Chinese National Holidays

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Chinese Festivals, Chinese Traditions, Cultural, Discover Chinese culture, Learn about China

THE STRANGE THING ABOUT CHINESE HOLIDAYS

I remember once hearing someone say, “You work more than a Chinese person!” I now don’t think that person understood the reality of this sentence. The truth is, nobody really can until they’ve been living in China for a while!

China has four main Public Holidays and numerous annual festivals, the most important of which are Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Mid-Autumn Festival (National Day). People often refer to these festivals as “Golden weeks”, but for many interns who experience these holidays in China for the first time, the Chinese idea of a holiday is not what you’d expect! You might get seven days of in a row, great, but there is also a price to pay. The Saturday or Sunday before or after the Golden week become regular working days to make up for some of the valuable working hours lost to leisure time. No rest for the wicked, ay! This was definitely a shock to me when I first started my internship in Qingdao – “I have to come to work on a Sunday!?!”

Here’s an example of how the working week took shape in the past to accommodate Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National day. Peculiar, huh?

InternChina - Holiday Calender
InternChina – Holiday Calender

During these two weeks Chinese people usually go back to their hometowns to visit their families or go travelling as a family. You’ll find the big cities packed to brimming point with happy families wielding cameras in on selfie sticks. It’s a lively atmosphere, but for the safety of your toes, I would advise you to avoid the main attractions and tourist spots on National holidays! You’re likely to find something like this:

InternChina - Holiday Calender
InternChina – Expectation Vs. Reality

CHINESE NEW YEAR

But not everything is negative and actually one of the main reasons I love China is that behind these holidays there is a strong sense of tradition, a history and many customs that will continue to be observed for years to come.

For example, the Chinese New Year Festival (or Spring Festival) in February has more than 4,000 years of history. The Chinese welcome the New Year by asking the Queen of the Sun to help with the next harvest.

InternChina - Spring Festival
InternChina – Spring Festival

The festival is said to have started with a mythical beast called the Nian. The evil Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put out food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that if the beast ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day, a villager decided to get revenge on the Nian. A god visited him and told him to put red paper over the outside of his house and firecrackers too. The Nian it seems was afraid of the colour red. When the New Year was approaching, the villagers hung up red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and lit up firecrackers to frighten the beast away. From then on, the Nian never troubled the village again.

InternChina - Spring Festival
InternChina – Spring Festival

That’s also the reason you’ll find all over China red paper decorations adorning every front door.

 

MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL

Around the same time as China’s National Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival arrives. This festival is closely related to the changes of the seasons and agricultural production. It’s a time to say “thank you” to the Moon Queen and celebrate the last days of September. The festival has more than 3000 years of history.

pastel de luna
InternChina – Mid-Autumn Festival

It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi, who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Among these people was an old friend called Peng Meng. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and they lived a happy life.

One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god/goddess. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E.
Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi giving the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard of the happy couples home and demanded Chang E to hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not defeat Peng Meng, she took the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, Cheng E flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.

On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grieved that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife had appeared in the Moon. He laid Chang E’s favourite food on an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her, but he had lost her forever.

After hearing that Chang E had become a goddess, the folk people also started offering sacrifices to Chang E, praying for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among folklore.

InternChina - Cheng E
InternChina – Cheng E

I like this story, but the best thing about the holiday are the moon cakes. Each one is a surprise because I never know what filling I’ll find inside!

 

Which each day I like China and its culture more and more – there’s always a nice story to listen to. If you also want to experience the real China – apply now.

Chinese Traditions, Cultural, Discover Chinese culture, Learn about China

Hats Off for Elderly People in China!

Being in China for almost 2 months now, I have noticed how the elderly are integrated in all aspects of life and how remarkably fit most of them are – even in their twilight years. This is what drove me to do a little more research about it, and finally, to write this blog.
With 144 million people over 60 (which is more or less 10% of the population), the elderly population in China grows at a much faster rate than that of most other countries. Consequently, retired people can be found in all sorts of public spaces

Coming back to the fitness, every morning outside my apartment I spot the Chinese doing impressive stretching moves, performing Taiqi which is known to improve the way energy flows and circulates around the body, and using the free, public sports equipment installed in the outside area of the complex.

InternChina - Taiqi Moves
InternChina – Taiqi Moves

But that’s not it for the day. With dawn starts exercise session No.2. In Zhuhai you can watch the elderly swinging their hips to slow, rhythmic and traditional music in front of sights like the Yuang Ming Palace or at Jida Beach.

InternChina - Elderly Dancing in front of Yuang Ming Palace
InternChina – Elderly Dancing in front of Yuang Ming Palace
InternChina - Elderly Dancing in front of Yuang Ming Palace
InternChina – Elderly Dancing in front of Yuang Ming Palace

A great example here is also this 70 year old women from Chengdu called Dai Dali who pulls of amazing pole-dance moves. Respect!

InternChina - Grandma Poledancer
InternChina – Grandma Poledancer

Being close to the gambling metropolis of Macau, the Chinese here also seem to love spending their evening playing card and dice games. This is either done in private circles close to/ outside their homes or in restaurants – the noise of such activity is quite distinct!

InternChina - Elderly Playing Cards
InternChina – Elderly Playing Cards

What I find another very interesting phenomenon is that grandparents are the default babysitters for their young, professional offspring and thus become the primary caretakers of children in China. This seems to be the easiest solution for young parents as they can still enjoy their lives and at the same time don’t have to commit their kids to strangers or pay a lot for childcare.

InternChina - Elderly in the West Vs. China
InternChina – Elderly in the West vs. China

Three generations living under one roof is therefore rather common, and it’s quite normal to hear kids talking about how they grow up with their grandparents. All in all, the elderly still play vital roles in a common household and are valued as an integral member of the family.

 

Cultural Background

Traditionally, elderly people in China were held in high regard and they used to enjoy almost absolute power over their children. With cultural concepts like “孝顺” – roughly translates into: respect and obey your elders – and “百善孝为先“ – of all the good virtues, respecting your elders is the most important one – the Chinese society established ethical codes about what behaviour is acceptable.

One of those codes implies that children ‘shall not disobey’ and another that they ‘shall not travel far’. Adult children are expected to live with their parents to take care of them – failure to do so would mean a major loss of face for any family. This responsibility, and the ties it creates, is very well reflected in the massive family gatherings seen during the Spring Festival, also called the Chinese New Year and National Day holidays.

InternChina - Family Gathering During Spring Festival
InternChina – Family Gathering During Spring Festival

While this solidarity between the generations may seem eternal, the ‘one-child’ policy is changing the social attitudes of China rapidly. The children nowadays seem to have little respect or time for tradition and prefer to focus on improving their own standing instead.

As a result of that, and also due to a more and more westernized Chinese society, the concept of grown-up children living in their own apartments starts to be widely acknowledged

InternChina - Generation Unity
InternChina – Generation Unity

To wrap this blog up I’d like to share a quote by Confucius:

“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.”

 

Here I’d like to point that China is a vast country with distinctive cultures and that this blog partially reflects my own experience and observation in the area around Zhuhai.

If you want to compare how the lifestyles within China vary and what the most interesting differences between our destinations are, click here