Thursday, February 22, 2007

Defending the Chinese New Year? A Cultural Debate

A miao hui in Ditan Park, Beijing

A so-called "defending the Spring Festival movement" has gained nation-wide attention and Xinhua New Agency has related it to more tradition-styled celebrations of this year's Chinese New Year across the country, such as miao hui (temple fair, mostly held in parks, featuring traditional food, artifacts and art performances), firecrackers and traditional decorations.

The state-run news agency reported last week that “defending the Spring Festival has become a common view of the Chinese society,” thanks to Mr. Gao Youpeng, a folk culture scholar from Henan province, who first initiated the idea in 2005. Mr. Gao apparently was pleased by the restoration of more traditional Chinese New Year rituals, which he said “demonstrates that Chinese people are returning to traditions,” Xinhua reported.

Mr. Gao wrote a “Declaration of Defending the Spring Festival” at the end of 2005, warning about the infiltration of Western culture and stressing that “defending the Spring Festival is defending safety of the national culture."

He said he made such a call because he found that many young people who lived in the world of the Internet and video games worshiped Western culture, passionate in celebrating foreign holidays like Christmas but becoming increasingly indifferent toward their own traditional holidays, Xinhua reported. He said he felt “the safety of China’s national culture is to some degree under threat.”

In fact, the Chinese public has noted for a long time that the Chinese New Year, mostly called the Spring Festival in China, is losing its traditional flavor, while young people seem to enjoy more in celebrating Christmas or Valentine’s Day, when they can have more fun on their own. The discussion, however, had rarely been put in the spot light of state news agency like Xinhua, and the Internet has facilitated a public debate on the issue to a larger scale.

The mast majority of the opinions on the Internet and other media, not surprisingly, supported Mr. Gao’s view. People expressed a strong sense of the importance of maintaining China’s cultural tradition, as well as concerns that it is diminishing in the wake of Western culture influx.

One comment, for example, reads: “Without traditional culture, it is meaningless no matter how powerful [China becomes].” Another one says that Western holidays “are flooding into Chinese society and people’s life,” and under the challenge, traditional holidays like the Spring Festival “are fading away gradually.”

There are of course different views, but are mainly focused on whether it is necessary to call for defending the traditional holiday, or whether the best way to make it attractive is to simply fall back on old rituals, with the theme of maintaining China’s cultural tradition almost unchallenged.

A critic from Beijing questioned in a newspaper article: “does Spring Festival need everybody to save or defend?” To him, nobody in China is forgetting the holiday and therefore no worry is merited. Another critic dismissed the worry by citing the increasing awareness of the Chinese New Year in the entire world.

While a group of people called for bringing back the traditional way of celebrating the holiday, others insisted that the holiday needed contemporary contents and labeled the defending theory “cultural conservatism.”

“Today’s Spring Festival of course needs to represent the modern life style,” one blogger writes, “don’t think that without traditional theater and miao hui, the Spring Festival will no longer exist.” Nevertheless, advocators of modernization of the traditional holiday mostly fell short of providing specific proposals to reach the goal.

After all, people are facing one question: how to celebrate the Chinese New Year in a way that could both maintain an ancient tradition and make it fit the new time and attractive to the new generation. The answer is yet to come.

The reality is more of a mixed picture. While traditional festivities like setting off firecrackers, family gathering and visiting miao hui are still dominantly popular, new activities like tourism, text message greetings and partying with friends are also gaining grounds. Meanwhile, other old traditions, such as worshiping ancestors and kneeling down in front of seniors, have almost completely disappeared.

----by Josie Liu

Blog links:

Declairation of Defending the Spring Festival

Xinhua Story:

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