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Why Lion Dancers Throw Lettuce Everywhere – A Guide to Choy Cheng

Updated: Apr 4

A choy cheng (採青) is a special part of a lion dance where performers use the mouths of the lion to “eat” a head of lettuce (symbolizing good fortune) and spit it out to spread wealth to the audience.

In this article, we’ll go over the history and symbolism of choy cheng, where it’s performed, why our team does them, and what to expect during this fun part of a lion dance.

What is choy cheng in lion dance?

Choy cheng in Chinese basically means “plucking the greens”. The greens in a lion dance are a physical head of lettuce. However, the symbolism goes far behind some discount produce you can find at Costco. The Chinese language is full of puns and wordplay, especially when it comes to things like good luck, wealth, and happiness.

Choy Cheng lettuce toss by lion dancers

Choy cheng is made up of the words Choy (採), meaning “to pluck” and Cheng (青) “greens”.

The “greens” in Chinese are normally symbolized by lettuce, which can also be pronounced as Choy (菜). Coincidentally, the word for “wealth” (財) is pronounced the same way as well, just with a different tone.

Lion dance lettuce toss

With the lions eating up and showering the staff with the bright green lettuce, it symbolizes that the recipient of the lion dance blessing will find wealth and fortune in the near future. This is why being showered by the flying lettuce is said to bring such good luck – you’re essentially getting hit with the money that’s to come.

The lucky lettuce goes beyond just riches, though. Having lettuce rain down on you also symbolizes a protection against bad luck as well. This is why the blessing is also performed at weddings.

Chinese wedding lion dance lettuce (choy cheng)

How a choy cheng blessing works (step-by-step)

First, the lion dancers will make their way to the store, turning the lion head from side to side and kicking their legs around in excitement. Upon arrival, they will bow to the store and its owners as a sign of respect and kindness.

The lions will then dance around happily until they “notice” the greens. Often, business owners tie the lettuce to the doorway using some string. Alternatively, they can hold them out with bamboo rods like fishing poles, which we also encourage and offer during wedding lion dances.

Some stores like to hang the lettuce as high as possible. This presents a challenge to any lion dance team – only the most experienced and daring lion dancers will be able to get it!

Lion dance totem boost pose in Coquitlam
Credit: Jonathan Desmond Photography

Traditionally, Chinese lion dancers portray lions as timid and cautious creatures, so the lion dancers will show some curiosity and “investigate” the lettuce, which is known as taam cheng (探青). This may include looking closely at it, sniffing it, backing away, and pawing at it. At the same time, the lion will keep aware of its surroundings to ensure it’s safe from any traps or predators.

Lion dancer investigating lettuce on pole

Confident that the lettuce and the surroundings are safe, the lion will leap up and grab the lettuce. It may take a simple jump from the dancer in the lion head, but the higher the lettuce is hung, the more work it may take. Sometimes, the person in the tail will boost the person in front onto their head or shoulders to get something that’s far out of reach.

After the lettuce is safely in the lion’s mouth, the lion will munch on the lettuce before the grand finale – showering the shredded lettuce back at the business owner (and often the patrons inside).

Photo tip: If you ever see a choy cheng blessing in person, wait for the drumrolls after the lettuce has been eaten and get your phone out. It’s definitely something you’ll want to have on your Instagram!

Red envelopes in lion dance blessings

Lettuce set up for a choy cheng performance will almost always have red envelopes attached as well. In Chinese culture, red envelopes contain money, which in this case, act as payment for the lion dance team. Think of it as a thank-you from the business owner for the blessing of good fortune and prosperity that the lion dance is said to bring.

Lion dance lettuce and red envelope with scroll

Of course, this is kept by the lion dancers and never spat out with the lettuce.

The amount that a business is expected to give to a lion dance team in a red envelope varies, but generally, it’s usually customary to put more in the red envelope if getting the lettuce is more challenging. It’s also tradition to give more money for “more luck” or “more protection from bad spirits”.

Lion dance lettuce and money hung from ceiling
Credit: Jonathan Desmond Photography

Also, if the lettuce is hung at a great height, if there are obstacles in the way, or if there are other challenges like benches to jump on, the reward in the red envelope will almost always be greater.

When are choy cheng or business lion dances performed?

Choy chengs are generally performed for businesses. These often take place in either:

  • business openings, or

  • Lunar New Year door-to-door blessings.

Note: the term choy cheng is also used for a general lion dance’s lettuce routine. In this section, we’ll be talking about the business blessings specifically.

Lunar New Year choy cheng performances are usually door-to-door affairs where we bless multiple businesses on one street/neighbourhood in the span of a few hours. Examples of this include our tradition of lion dance blessings on Fraser Street in Vancouver, the blessings that take place after the annual Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, and blessing a long list of tenants at Henderson Mall in Coquitlam.

Here, we do a quick routine which includes all of the aspects of a performance mentioned above.

In contrast, the business openings and milestone celebrations are usually more elaborate as they are requested long in advance and with specific requests. These often have longer routines with more intricate moves and special choreography that isn’t included in a basic performance.

For instance, these will involve the lions making their way inside the stores as well, blessing the entire space. Because a lot of this has to do with good fortune, the lions will often pay special attention to a store’s checkout or any other space that involves money. Sometimes, there will be multiple heads of lettuce dotted throughout the store. These will be strategically placed by staff who really want to amp up their good luck in the coming year.

Chau Luen Athletics in Chilliwack for Whiskey Richard's grand opening

In the grand finale of a business lion dance, performers may drop a scroll or two that express a wish for good business as well. Here, the 2 scrolls (roughly) say:

  • May there be an endless stream of customers flocking to your business.

  • Wishing you a thriving and prosperous business.

For our business and corporate lion dances, we are happy to fully tailor them to fit the needs of the client, so you can definitely add some extra routines or client-specific extras to make it truly yours.

With more planning, we can put on a better show that can fit the needs of your business while maximizing what we can do with the space a business provides. (We are always happy to do small businesses along with our big corporate partners).

These can also be done at any time during the year, so feel free to reach out for your business opening!

Why realism matters in our lion dance routines

In our opinion, the best lion dancers should make the elaborate costume actually look like a lion. Our team’s philosophy when it comes to lion dances can be broken down into the following:

  • avoid anything that breaks the illusion,

  • don’t just follow a templated routine, tell a story, and

  • make a fun and engaging experience for all those who watch our performances.

A lion dance would be boring if the guy in the head just waltzed on over, stuck his hand out of the mouth like the movie “Alien”, took the lettuce, and went home.

Lion dancer with phone
An unrealistic lion dance (taken during a break, obviously)

Seeing the audience respond positively to the things we mentioned above means that we’ve done our job in completing a convincing choy cheng routine.

Ready to get hit with the lucky lettuce?

Now that you’ve got a full understanding of how a choy cheng lion dance performance works, are you excited to see one and get hit by the lucky lettuce? Do you have any other questions about business lion dances or any fun stories from ones you’ve attended? Drop a comment below!

Choy cheng FAQ

How long does a choy cheng blessing last?

A basic routine will only last a couple of minutes in a door-to-door performance, but can be longer for other corporate lion dances and can have multiple lettuce throws, scrolls that wish the business good fortune, and elaborate custom dance moves based on what our clients order.

Why do lion dancers eat lettuce?

Lettuce symbolizes wealth and good fortune because the words for both of them sound like the word “lettuce” or “vegetables”. The bright green colour and the way the lettuce flutters down when thrown from the lion also strongly resembles money, which can be thought of as “making it rain” for the business.

Do you have to use lettuce for a choy cheng?

The choice of vegetable is not a total deal-breaker for performers so long as it’s some sort of leafy green to fit the symbolism of wealth, but lettuce is preferred as it shreds easily in the limited time the performers have. You aren’t limited to lettuce either – other choy chengs may have other foods such as fruit or even live crabs!


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