PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order one from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, usa, August 29, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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At the train station in Xiamen the next day, Demo boarded a speed train to go home, while Jake and I found a very persuasive young man, eager and well-dressed, using his own car, to take us back to his parents in Jinjing. I know there is a somewhat Chinese version of Uber in China. But it is getting more common in China to see rugged men—like ordinary laborers—driving their own cars waiting at many bus stops or train stations to take you where you want to go. Motorcycles for short distances and cars for longer distances. Or with a phone, you can get anyone to take you to a nearby town or city: cheap, fast, and dependable. In America, I cannot survive without a car, not so in China. Alex Song, a new PhD student studying in Virgina Tech University from mainland China, told me recently he has problems with the public transportation because his campus is not in any metropolitan area in USA, whereas in China “I can go anywhere anytime just hopping on buses which would take me anywhere I want to go. Not so here outside my university in Virginia.”
I had to agree with Alex about our public transportation in America, especially if you are not in big cities. All I have to do in China is ride a second-hand bicycle (new bicycles are always a temptation for would-be thieves) or ride a bus (cheaply) to the nearest supermarket or grocery store. Some students and locals enjoy the long walk to do their shopping, alone or with their friends or relatives.
By the time we arrived at the village of LiuJiang in Jinjing, the young taxi driver did not take us up a steep, winding, rugged, narrow path to Jake’s house. Jake did not insist (Jake’s immediate neighbor just recently built a garage at the back of his house for his car), so we walked a distance dragging my luggage to his residence. I could feel by the cold in the air and seeing small brightly colored banners (like the Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags) on the front of many houses that the Chinese New Year was indeed coming very soon. I could see red almost everywhere I looked…red is the color of happiness and celebrations and represents brightness, energy and luck in our Chinese culture. As we neared Jake’s house, I could smell the cooking from the kitchen and Jake’s mom was busy preparing for a big dinner for the family. This was not my first visit to Jake’s house but my first Chinese New Year with Jake and his family. There were many surprises waiting for me!
This was February 6, a day before the much anticipated family New Year Eve’s reunion dinner in every home. In the Chinese lunar calendar, this would be the 29th day of the twelfth month of the year and I was curious and wondered how Jake’s parents and all his relatives would observe the Chinese traditions and customs. On
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Jake’s father’s side, he has an aunt (with an adult son and a married daughter with 2 young boys), 2nd uncle (with a son doing interior decorations), 3rd uncle (with a son soon to enter high school), and 4th uncle (who died young with a daughter in primary school now being raised by Jake’s grandmother). On his mother’s side, he has 1st aunt (she and her husband with three children are working in Macau), 2nd aunt (she lives with her Taiwanese husband and three children in Taiwan), 1st uncle (he is separated from his wife and has a son) and 2nd uncle (he and his wife has a son). Both uncles together own a big luxurious modern house in LiuJiang and work in the Philippines but are home for the New Year celebrations. I teased Jake that he would become very rich by the end of the New Year celebrations because, as a single young man now in college, he would be showered with hongbao from all his relatives. He looked happy at the news of his impending wealth.
I was curious why the Chinese New Year is also known as Guo Nian to some people in China. Guo Nian literally means “passing a year”. One legend tells the story of “Nian”, a cruel and unpleasant monster which would attack and eat children and livestock. Nian was afraid of anything red and loud firecracker sounds. This would explain why the Chinese would use all kinds of red decorations (paper cuts, couplets, lanterns, hongbaos) and fireworks to drive away Nian, the evil one on New Year’s Eve.
Some would call it Lunar New Year. Some would call it Spring Festival. What about the term or phrase Spring Festival? I have never heard of the term or phrase Spring Festival all my years living in Malaysia and Singapore and later in America until I came to live and work in China 2008. The story is that when Shun, one of ancient China’s mythological emperors came to the throne, he and his ministers bowed to heaven and earth and that day became the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. And so when China adopted the Gregorian (Western) calendar in 1911 (this marks the end of Qing Dynasty, historically the end of imperial China, replaced by the Republic of China), the Chinese New Year was renamed the Spring Festival. Anyway, as one of China’s largest celebratory events, it actually starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar and lasts for about 23 days, ending on the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar New Year. In mainland China, Spring Festival is a national holiday with government offices, schools and universities and many businesses closed from the Spring Festival Eve to the seventh day of the first lunar month. Most universities are closed for a month.
Already in the mass media in January there was much talk and musing about what the Year of the Monkey (2016) would mean to the Chinese people and inundation of dire warnings to the public, urging them to plan and start the travels home early because of
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the anticipated annual mad travel rush in China, the largest observable annual migration of people (like the great annual migration of millions of zebra, wildebeest and other antelope in East Africa) especially from big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen—cities built and supported by the labor of millions of hardworking migrant workers. And most of the people caught in the panic rush were migrant workers, for many the only time of the year to travel home to see their children and parents and grandparents, burdened with luggage and mountains of gifts for their children and close relatives. Add to this madness and chaos were millions of students also returning home to see their parents.
Major cities seemed to come to a standstill, now emptied of many of their invaluable workers fleeing for homes across the country. We watched the news with pain and sympathy for many who were trapped in the busiest train station in Guangzhou because of the sheer numbers of people and the unstoppable treacherous winter snow, slowing and delaying many from going home on time. Every year, inter-city transportation faces many challenges because demands for tickets always exceed the supply. Each year the Chinese government uses many more temporary trains, opens up more booths, extends working hours of booking offices, stops the scalpers, and deploys more police to ensure public security and safety. The rush usually begins 15 days ahead of the New Year and 25 days after the New Year.
Not everyone wants to go home for the Spring Festival, especially the young professionals who are between the ages of 25-30 and are still single. They want to avoid facing their parents and relatives who are constantly asking them questions about why they are still single. For some, they resort to renting a female or male just for the visit home to see their parents. A temporary solution but at least you can fool your parents about your marital status. I am sure they are a few who will not return home with plausible excuses if they are not willing to pay for a rental fee for a temporary partner.
When I was in an old Walmart store in Wenzhou, I saw and fell in love with the little cute and colorful stuffed toy monkeys and I purchased two, one for Jake and one for another student. This is the year of the Monkey according to the Chinese zodiac. Chinese astrology, an ancient philosophy in China, is organized according to the 12 animal signs. Lord Buddha, according to one legend, invited all the animals to see him before he departed from this earth and surprisingly 12 of them came to say goodbye. And to reward them, he named each year after each one of them in the order they arrived: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Thus we have 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac. And so every year comes with a new zodiac sign. Based on the lunar calendar, an entire cycle of the
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lunar calendar is completed every 60 years and 12 years is regarded as a small cycle.
I heard the Year of the Monkey is a good year for women to have babies because, according to the Chinese tradition, it will be filled with good fortune. There were many voices in the air that a child born in the Year of the Monkey will be lucky, bright and clever. We must not forget that the Chinese zodiac is a part of our Chinese traditional culture. And each person’s zodiac sign will decide his character and destiny. And so Monkey babies are destined to have a bright and happy life. The Monkey is regarded as a clever, bright and lucky sign. A Monkey baby will have humor, intelligence and an outgoing nature and will have success socially, academically, leading to a good life.
That a child born in the Year of the Goat (previous year) would be expected to have a bitter life, full of ill fortune and full of hunger. So the Year of the Goat was considered inauspicious to having babies and many young couples, especially those who believe in the tradition or listen to their superstitious elders, put off having babies. At the same time some newspaper articles tried to paint a different picture for those born in the Year of the Goat, that there would be less competition in schools and in the job markets. Still the majority of the Chinese people, rural or urban, still believe the Year of the Monkey is supposed to be lucky for everything and everyone born in that year.
Jake was born in the Year of the Goat and he is enjoying life as a graduate student and his optimism has no room for a “bitter life” or any “misfortune”. Jake believes he is in full control of his destiny.
Now home for the Spring Festival, Jake had little to do with the actual preparation for the observance of the festival. Jake’s parents are both teachers and are less bound, I presume, by Chinese traditions. Traditionally, it is a 15 day festival, from the New Year to the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar New Year, marking the official end of the festival. And people would like to divide the 15 days into 3 periods: traditional activities for days before the New Year, days during the New Year, and days after the New Year culminating in the celebration of the Lantern Festival. Having been born outside of mainland China (because grandpa and his family immigrated to Malaya in 1903) it is often said that the Chinese in Hong Kong and the ones in the diaspora—scattered across southeast Asia—have preserved and kept intact most of the Chinese practices, beliefs, traditions and customs and culture than those who live in mainland China. They are known as the custodians of the original Chinese beliefs, customs, practices and traditions. China became a different country after Chairman Mao took over mainland China. In some ways, there is not just one China: there is the imperial China, ancient times to 1911, then
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republican China 1911-1949, Mao Zedong China 1949-1976, Deng Xiaoping China 1978-1989, and post-Deng China 1990-now. When Deng Xiaoping ascended into power in 1978, he introduced the opening up and reforms (following the examples of Japan and Singapore) that had changed radically the social, political, economic and cultural landscapes of China. Xi Jinping took power in 2013 and he has introduced the new concept of the China Dream (unlike the American Dream) that has attracted the attention of the world leaders, movers and shakers of major industries, and everyone and anyone who is hungry for the crumbs under the table from the huge economic pie that is modern China. And the new 2013 Road and Belt Initiative is putting China right in the center of the universe. And on the map, again.
But when it comes to preservation of China’s precious customs and traditions, like the celebration of the Spring Festival, I am reminded of what Chairman Mao did to China, especially during the Cultural Revolution, when he encouraged the removal of the Four Olds that had existed in the Chinese traditional society since ancient times.
According to a report by BBC News, “The Cultural Revolution was a campaign launched by Mao to rid the Party of his rivals, but which ended up destroying much of China’s social fabric. At its start, Mao and his supporters mobilized thousands of young, radical ‘Red Guards’ who were ordered to destroy the ‘Four Olds’ in Chinese culture. Colleges were shut down so students could concentrate on “revolution”, and as the fervour of the movement spread, they began to attack almost anything and anybody that stood for authority. Schools and temples were destroyed, their teachers and parents vilified and, in thousands of cases, beaten to death or driven to suicide.”
The new China since Deng Xiaoping’s economic revolution and unbounded prosperity in 1978 is involved inextricably and fervently in the resurrection and reconstruction of the “Four Olds” but not everyone is following strictly and faithfully what their grandparents and ancestors did in pre-1949 China when Mao first took over. Sadly, not everyone in China today, including Jake’s parents and close relatives are following closely the Spring Festival activities and rituals of the forgotten past. The Cultural Revolution did its best to destroy China’s ancient customs, beliefs and traditions.
This is China.