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China marks changing Spring Festival
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At the mention of Spring Festival, older Chinese may think of red lanterns, long clusters of firecrackers, freshly steamed dumplings and long-anticipated new clothes.

But to the younger generation, many things have changed. Televised evening losing its lure.

Wu Jing decided not to return to his hometown in the eastern province of Jiangxi due to the heavy snow that cut traffic.

"I can't watch the televised evening show on CCTV with my parents, but there's nothing to regret," said the 26-year-old white-collar worker. "I have booked a room in the KTV with several friends. It is much better than watching the boring evening programs."

Since 1982, the annual Lunar New Year show on CCTV has been a main course on Spring Festival eve. People would sit before the television, which in those days was only black-and-white, from 8 p.m. until the bells tolled for the new year.

However, with higher living standards and more entertainment choices, the traditional show has seen its audience slowly erode, although it still has a viewership most Western tv programs would envy. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, the rates stood at 95.5 percent, 94.3 percent and 93.6 percent.

Earlier this year, five scholars made an online "new Spring Festival declaration" against the televised evening, denouncing it as a "fake folk-custom" and advocating cultural diversity.

"I am not that radical," Wu said. "There are still people like my parents expecting to watch the evening programs. But to young people like us, it is no longer a main course." The post-1980s generation does New Year's eve

Luo Ziwei and his wife were both born after 1980, when the single-child policy was implemented in China. The couple planned to eat in a restaurant with their parents.

"Traditionally, Spring Festival is an occasion when families reunited at home," he said, "but whether eating at my home or hers, the parents of one of us would be left alone."

As the post-1980s generation gets to the age of marriage, more young people are facing the same problem as Luo and making the same choice.

"With the change of population structure, the number of pyramid-shaped families is on the rise," Wang Zhongwu, sociology professor at Shandong University said.

"New ways to celebrate the Spring Festival eve are practical and good for sharing the so-called 'love and care resource'," he said. "Eating out instead of at home is also a signal of people's improving living condition and pursuit of higher living quality," he added.

Statistics from the trade and service bureau in Jinan, Shandong's capital, showed that hotels in the city above three stars had 80 percent of their seats for Spring Festival eve dinners booked out a month ago. An estimated 700,000 people in the city of 6 million will have their Lunar New Year dinner away from home.

Prices of Spring Festival eve dinners rose 10 percent to 15 percent compared with last year, boosting the per person charge to 80 yuan (about 11 U.S. dollar) to 150 yuan. Migrant workers' holiday away from home

Chen Mingjue from the northwestern province of Shaanxi has been a migrant worker in the coastal city of Qingdao, in Shandong, since 1994. During those 14 years, he celebrated Spring Festival at home just twice.

"At first, my parents longed for my return home and nagged me every day when the Lunar New Year was drawing near," he recalled. "But now, they have gotten used to my absence. They came to realize that my returning home at this peak season might mean losing a job."

With China's reform and opening-up that began in the late 1970s, more one-time farmers flooded into cities to work. According to the National Statistics Bureau, 130 million people, or one-tenth of China's population, moved from the countryside to the cities from 1978 to 2000.

"Although I am not a permanent resident in the city, I feel that I am a member of the Qingdao community," he said.

Chen bought a mobile phone for his father two years ago. "Now that he learned to send text messages, we can keep in touch from time to time," said the man proudly.

"Migrant workers' staying in cities during Spring Festival is a natural trend of China's social transformation, although the majority still chose to go home," said professor Wang. "Such change is a requirement of China's modernization," he said. "China wouldn't have seen such drastic changes had all migrant workers been reluctant to leave home in the first place."

"Changing Spring Festival folk customs reflect social development," said Chen Tongming, deputy director with the Academy of Social Sciences of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. "People have more money in their pockets. Therefore, new clothes and luxurious dinners are no longer connected with the Spring Festival."

Meanwhile, he said, "with the diversification of social development, the significance of the Spring Festival is waning. To many people, especially youngsters, it is more of a 'golden week' for rest and fun." Enditem

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)

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