Can boycotting Christmas save Chinese culture? – 抵制“圣诞节”能保护传统文化? – English

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The traditional Western festival of Christmas took place a few days ago, and some media reports said that in a North-Western university, a group of students organised the viewing of traditional Chinese videos for ‘Christmas’, while ‘on Christmas Eve, all the class leaders were present, many teachers guarded the exits, and absence would be punished three times as much as usual”. The school’s weibo account responded that this was so that ‘not everyone would blindly fawn to foreign cultures, and look back at the Chinese traditions’. Another report indicated that many primary and secondary schools in Wenzhou received a notice to ‘not carry on any Christmas related activities’ ; and at a College in Hunan, a student dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, and carried a ‘Boycott Christmas’ sign at a Christmas event.

In the last years, it’s been a regular topic of discussion whether we should celebrate Western festivals, and how to celebrate Chinese festivals. For each Western ‘Christmas’ or ‘Valentine’s Day’, an argument is heard; and some experts and scholars have taken initiatives to set up a Chinese ‘Mother’s Day’ or ‘Father’s Day’ to replace the Western Mother’s Day or Father’s day that young people love. This is to increase the awareness of a need to protect traditional Chinese culture among people. There is a sense that chaotically celebrating Western festivals poses a threat to traditional culture, and so education departments and schools have taken measures – teenagers themselves have taken initiatives. In copmparison to the prevalent attitude a few years ago, when ‘every festival should be celebrated’ and ‘let’s blindly celebrate’ was the rule, this is definitely praiseworthy.

However, does the protection of traditional Chinese culture require a mandatory ‘Christmas boycott’ – and it is worth questioning deeper what it is exactly that people are ‘boycotting’. This is what North-Western University said in response – some of the students find that Western festivals are ‘fashionable’, while Chinese festivals are ‘old fashioned’: ‘This is a sad phenomenon’. In fact, whether in China or in the West, Festivals carry the historical memory and national feeling of that nation, but in the eyes of others, those festivals are mainly cultural spectacles. In Western cities, there is often interest and curiosity for the residents of Chinatowns and their customs, and they like celebrating Spring Festivals with the Chinese community. Therefore, I belive that festivals are no intrinsically ‘fashionable’ or ‘old-fashioned’, but only ‘new’, ‘foreign’ or ‘usual’.

The only thing is, because of the development of Western consumer economy, when the ‘Western Festival’ get into China, they’re already been commodified. They only offer a certain physical form to Chinese people, externally, they look like ‘Christmas’ or ‘Valentine’s day’, but in fact, they’re nothing more than consumer experiences. At Christmas, young people give each other an apple; for Valentine’s day, they give each other roses or chocolates. In reality, this is not properly ‘celebrating a festival’, but under the impulsion of a commercial framework, experience some novel and strange form of ‘going beyong the law’. For the people celebrating the festival who are not familiar with Western culture, it’s nothing more than a fun game. Therefore, ‘boycotting Christmas’ is actually boycotting the excessive consumption that goes with Christmas, and worrying that the excessive consumption associated with Christmas may tarnish the status of traditional festivals in people’s minds. In fact, this kind of ‘experience’ never goes beyond consumption, the cultural content of ‘Christmas’ and other western festivals is unlikely to enter deep into people’s hearts through the current form of celebration.

From this point of view, controlling the consumerist experience of foreign festivals as a way to protect traditional Chinese festivals is a case of conceptual mistake. What we really need to guard against is the commericalisation, the consumerisation, and the homogenization of our festivals. A few years ago, a scholar wrote that consumerism is erasing our memories of festivals; we no longer distinguish between a festival and a day off, and more and more, we simply think of festivals as a day off work. Today, tourism, shopping and good dining have become the core of many festivals, and from a ‘special time’, Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, mid autumn festival have become nothing more than a ‘day of recreation’. I believe, what we should really worry about is that, under the influence of entertainment culture, Chinese people are now celebrating our national festivals in the same way that we do these foreign festivals, as pure ‘fun and novelty experiences’. And if that is the case, our traditional festivals will have no further meaning for us than a consumer experience, and none of the historical significance and national sentiment they carry will penetrate deep into our hearts.

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Source : 中国国学网

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact julien@marcopoloproject.org