Hongjun Laozu is the monk who is told about in the myth of Chinese New Year. He was the one who captured Nian, the great beast that terrorized the people of China every Chinese New Year.
Every Chinese New Year was a time of suffering and fear for the people of China because of Nian, the great beast. One Chinese New Year’s Eve, a monk named Hongjun Laozu came to a village in China. He saw how everyone looked sad and frightened, so he approached a young man and said, “Why are you so sad? It is Chinese New Year, a time for celebration.” The man replied, “Do you not know? Have you not heard of Nian? He comes every New Year and terrorizes us, even eating us.” The monk said, “I will go and reason with Nian.” So off he went to find Nian.
When Hongjun Laozu approached Nian, he said, “Nian, I have come to reason with you. Stop eating and terrorizing the people of China.” However, Nian replied, “Ho-ho, you have brought yourself to me, old man. Now I will eat you.” Hongzun Laozu said, “Oh, but what will that prove? Eating me isn’t great! Would you dare to eat the poisonous snakes on the mountains?” “Bah! What’s so difficult about that?”, said Nian. So Nian went to the poisonous snakes and ate them up. “How is this? Am I not great?” Hongjun Laozu replied, “At the back of the mountain there are many great beasts. Can you subdue them?” So Nian went and scared all of the dangerous beasts out of the back of the mountain.
“Old man, now it’s time for me to eat you!”, shouted Nian. “Okay, just wait while I take my clothes off. I will taste much better”, replied Hongjun Laozu. So the old man took his clothes off to reveal his undergarments, which were red. “Okay, you can eat me now”, said the old man. Then Nian said, “Ah! Red undergarment! I dearly hate red. Get out of my sight quickly!” “Ha-ha! I knew you were afraid of red!”, said the old man as he went into the town above Nian. He said, “Dear villagers, do not be afraid. Nian is most terrified of red. From now on, each house must paste red on each of their doors to prevent Nian from creating havoc.”
After that, the people started to paste red paper on their front doors before New Year’s Day.