the most popular songs is ‘Gongxi, Gongxi’, which translates as ‘greetings, greetings.’ It celebrates the fact that winter has come to an end, and ‘the warm spring wind will waken the earth.’

‘Xinnian Hao’ translates as ‘Happy New Year’:

Lion dances are often a part of the new year street celebrations – lion dance music features beating drums and other percussion such as cymbals and gongs. Another traditional Chinese instrument is the ‘erhu’, a two-stringed fiddle with silk strings, played with a bow.

Listen to Heart of the Dragon Ensemble’s ‘Lion Dance’ to get a feel for some authentic Chinese New Year celebration music:

‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ means ‘wishing you prosperity’. 

Classical musicians from China also feature on many people’s playlists, including artists such as YoYo Ma, Yundi Li or Lang Lang:

‘Fenyang Flower Drum’ is a traditional folk tune originating in the Ming Dynasty and now a staple of the Chinese New Year soundtrack:

As the Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, many of the traditional pieces of music feature references to the weather, such as ‘Thunder in Dry Season’:

The New Year celebrations finish with the Lantern Festival, in which thousands of paper lanterns are lit and sent floating into the sky – lanterns represent wishes for a bright future.

Chinese pop music – abbreviated to C-Pop – is bound to get your party started. So, who are the names to know?

Tyson Yoshi had a whirlwind year in 2021 and shot to viral fame after taking part in a concert with Keung To and Jer Lau from supergroup Mirror, as well as Terence Lam. Yoshi is known for his powerful vocals and rap verses in both English and Mandarin.

Collar are a new pop dance girl group which was formed by ViuTV through King Maker IV – a reality show that catapulted Mirror to fame in its first series. The eight members of the group are causing a stir across the music industry. Check out debut single ‘Call my Name!’

Find Out More

We have loads of great articles on our blog The Edit if you’re interested in World Music. Read about the history of traditional Japanese music, or discover new music from George Shaw, a composer who’s expertly uniting the music of East and West.

For the music you need for any occasion, explore our Spotify playlists, or our latest releases.

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