The Malaysian Chinese New Year

Hi, I’m Sandii from Malaysia. Today I would like to introduce the Malaysian Chinese culture during the Chinese New Year.


In Malaysia, a big percentage of people living in the city of Kuala Lumpur are actually from towns or villages far from the city. Most of our hometowns may take us 2 – 7 hours to reach by car/bus. During big holidays like Chinese New Year, the highways will be congested and most public transportation tickets (bus and trains) will be sold out. Sometimes, a 2-hour travelling distance could take up to 5 hours to reach due to the heavy congestion. To ease the traffic, the government took some initiatives like giving discounted toll rates for midnight drives and also ban heavy vehicles on highways for a certain period of time. In Malaysia, the process of going back to hometown is famously known as “Balik Kampung” which literally means “Return to Village”. On the eve of Chinese New Year, the Chinese community will go back to their hometown for the very important tradition of Reunion Dinner. Because of the busy lifestyle of working people, the Chinese highly value this particular day because this is the day where all members of the family can gather and have dinner together. Since the Reunion Dinner is held on the night before Chinese New Year, most of the businesses or shops will be closed earlier on New Year’s eve.

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Most of the Chinese companies in Malaysia tend to provide Work Closing Dinner (or Lunch) upon the closing of company for the Chinese New Year holiday and Work Opening Dinner (or Lunch) upon the reopening of company after the Chinese New Year break. This dinner/lunch are usually held in restaurants which serves alcohol and pork. During the Chinese New Year month, many Chinese or non-Chinese restaurants take the opportunity to sell lunch/dinner packages for this purpose, and the packages are usually sold by table count and not per person. The price of the package could fetch up from RM588 to RM1588 per table depending on the dishes included in it. In this dinner/lunch, we have a tradition called the tossing of Yee Sang.

Even though the Chinese culture originated from China, the Yee Sang tradition is known and practiced only by the Chinese people in Malaysia and Singapore – which makes it so special! The China people isn’t aware at all about such practice. This dish is commonly served during Chinese New Year month in Chinese restaurants and usually is a must-have item during Chinese New Year. These days, Yee Sang are served even in Japanese restaurants too! Alternatively, you can buy it in supermarkets too and add the wet ingredients by yourself.

Yee Sang is equally as important as the Japanese Osechi but it is a lot simpler. The word Yee Sang literally means raw fish but in Chinese it sounds like the word “abundance”. It is usually served as a form of good luck for the new Lunar Year. Unlike the Malay society which are known to be contended with moderation, most Chinese people in Malaysia are known to put wealth and fortune as priority; therefore, the tradition of attracting good luck and fortune are considered a very important part of the Chinese culture here.

Yee Sang usually consists of shredded cucumber, carrot, green yam, daikon, pickled ginger, crispy crackers, pomelo, toasted sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, pepper, 5 spice powder and others; drizzled with plum sauce or lime juice. The main ingredient is definitely raw fish, of course and usually raw salmon is used. The modern Yee Sang served in Japanese restaurants are added with Japanese ingredients like wakame, chuka hotate, etc; making it look even more premium.

What’s so special about the tossing of Yee Sang?
It is put in the middle of table where everybody surrounds the table with a pair of chopsticks. Then, the tossing begins. Every participant will toss the ingredients as high as possible because the Chinese believes that the higher the toss, the more prosperous it will be for the coming year; but be careful not to land your Yee Sang on other people’s table. While tossing, participants will shout out auspicious phrases. Here are some examples of some common auspicious phrases :

年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yü)
Meaning : Abundance every year

恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai)
Meaning : Congratulations on increasing fortune

青春常驻 (Qing Chun Chang Zhu)
Meaning : Youthful always

万事如意 (Wan Shi Ru Yi)
Meaning : May all wishes be fulfilled

一本万利 (Yi Pen Wan Li)
Meaning : 1 capital 10,000 times profit

步步高升 (Pu Pu Gao Sheng)
Meaning : Every step getting to higher level

And this one is very common for businessmen :

生意兴隆 (Shen Yi Xing Long)
Meaning : Business prospers

As for me, what did I shout last year during my company’s Yee Sang toss? I shouted “Salary increased by 200%”. Obviously it did not come true – too auspicious perhaps. Maybe I’ll try harder this year!

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