Archive for January, 2008

Published January 6th, 2008 by Mliesie

Preserving cultural heritage

I am not going to write about all the places of interest that have been demolished and completely rebuilt or moved and rebuilt, because it looked better in another town, city or county. No, this is about the traditional Chinese Festivals and an effort of the Government to make sure they won’t be forgotten…

Last year the Governement announced that they might change the holidays, especially the Golden Week in May. Instead of 7 days of in a row, we would have more holidays, but shorter ones. All in order to raise more awareness amongst China’s young people, who now are all very keen on celebrating Festivals like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. But without having any clue of the cultural backgrounds whatsoever. As the Traditional Chinese Festivals all have their own special cultural meaning,  which represent the rich cultural traditions of centuries, the Government is determined to get the people’s attention and interest for these Festivals by making them official holidays. So, as of this year, the memorable year 2008, we will celebrate the following Festivals in China:

- Chun Jie =>Spring Festival (7/8 February this year); this year will be the year of the Rat. It is the biggest Festival in China, for which people will travel for days to be reunited with their families. Millions of people are on the road and for a tourist it is the worst time of the year to travel in China. Traditional food is jiao zi (dumplings), with a coin hidden in some of them. Obviously when you get the one with the coin, good fortune will follow you in the new year!

- Yuan Xiao => Lantern Festival (15 days after Spring Festival). It is the celebration of the first full moon in the new year, by lighting lanterns in any form and size possible. Traditional food is tang yuan (glutinous rice-flour balls with different sweet fillings). It is supposed to be the favourite delicacy of the God of Fire…

- Qing Ming => All Souls’ Day or Tomb Sweeping Festival (106 days after the winter solstice). On this day families go to their ancestors’ graves/tombs to clean (sweep) them, place candles and joss-sticks and offer food, drinks and flowers. Burning paper money is also part of the ‘ceremony’. The food and drinks offered are consumed by the offerers.

- Duan Wu Jie => Dragon Boat Festival (5th day of the 5th lunar month). It originates around the death of poet/patriot Qu Yuan, who drowned himself because he had to helplessly witness the state destroying itself from within. People used ‘dragon boats’ to search for his body and threw rice dumplings wrapped in leaves to make sure the fish wouldn’t eat the body. Hence the name ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ and the zong zi that is the traditional food to eat. Glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves in a pyramid shape.

- Zhong Qiu Jie => Mid-Autumn Festival (15th of the 8th lunar month). This Festival may have began as a harvest celebration. The traditional food is mooncake. It is shaped like a drum and can have different fillings. The most traditional one is lotus seed or red bean paste and melon seeds. A salted duck’s eggyolk -symbolizing the moon- forms its core. There are many stories and myths as to the mooncakes.

As I said before, these will be the Traditional Chinese Festivals that we will celebrate as of this year. No more Golden Week in May, but more shorter holidays during the first half of the year. I asked one of my colleagues how he felt about this decision. He supports it, as he also feels that many young people nowadays forget about Chinese culture and customs and that they only want to celebrate the Western festivals. I couldn’t but agree with him!

If you would like to know more about the Traditional Chinese Festivals, I can recommend the book ‘Chinese Festivals’ by Tan Huay Peng from which I got some of the above information, next to the stories told by my students and colleagues.