Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, marking the beginning of the Year of the Ox. You might see people wishing “gung hay fat choy” to each other on social media or elsewhere. What does “gung hay fat choy” mean?

What does ‘gung hay fat choy’ mean?

“Gung hay fat choy” is Cantonese and loosely translates to “congratulations and be prosperous”. 

However, given the lexical structure of Cantonese – it is a logographic language – it is difficult to translate exactly and precisely without it sounding clunky.

what does gung hay fat choy mean
The pretty orange and red coloured dragon weaves through the crowds of people in Liverpool’s Chinatown chasing a pearl during Chinese New Year celebrations.

In the traditional Chinese script favoured by Cantonese speakers, gung hay fat choy looks like this: 恭禧發財. The “simplified” version looks like this: 恭禧发财.

The first two characters, “gung hay”, are a form of congratulations, or a way to respectfully wish somebody joy.

The latter two characters, “fat choy”, means to become rich, or make money.

Other ways to write ‘gung hay fat choy’

You might see “gung hay fat choy” transliterated (as in, written in English script) as Gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4, “gong hey fat choi”, Kung Hei Fat Choy or “Gung hee fatt choi”.

All of the above represent approximations of the actual Cantonese pronunciation of the phrase. 

None are right or wrong, per se. Instead, all of them attempt to guide those who cannot understand Chinese characters to pronouncing them accurately.

what does gung hay fat choy mean
Chinese lanterns in Chinatown, London on the day of Chinese New Year.

Why are people saying it now?

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year – also called the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. 2021 is the Year of the Ox, the second of all zodiac animals.

In Chinese culture, “the Ox is a valued animal. Because of its role in agriculture, positive characteristics, such as being hardworking and honest, are attributed to it.”

While there isn’t a blanket consensus on what the actual year is, scholars tend to agree that this year is around the Chinese calendar’s 4700th. 

Specifically, the year beginning in early CE 2021 (i.e., this year) is the “Chinese year” 4718, 4719 or 4658, depending on which scholars you ask.

The ambiguity results from the lack of consensus on exactly when the purported reign of the mythical Yellow Emperor began. 

Sometimes called the Yellow Thearch, or Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor is a deity in Chinese religion, who reigned over parts of modern China in the third millennium BC.

In 2022, the Chinese New Year will fall on 1 February, marking the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. A year after that, on 22 January 2023, the Year of the Rabbit will commence.

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