Lantern Festival, Xi Jinping, and Yuan Shikai’s Sticky Balls

According to a colorful — albeit unverifiable — legend, during the Lunar New Year in 1913, Yuan heard a peddler in the streets calling out “Yuan……Xiaoooo!” and was incredibly displeased.

What was probably just a hawker’s cry to buy more rice balls (元宵 Yuánxiāo), the paranoid Yuan heard as a revolutionary call to have Yuán (袁, his surname) removed (消; xiāo). In response, Yuan Shikai ordered that, henceforth, “yuanxiao” be referred to only as “tangyuan.”

It’s a good story, and Yuan Shikai, dead for over a century, has again become a hot topic in Beijing following the announcement that the Chinese Communist Party plans to scrap presidential term limits, thus clearing the way for Xi Jinping to remain in power indefinitely.