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Home  /  Inside China  /  A holiday invasion – Why are Chinese enthusiastically adopting new festive events?
A holiday invasion – Why are Chinese enthusiastically adopting new festive events? print version
A Chinese lunar calendar full of traditional holidays, new special PRC dates with a nationalistic flavor, Western holidays which are becoming attractive, international dates that make China globally aware and now even special new Chinese traditions invented. What makes Chinese people accumulate holidays like they were man tou?

11.11.11: Guanggun Jie (光棍节), also known as Chinese Single's Day, is celebrated throughout schools and universities around China, this year with the highest pitch, as the six '1' made it the Guanggun Jie (literally meaning 'naked sticks holiday') of the century (世纪光棍节 - read here about this year's Guanggun Jie celebration). Such a pretentious statement, backed by events nationwide, media acknowledgement and a tradition of eating youtiao (deep fried dough sticks) can make tourists visiting China believe, that this is a profound Chinese tradition. In reality, the less than 20 years-old day was initiated by some bored students in Nanjing in 1993. What makes such a simple concept elevate so fast within public's attention?

Regarding Guanggun Jie and some of its modern counterparts, two major agents which intensify its echo are consumerism and the internet. As leisure time of middle class Chinese is expanding, as enterprises develop better marketing tools, pressing on the weak spots of money-spending youngsters, every special day can become an inducer of shopping discounts and special offers, making it seem like there's a wonderful alliance between consumers and shops, but mainly giving people an excuse to spend. The growing incorporation of Christmas into the Chinese holiday calendar (see article here) is also to a large extent a result of a growing consumer power. Youngsters, who often feel a need to conform to modern-international leisure patterns, cannot skip on such international event, and what is an easier to make such leap than to go out and shop. After all, isn't that the true holiday spirit?

When it comes to holiday creation by youngsters, it is clear that the internet is the platform where it all evolves and spreads. Wittiness, craziness, commerce and solidarity are expressed in their sharpest form through the social networks, blogs and discussion boards. The internet is also the best way for setting up international bridges, particularly in China. Yet the internet is only the feeder of an interesting hunger for events, updates and new traditions.

The Chinese National Day (Guoqing Jie) as the major post-1949 holiday and the Spring Festival (Chun Jie) and Chinese New Year as the greatest traditional event are the two major anchors in a calendar full of holidays, some with the peasant flavor of the Chinese lunar calendar and some displaying communist themes. It is clear that such holidays are also very happy days for retailers, who backup social significance with many attractive items and deals, though young Chinese, and perhaps not only them, are open for new additional colorful marks on their calendar.

The generation gap in China, enhanced by the drastic transformation of the 1979 economic reforms and the one-child policy, is witnessed in China like nowhere else. It seems that except for respecting traditions, young Chinese need to find holidays that represent something more contemporary, that manifest themselves as modern world citizens. Something that encompasses contemporary aspirations, while also reflects Chinese life, which although is still traditional and rural to a large extent, is also urban, modern and capitalistic in many formats. Valentines is celebrated twice, Feb 14, and the traditional Qixi (七夕) festival, and there is a constant need to stay updated with new foreign holidays, if not as a call for action, then at least as important knowledge regarding customs overseas. It would be indeed interesting to survey Chinese and see how they prioritize their holidays and whether those who stress the 'modern' ones disregard tradition. My encounters lead me to believe that for most youngsters one tradition doesn't contradict the other.

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Recycling-art activities for World Environment Day 环保日, kindergarten in Dingzha Zhen, Zhejiang  


It is wrong to think that every special day or holiday that comes from abroad is being diffused only through the agency of Chinese youngsters. Government and media personnel, as well, see China's participation in the international activities as an act that makes the country a more modern and competitive player in global affairs. As long as citizens don't go adopting crazy religious ideas, it is important for all levels of society, that residents become active participants in international dates, if as passionate consumers, or as ideological-knowledgeable individuals.

32 days before Guanggun Jie, the UN World Mental Health Day was acknowledged worldwide. Initiated by a report by the governmental Xinhua press agency, every big Chinese news portal mentioned this day, reporting certain aspects of mental health services in China or in its local province, while describing awareness activities that were organized by schools, clinics and the Ministry of Health throughout the country. Mental health is not a domain that China can be proud of, but the press, the educators and government personnel aren't looking only to highlight China's strengths, but also to improve and modernize the notion of civilians.

The March 8th International Women's Day (妇女节) is widely marked throughout China since many years ago, the astonishing attention given to environment protection by the government and the education system recently is concentrated in the April 22nd Earth Day and June 5th World Environment Day. Non-Chinese readers of this article can be certain that many additional international dates that they had never heard about are well 'marketed' in China and become elementary knowledge. Well, perhaps the October 1st World Vegetarian Day could never become so popular in China, and not because it collides with Guoqing Jie...

China is experiencing an epoch of continuous dramatic economic growth accompanied by individual and social retrospection. In such conditions, every international day can be a source of policies and discussions, aiming to improve public awareness and institutional infrastructure, as well as ask where Chinese is heading to. Every Western holiday seems as an opportunity to get closer to 'modern traditions', and additional events can be created to reflect the unique dynamic aspirations of young and middle-aged Chinese.

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