As Western holidays grow more popular in China, many youngsters are combining customs
Walking on the streets in Beijing this time of year, you may bump into a ghost or a witch or even a zombie. You will also see smiling pumpkins on doorsteps and pictures of goblins and ghouls in windows. But don’t be afraid! This is
just Halloween, a weird Western holiday that celebrates spirits and other spooky stuff. Most Western festivals and celebrations, such as Christmas and Halloween, were first introduced into China back in the 1990s and have been enjoying increasing popularity ever since. Chinese people’s attitudes toward Western culture have gradually changed in recent years, with more young Chinese getting dressed up in costumes on Halloween and going shopping on Christmas. Some Chinese are even integrating Western holidays into their own culture and customs, creating unique hybrid holidays not found anywhere else in the world.
In a dimly lit room adorned with blood-red lights and the Chinese characters for “happiness” pasted up on the walls, women dressed up in form-fitting cheongsam (Shanghai-style miniskirts) and men dressed in old-school mandarin jackets dance together to spooky music playing on speakers. Taking in the bizarre scene, you might think that you have just encountered a movie production. But no, it is actually a Halloween party done up in a Chinese way in Beijing.
“It’s a natural process that cultures from different countries merge within local ones, especially in metropolitan cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds gather together,” said Fan Yang, founder and CEO of a private space-sharing app named ELSEWHERE.
“Chinese young people are very creative and they become bored celebrating Western festivals the same way year after year. Integration of Chinese and Western culture is a growing trend as they too grow their cultural confidence,” Fan told Metropolitan.
With a “bloody-red wedding” theme and inspiration from the 2014 Chinese horror movie The House That Never Dies, the venue is filled with elements of a traditional Chinese wedding: red veils for the brides, red-cloth flowers for the grooms and red spoons and chopsticks for the couples to feed each other with. The music and lights help create a creepy atmosphere, which was well received, attracting around 100 attendees, both Chinese and expats.
“It’s quite different from other Halloween parties I have attended before. It was more like a ghost marriage in traditional Chinese culture, which resonates with me,” a participant surnamed Li said, explaining that celebrations with Chinese elements are more appealing to him since they echo his “cultural codes.”
A spooky new world
“Oh, no! What is this? Do not come near me!” Shang Ling’s voice trembles with tension and excitement as she battles a warrior in a black cloak with a jack-o’lantern for a head. The cloaked warrior was in fact one of the Halloween-themed characters released in Overwatch, a video game developed by US-based game developer Blizzard Entertainment just in time for Halloween.
Shang, a graphic designer based in Ji’nan, Shandong Province, was among the early experiencers of the game. “The overall color and tone were dark and scary; the supply crate was in the shape of a pumpkin, and a hero even had a pumpkin head,” she said. “The special effects were amazing! It really felt like Halloween.”
In recent years, many Chinese youngsters like Shang are starting to celebrate Western festivals not with costumes and props but by using virtual technology and digital platforms. Online games, live streaming and virtual reality (VR) videos are most popular due to their ability to recreate real-life festivities, reach more people and boost the enjoyment of millennial viewers.
Shang used to dress up in costumes and attend parties to celebrate Halloween while she was studying for her bachelor’s degree in the US. But as few people in China celebrate Halloween, it was impractical for her to continue the custom upon her return to China.
One week before Halloween in 2015, she accidentally opened a web page to a new gaming site that had just launched Halloween-themed offerings. Out of curiosity, she logged into the game and immediately entered a spooky new world. In orange and black graphics, the game offered traditional Halloween activities like trick-or-treat
in the form of
missions where players could play a trick or wreak havoc if they do not get candy. Shang was instantly enchanted by the
game. She played it for at least three hours at a time every night after coming home from work. It took her back to the Halloween atmosphere of her college days in America, which she enjoyed. “But it was even better than when I was in the US, where most people just celebrate Haln loween for one night,” she said. “In the virtual world, however, the creepy atmosphere is greatly prolonged, and I can take part in whichever activities
I like most about the occasion,”
Shang told Metropolitan, adding that the game also helps her feel less lonely at night because many other Chinese players join the game with her either as partners or ens emies on their ghoulish missions. “Either when I am fighting for candy with my partner or trying to play tricks on my opponent, I feel we are celebrating Halloween together in our own Chinese way, regardf less of where we are physically.”
Halloween parties with Chinese elements attract not only Chinese young people but also many expats to experience a different holiday atmosphere.
Many Chinese youth enjoy festivalthemed virtual games for their rich festive environment and sensory appeal.