How do you celebrate your birthday? (How do people say birthday in Chinese?) Many might answer: with a birthday cake. (How do people say birthday cake in Chinese?) In China, there is an ancient tradition that is still in practice today. Instead of having a cake, many might be enjoying birthday noodles.
Birthday noodles or 寿面 (shòumiàn) are not just ordinary noodles. They literally mean “long-life noodles” and it is believed that the longer the noodles, the bigger the wish for long life. These noodles also have to be eaten in a special way. It is said the whole noodle should be eaten—bit by bit—without breaking it into pieces. You wouldn’t want to cut your life short!
Watch a Chinese video lesson to know how Chinese people celebrate their birthday.
Often on someone’s birthday, their family will make them some homemade noodles or they can go to a restaurant, which will make the noodles specially for their birthday. These noodles have a unique story as to why they are eaten on a birthday, aside from wishing a person long life.
The Original Story
This tradition dates all the way back to the Martial Emperor from the Han Dynasty. One day he was discussing lifespan with his ministers. They discussed that if the grove between a person’s nose and upper lip is 1 cm long, then that person can live to 100 years old. Minister Dong Fangshuo sitting next to the emperor heard this and started to laugh. All the other ministers were baffled, and blamed him for having no courtesy for the emperor.
The Martial Emperor asked him what he was laughing about. Dong Fangshuo explained, “I am not laughing at your Majesty, but at the state of Peng Zu. If a 100 year old person’s grove above the lip is 1 cm, then Peng Zu’s lip is 8 cm since he is 800 years old. So, his face is really long.” When everyone heard this, they started to laugh as well. When speaking of longevity, it seemed silly to wish for a long face to have a long life. But, they could use a more flexible way to express one’s wish for long life.
Therefore, the saying “脸长就是面长 (liǎn chǎng jiù shì miàn chǎng)” came out. This is a play on words as both “脸 (liǎn)” and “面 (miàn)” mean “face,” (Extend learning point: lose face) and “面 (miàn)” also means noodles. This phrase can be read as “a long face is long noodles.” This way people can use long noodles to bless a long life.
Afterwards, the tradition to eat Longevity Noodles on one’s birthday came about. The most interesting part—it’s usually just one very long noodle in the bowl!
Key Learning Points
寿面 (shòumiàn) – noodles eaten on one’s birthday; birthday noodles
寿 (shòu) comes from “长寿 (cháng shòu) longevity; long life”
面 (miàn) is from “面条 (miàntiáo) noodles”
Jīntiān shì wǒ shēngrì, wǒ xiǎng yào chī shòumiàn.
今天 是 我 生日， 我 想要 吃 寿面。
Today is my birthday and I want to eat “long-life” noodles.
Nǐ zhīdào zěnme zuò shòumiàn ma?
你 知道 怎么 做 寿面 吗？
Do you know how to make “longevity” noodles?
1. Which word does the word 寿 (shòu) in 寿面 (shòumiàn) come from?
A. 寿司 (shòusī)
B. 长寿 (chángshòu)
C. 寿星 (shòuxīng)
Learn more ways to talk about birthdays:
Say when your birthday is in Chinese
5 things you should know about Chinese gift-giving
— Written by Jennifer Zhu —
Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.”