Tra­di­tional hy­brids

As global cul­tures con­tinue to col­lide, Chi­nese young peo­ple tend to ob­serve West­ern fes­ti­vals in a more lo­cal way

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By He Keyao

Adim room and red lights, blood-red “hap­pi­ness” char­ac­ters on the walls, women dressed in cheongsam, men dressed in man­darin jack­ets and spooky mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground. Tak­ing in the scene, you might

think that you have just en­coun­tered a Chi­nese movie film­ing lo­ca­tion. But no, it is ac­tu­ally a Hal­loween party done in a Chi­nese way in Bei­jing. “It’s a nat­u­ral process that cul­tures from dif­fer­ent coun­tries will emerge within the lo­cal ones, es­pe­cially in met­ro­pol­i­tans like Bei­jing where peo­ple are from di­verse so­cial and cul­tural back­grounds,” said Fan Yang, founder and CEO of a pri­vate city space shar­ing app named ELSE­WHERE, who held a vin­tage-style Hal­loween party themed The Repub­lic of China (1912-1949). West­ern fes­ti­vals and cel­e­bra­tions were in­tro­duced into China in the 1990s and have been en­joy­ing in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity since then. How­ever, the way young peo­ple cel­e­brate and their at­ti­tude to­ward West­ern cul­ture have be­gun to change in re­cent years. West­ern fes­ti­vals are be­ing lo­cal­ized and adapted into Chi­nese cul­ture and life­styles.

In­te­grat­ing Chi­nese cul­ture

“Chi­nese young peo­ple are very cre­ative and they be­come bored

cel­e­brat­ing West­ern fes­ti­vals the same way year af­ter year, and in­te­gra­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture is a trend as they have grow­ing cul­tural con­fi­dence,” said Fan. Fas­ci­nated by tra­di­tional aes­thet­ics and ar­chi­tec­ture, Fan and his team or­ga­nized the spe­cial event to in­ter­twine West­ern fun within Chi­nese cul­ture.

With a “bloody-red wed­ding” theme and in­spi­ra­tion from The House That

Never Dies (2014) , a Chi­nese hor­ror movie, the venue was filled with el­e­ments of a tra­di­tional Chi­nese wed­ding: red veils for the brides, red-cloth flow­ers for the grooms and red bows and chop­sticks for the cou­ples to feed each other with – an es­sen­tial at a tra­di­tional cer­e­mony. The mu­sic and light ef­fects cre­ated a creepy at­mos­phere. The event was well re­ceived, at­tract­ing around 100 at­ten­dees, both Chi­nese and ex­pats.

“It’s quite dif­fer­ent from the Hal­loween par­ties I have at­tended be­fore. It was more like a ghost mar­riage in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, which is eas­ier for me to res­onate with,” said a par­tic­i­pant sur­named Li. He said cel­e­bra­tions with Chi­nese el­e­ments are fresh and more ap­peal­ing to him since they echo his “cul­tural codes.”

In fact, in­te­gra­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture and West­ern fes­ti­vals has be­come more com­mon re­cently. A Chi­nese-hor­ror themed Hal­loween pa­rade was staged this week in Zhuzhou, Hu­nan Prov­ince, where peo­ple dressed in the Han Dy­nasty (206BC-AD220) and the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) styles.

The mix­ing of trends does not only hap­pen in China. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports by Phoenix News, a se­ries of “China Pump­kins” – pump­kin art­works made of Chi­nese blue and white porce­lain – saw pop­u­lar­ity and high sales in the US dur­ing the Hal­loween pe­riod this year. “With broad­ened hori­zons to the world and wide knowl

edge of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, more and more young peo­ple be­gin to re­al­ize the true amaze­ment and at­trac­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture on a global scale,” said Fan, who had been liv­ing in the US for six years be­fore re­turn­ing to Bei­jing.

“I think it is a bot­tom-up trend where peo­ple tend to take the ini­tia­tive to pur­sue and spread Chi­nese cul­ture and aes­thet­ics,” said Fan, adding that it has made a sharp con­trast to the “top-bot­tom” pat­tern in the past when ex­perts and schol­ars called for the pub­lic to pre­serve their cul­tural roots.

In­di­vid­u­al­ized and per­son­al­ized

Mean­while, the way young peo­ple in China cel­e­brate West­ern fes­ti­vals is more in­di­vid­u­al­ized and di­ver­si­fied. Tan Wen­zheng, a se­nior as­so­ciate work­ing in the fi­nance sec­tor in Bei­jing, who lived in the UK for years, feels that peo­ple have more op­tions now for cel­e­bra­tion.

“The West­ern fes­ti­vals were much too com­mer­cial­ized in China in the past. Though it still is now, young peo­ple pay more at­ten­tion to their own needs in­stead of be­ing kid­napped by busi­ness pro­mo­tions,” said Tan. Take Valen­tine’s Day for ex­am­ple, an in­creas­ing num­ber of cou­ples cel­e­brate it by trav­el­ing, mak­ing their own gifts or go­ing to ex­hi­bi­tions and per­for­mances ac­cord­ing to their own in­ter­est in­stead of fol­low­ing the cliché pat­tern of hav­ing din­ner to­gether or go­ing to the cin­ema.

“They can do what­ever they like or do noth­ing at all, and I think peo­ple en­joy more free­dom from this per­spec­tive,” Tan said. Wang Dan, a home-party fan who holds par­ties in her apart­ment al­most every month, agrees.

A grad­u­ate of English lit­er­a­ture, Wang was once an en­thu­si­as­tic fol­lower of West­ern fes­ti­vals and Christ­mas and Thanks­giv­ing were two of her big­gest cel­e­bra­tions. Buy­ing a Christ­mas tree, dec­o­rat­ing her apart­ment and order­ing hol­i­day feasts were a must for her for years. How­ever, she put an end to the whole tir­ing prepa­ra­tion work two years ago and now cel­e­brates them in a more “nu­clear” way.

“To fol­low the essence of the fes­ti­vals is the key and that’s to en­joy your time with the ones you love, no mat­ter how you cel­e­brate,” said Wang, who felt it bor­ing and point­less to copy the tra­di­tional West­ern fes­ti­val for­mat. Last Novem­ber, she took an an­nual leave and took her par­ents to travel abroad for Thanks­giv­ing in­stead of hav­ing a party with her friends.

“The ones I should thank the most are my dear par­ents, and this is called fil­ial piety in Chi­nese cul­ture. I think it echoes with the spirit of Thanks­giv­ing’s essence,” Wang said. She also sent post­cards to her friends along her jour­ney to ex­press her thank­ful­ness for their care and sup­port.

Rise of Chi­nese fes­ti­vals

More­over, the rise of tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals is split­ting peo­ple’s en­thu­si­asm for West­ern ones. For ex­am­ple, qixi, the Chi­nese Valen­tine’s Day, which falls on the sev­enth day of the sev­enth month on the lu­nar cal­en­dar, is chang­ing the mar­ket.

Based on re­ports from, the vol­ume of flower pur­chases dur­ing the past qixi fes­ti­val was at a record high, with more than 1 mil­lion or­ders on, one of the big­gest flower-shop­ping plat­forms in China. A 2016 re­port of Xin­hua agency said that a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple in­di­cated that they are more will­ing to cel­e­brate “East­ern Valen­tine’s Day” and the trans­ac­tion vol­ume of flow­ers in 2015 al­most dou­bled com­pared with 2014. “Now there are too many ex­cuses for cou­ples to cel­e­brate their love and so the Fe­bru­ary 14 has be­come less im­por­tant,” said Tan. “Qixi is be­com­ing re­ally pop­u­lar and apart from that, we

even have 520 or even Dou­ble 11 when cou­ples also buy gifts for each other.”

How­ever, many call for more con­tent-ori­en­tated cel­e­bra­tion, rather than purely con­sumerism.

“Over the past 30-50 years, we haven’t had many cre­ative ways to cel­e­brate tra­di­tional Chi­nese fes­ti­vals, and now the cel­e­bra­tion some­how lacks their orig­i­nal cul­tural con­no­ta­tions,” said Liu Siqi, who works at a top In­ter­net com­pany in China and cel­e­brates both Chi­nese and West­ern fes­ti­vals.

“They need time for re­vival and we also need to dig fur­ther into the tra­di­tional cul­tures and val­ues to find more cre­ative ways to cel­e­brate,” said Liu, who is look­ing for­ward to more trendy cel­e­bra­tion of Chi­nese fes­ti­vals. Tan agrees.

Take qixi for in­stance, it has be­come a per­fect chance for men to spend money on women whereas, in the tra­di­tion, the fes­ti­val is not about giv­ing gifts.

Women did needle­work and cre­ated hand­crafts to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val in an­cient times. Orig­i­nat­ing in the Han Dy­nasty, the fes­ti­val was later at­tached with a leg­endary love story where hu­man Niu Lang and his good­ness wife Zhi Nv can only meet once a year at Qixi and the day was gen­er­ally de­vel­oped as a fes­ti­val for lovers.

“Peo­ple have de­vel­oped that im­pres­sion from the tra­di­tional sto­ries, but the core val­ues and cul­tures are left be­hind for com­mer­cial pro­mo­tions,” Tan said.

Photo: Li Hao/GT

The Chi­nese Repub­li­can Era-themed Hal­loween cel­e­bra­tion at­tracted both Chi­nese lo­cals and ex­pats.

Pho­tos: Li Hao/GT, Cour­tesy of ELSE­WHERE

Fan Yang (left) and other par­tic­i­pants ex­pe­ri­ence tra­di­tional Chi­nese wed­ding el­e­ments with a Hal­loween twist; In­set: A fe­male par­tic­i­pant dressed in a tra­di­tional cheongsam

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