As cultural exchanges expand between China and the West, it appears that the Chinese are more eager for foreign festivals rather than their own and traditional Chinese festivals will be lost if not better protected.
This has worried Zhuang Wei, a member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He proposed to give two more holidays at the Qingming and Mid-Autumn festivals each year to remind the younger generation at home and abroad of the traditions of China. This could not only help traditional Chinese culture to prosper, but enhance patriotism and a love for the homeland among Chinese offspring.
Since the People’ s Republic of China was founded in 1949, public holidays such as the New Year Day (January 1), Spring Festival (the 1st day of the 1st lunar month in Chinese calendar), International Women’s Day (March 8), International Labor Day (May 1), Youth’s Day (May 4), Children’s Day (June 1), Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China (July 1), Army Day (August 1) and National Day (October 1) have all been decided. These holidays have revolutionary origins but most people think they lack human concern. At the same time, other traditional Chinese festivals such as the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the 1st lunar month), Qingming Festival (April 5), Dragon Boat Festival (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month), Mid-Autumn Day (the 15th day of the 8th lunar month) and Double-Ninth Festival (the 9th day of the 9th lunar month), which express love between human beings, are not included.
This is true and why the Chinese need foreign festivals to express their feelings. “Western festivals pay much attention to sentiment. For example, people send roses on Valentine’s Day and prepare for the coming of Santa Clause on Christmas Day. It is the emotional appeal that attracts the young Chinese,” said Jiang Yuyuan, a student of Northeastern University.
Zou Yan, a civil servant, agrees. She thinks foreign festivals don’t go against traditional festivals in China. People follow Valentine’s Day because they can express their love for others freely on that day, while on Christmas Day, they just have a chance to relax while enjoying the peace of winter.
Sociologist Wang Xiaozhang believes festivals provide an opportunity for people to exchange ideas and communicate, narrowing the gap between them. The long-time oppression and conservation of feeling amongst the Chinese strengthens their aspiration for carnival.
Yan Xiaoying, 20, loves all kinds of festivals, whether Chinese or foreign ones, just because she finds pleasure in them. “I met my boyfriend on a Christmas eve,” she said.
An investigation by the Social Survey Institute of China (SSIC) shows that 53.6 percent of youngsters love foreign festivals because of the joy and pleasure in them. As to the difference between foreign festivals and traditional festivals in China, 57.1 percent of males think that Chinese festivals rest on material activities of eating and clothing, while foreign ones pay much attention to communication of feelings and ideas. Meanwhile, 60.7 percent of females think they become too tired during traditional festivals but feel free and easy going during foreign festivals.
Sun Liqiang, a teacher, thought that foreign festivals met the demand of some Chinese. “Now some minority ethnic groups follow such festivals as the Buddha bathing festival or Ullambana (a Buddhist ceremony held on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month to redeem the souls of one’s deceased ancestors). In fact, they were introduced from India,” he said, adding that maybe one day Western festivals will also become a new custom of China.
Wu Bing’an, a famous folklorist of China, in an interview with Xinhua, pointed out that even the Qingming Festival, when people pay respect to a dead person, is a time for happiness. Spring has just come, so people go out to play, swing or play football whether in the north or the south. Also, it is a good time for planting trees. Similarly, other festivals act as emissaries of happiness.
“In fact, the tradition of celebrating Chinese festivals has not faded out,” Wu said. He suggested the government and cultural departments at different levels increase investment in traditional festivals and enrich the activities at these times. For example, enlarging the scale of the lantern festival and lion dancing at the Spring Festival and racing at the Dragon Boat Festival.
“Youngsters celebrate western festivals only in form. They don’t even know the real meaning behind them,” Wu said. Christmas Eve is solemn for westerners when they will gather at home or go to mass in churches but, the young Chinese are roaming the streets at that time. “In fact, only the folk and local culture can be recognized in globalization,” he said, adding that foreigners hold much admiration for China’s Spring Festival.
According to Wu, only traditional festivals have the most culture implication for they are closely related with the cultural position of the whole society. Now China has launched a great project to protect folk and national cultural heritage, including the protection of folk buildings and folk music, but the work is still far from done. “One important reason is the inferiority complex the Chinese have about their culture,” Wu said. “People are trying to abandon their own culture, hardly expecting or wishing that folk culture should be cherished the most.”
With social development, festival experience changes. Some are weakened; some are strengthened; while others are endowed with new meanings or connotations. This is the natural process of cultural selection. Therefore, it is unnecessary to feel panic about the bustle of foreign festivals. This is only an aspect of world culture integration.
As China becomes better at understanding the culture and society of foreign countries, it is only natural for the Chinese to accept them.
(China.org.cn translated by Li Jinhui, April 17, 2003)