Qixi Festival, the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day that fell yesterday, was not only a disappointment for forgotten lovers, but also for businessmen left with empty pockets.
Worse still is the suggestion that young people are beginning to turn their backs on traditional Chinese festivals, celebrating them with less and less enthusiasm.
Compared to the Western Valentine's Day on February 14, fewer chocolates, roses and cards were sold and even the number of wedding ceremonies was much lower.
Many young people are not even aware of the Qixi Festival or its cultural meaning, as media polls showed.
The cold reception has prompted cultural experts to seriously worry that the lovers' festival, marked for generations since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), is dying out. Some have even called for legislation to make the festival a legal "Chinese Lovers' Day," which falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar year.
But the effectiveness of such a measure is in doubt, although efforts to preserve traditional festivals are highly commendable.
A growing number of traditional Chinese festivals, such as the Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival, share the same fate as the Qixi Festival.
Young people are showing less interest in traditional culture as symbolized by these festivals. Even if all traditional festivals are finally made legal, the risk of them becoming purely formalized celebrations with little meaning is not removed. If the younger generation fails to identify with the cultural significance of these holidays, there is little that can be done.
While complaining about traditional festivals' fading appeal, decision-makers should reflect on cultural protection. Undeniably our country has done a bad job of preserving culture and traditional festivals, compared to neighboring Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
The 2,500-year-old Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The traditional customs and rituals of the occasion, which originated in China, have been better preserved in the ROK.
Only a few years ago did China begin to realize the significance of preserving intangible cultural heritage when the ROK planned to apply to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to list its version of the Dragon Boat Festival as an important example of intangible culture.
Concern about traditional holidays also reminds people of the growing influence of foreign cultures as the country opens wider to the outside world. With traditional festivals waning and imports such as Christmas and Valentine's Day gaining widespread popularity, the public including cultural professionals have tended to measure traditional Chinese festivals in economic terms.
Business rather than culture has begun to play a dominant role. More and more people are preoccupied with how much money can be generated during the holidays.
In fact what makes traditional festivals unique and what keeps them alive is their cultural elements. After all, it is unique culture that contributes to the world's diversity amid globalization.
(China Daily August 12, 2005)