Founding of a Republic – China’s National Day Holiday

As October approaches, so does one the major holidays held every year in China, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, also known as the National Day Holiday or Golden Week. There are in fact three holidays all called Golden Week, but the National Holiday is what I often hear associated with the Golden Week Holiday. The other two are the Spring Festival holiday and the Labor Day Holiday. In Chinese, the National Day Holiday is called 国庆节 (Guóqìng jié).

The holiday commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the forming of the Central People’s Government. What many people do not know, is that The People’s Republic of China was actually founded on September 21st, 1949. The Central People’s Government was established on October 1st, and the Resolution on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China was passed on October 2nd, declaring the National day as October 1st.

All over China, you’ll find the Chinese flag hanging on almost every street corner, in malls, and on pedestrian streets. National Day is celebrated typically with fireworks, speeches, concerts and media coverage. In certain years, large, and often impressive, military parades take place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing across from the Forbidden City, an event attended by thousands and broadcast to millions. The military parade is typically followed by a parade of civilians showing their love for their country, with colorful costumes and displaying pictures of revered leaders since the founding of modern-day China.

The National Holiday is also marked by traveling and is one of the busiest travel periods in China from October 1st to October 7th. Popular tourist destinations like Beijing, The Great Wall, Shanghai, The Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, and others see thousands of visitors within these days. I traveled to Shanghai myself back in 2010 during the National Holiday, and while it’s exciting experiencing Shanghai like this, it was hard to enjoy the views and the beautiful scenery while also fighting to stay in place.

A lot of Foreigners tend to travel locally during these days or try to travel outside of the of the first and last two days of the holiday where the lines are the longest.

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The Mid-Autumn Festival

Chinese traditional moon cakes
Chinese traditional moon cakes

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, or the full moon between early September and early October, China and Vietnam celebrate the Mid-Autumn Day (sometimes called Moon Cake Festival). In Chinese, the festival is known as 中秋节 (Zhong Qiu Jie), which literally means middle autumn festival. The festival signifies the end of the autumn harvest and is a cultural, and in some places, religious holiday. It’s among the most recognized Chinese holidays, along withDragon Boat Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Spring Festival. In China, Mid-Autumn festival ranks behind only Chinese Spring Festival in significance.

History

In China, the moon has always been observed carefully, and most important decisions are somehow tied into the moon and its movements. All major holidays are planned according to the lunar calendar, and wedding dates are often chosen by the position and phase of the moon. The moon was thought to have close relationship with how the seasons change, and thereby also affect the agricultural production. So, to express their gratitude, the ancient Chinese would give thanks and celebrate the harvest with sacrifices to the moon on the autumn days. This tradition is said to be as old as the Zhou Dynasty between 1046 and 256 BC.

In recent years, a more romantic story has gained traction. A long time ago, ten suns had risen in the heavens and it was causing hardships for the people. An archer, known only as Yi, shot down nine of the suns, and as a reward he was given an elixir of immortality. However, Yi didn’t consume the elixir because he didn’t want to become immortal without his wife Chang E. One day, when Yi was hunting, Fengmeng broke into his house, and forced Chang E to give up the elixir. When she refused Fengmeng threatened her, so to keep the elixir safe she drank it herself and flew towards the heavens, choosing the moon as her new residence. When Yi came home and heard of what happened, he was inconsolable –  he found the fruits and cakes that his wife loved and put them forward to her. It’s possible this story is actually the origin of the sacrifices to the moon.

Customs

One of the most popular customs around the Mid-Autumn festival is eating moon cakes. Moon cakes come in many shapes and sizes, and with a variety of fillings. Everything from fruits, nuts, bean paste, coffee, chocolate and flowers. The cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family. Eating a round moon cake under a round moon makes the Chinese long for their friends and family. Today, presenting moon cakes to friends and family is a way to wish them a long and happy life.

On this day, Chinese families gather to gaze at the moon, which is rounder than at any other time of the year. They get together and express their yearnings towards the friends and family who live far away.

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By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Chinese Festivals: Qi Xi – A Day of Love

On August 20th this year, the Chinese people will celebrate their own unique version of Valentine’s Day, known as Qi Xi. As with many other Chinese festivals, the exact date changes every year; its planned according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, which is slightly different from our western Gregorian calendar. In Chinese, this festival is also called the Double Seven Festival because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, much like the Dragon Boat Festival is called the “Double Fifth Festival” because it is on the 5th day of the 5th month. The Chinese name, Qi Xi (七夕) also gives this away as Qi (七) means seven and Xi (夕) means night. Qi Xi is also sometimes called The Daughter’s Festival as it relates to unmarried girls looking for love.

Story

The Qi Xi originates from an ancient legend of love. The full-extent of the legend is rather long, but generally its a story of forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl. As the legend goes, the boy is literally named cowherd (niu lang, 牛郎) and the girl is named weaver girl (zhi nü, 织女). They fall deeply in love, but much like modern stories like Romeo and Juliet, their love was not allowed. The legend says, the girl’s mother banished the lovers from seeing each other, and placed them on opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). But, because their love was so strong, everyone felt sorry for them and wanted them to be together. Every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, a flock of magpies would fly together to form a bridge for the two lovers to walk across, so they could be with each other for one night. This night became known as Qi Xi.

Variations

Throughout China you can find several variations of this story. In some versions the girl was a fairy who was weaving beautiful clouds in the sky; her mother was a goddess, and the weaver girl was her seventh daughter. The girl escaped heaven and came across the boy. They fell in love, were secretly married, and had two children. But, when the goddess found out her fairy daughter married a mortal, she became furious and banished them. In another version, the girl was taken back to heaven to weave clouds, a task that she had neglected during the time she was with her mortal husband. When she suddenly disappeared, the boy felt very sad. His ox then began to talk to him, saying that if he killed it and lay it on its side he would be able to go to heaven to find his wife. He killed the ox, took its skin and his two children, and went to heaven to find his wife. When the goddess found out she became angry, took out her hairpin and scratched a wide river in the sky (the Milky Way) to keep them apart. This version also includes the magpies forming a bridge so the two lovers could meet for a single night.

Traditions

In rural regions of China, the Double Seven Festival is still celebrated, although not as much as it used to be. Girls would pray to Zhi nü; they hoped for her sewing skills and her sweet love. However, in the cities, this tradition has been replaced with the Western Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th of every year. But, there are still a lot of young people who celebrate Qi Xi as they would Valentine’s Day. They go out for dinner, take their crush on a date, bring gifts of flowers, chocolate and cards, and express their love in a manner of different ways.

An interesting note is that it almost always rains on this day. It’s said if it rains on Qi Xi, it’s the river sweeping away the magpie bridge between the two lovers, or the rain is the tears of the two separated lovers. The forecast calls for rain today, so we’ll assume the lovers are saying their goodbye’s until they meet again next year (*sob*).

Photo credit: The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki), before 1892

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

The Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Jie (端午节) is a National Holiday in China, and is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month following the traditional lunar calendar. This year, the festival falls on June 20th.

The English name “Dragon Boat Festival” translates directly to Longchuan Jie (龙船节) which is also its name on the Chinese mainland. The name Duanwu Jie is more commonly used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The date of the festival, according to the lunar calendar, 5/5 is also the source of its alternative name, the “Double Fifth Festival”.

While there are a few different origin stories for this holiday, in most parts of China the festival is said to commemorate the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (屈原). During the Warring States period of Ancient China, Qu Yuan worked as a minister in the ancient Chinese State of Chu. During this period, there were seven warring states, and Qu Yuan supported the decision to take up arms against the State of Qin, a formidable opponent. However, the King of Chu decided rather than fight and risk defeat, he would ally with the State of Qin.  When Qu Yuan publicly opposed the alliance, he was exiled and accused of treason.

Qu Yuan had such love for his country, that during his exile he wrote countless poems about his home country. Twenty-eight years later, the state of Qin captured Yin–the capital city of the state of Chu–and, in despair Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and drowned himself.

The legend says the local people admired him so much, they raced out in their boats to try to save Qu Yuan, or at least retrieve his body. They couldn’t find his body, so they threw balls of sticky rice into the water with hopes the fish would eat the rice instead of the body of their beloved poet. The race to retrieve his body is said to be the origin of the actual dragon boat races; the sticky rice balls (zongzi, or 粽子) have since become a Chinese delicacy eaten during the holiday. There are varying English names for this traditional Chinese food, including Dragon Dumplings and Glutinous Sticky Rice Balls. They are often wrapped in leaves and sold in supermarkets, on the street, and in specialty stores, where they prepare gourmet zongzi of various tastes and flavors.

In modern-day China, the festival is celebrated in some places by racing dragon boats and eating zongzi. It is also believed to be a time to strengthen your body, cleaning your house, and doing what you can to prevent getting sick during the hot summer. This is done by hanging mugwort leaves and calamus in the house, and wearing small perfume pouches that protect children from evil. In metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, you are less likely to see many of these customs and traditions. But they’re still very much alive in more traditional rural cities.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Photo credit: Tolbzela (Flickr) | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Celebrate Spring Festival with a ‘Bang!’

Spring Festival Chongqing 02China’s biggest holiday of the year is 春节 (“chun jie” – Spring Festival), or Chinese New Year as it’s referred to in the West. Spring Festival is like Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined into a one week super-holiday. Nearly everyone returns home to see their family during Spring Festival, so it’s the annual cause of the largest human migration on Earth; every year China sets a new record for the most people traveling at the same time. Last year, around 260 million people traveled to various parts of the country within just a matter of days.

Because Chinese holidays are set according to the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year doesn’t usually start until late January or early February – this year, Spring Festival started on February 18th. Unlike Christmas and New Year in the Western world, which are traditionally only celebrated for one day each, Spring Festival is celebrated from the last day of the last month, for fifteen days until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month. Throughout these fifteen days, people have dinners at home with loved ones, play traditional Chinese games like Mahjong, and exchange gifts such as 红包 (“hong bao” – red envelopes full of money). It is also tradition to wear new clothes at the start of the New Year, so the few days before the Spring Festival begins it’s common for everyone to go shopping for new (usually red) clothes.

The staple food during Chinese Spring Festival is dumplings. The 馅儿 (“xian’er” – stuffing, or flavor) varies by region. In the north for example, Spring Festival dumplings are often filled with pork, shrimp, and leeks. Another salient feature of Spring Festival is the hanging of red lanterns along the road, and 春联 (“Chun lian” – Spring Festival couplets) on doorways and windows. These are usually adorned with Chinese characters for happiness, health and fortune. It is believed that hanging these symbols in your house will bring good luck in the New Year.

Perhaps the most important (and loudest) part of Spring Festival is playing with firecrackers. Unlike in the west where we shoot fireworks into the sky for the New Year, Chinese firecrackers are smaller in size, but larger in number. Instead of shooting off a single rocket, the Chinese will light firecrackers that are several meters long with several thousand smaller bangs. The shooting of fireworks and firecrackers can be heard year round in China (especially during weddings or when a new business opens), but Spring Festival is when they are most prevalent. At midnight of the New Year, you will hear hundreds of thousands of firecrackers being set off simultaneously, and the festivities last deep into the night. The purpose is to scare away evil spirits with the loud noise, and as a blessing to mark a new beginning.

Although celebrations are similar across China, some Spring Festival traditions are slightly different from place to place. Big, modern cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing – though in different parts of the country – celebrate Spring Festival in a very similar fashion. But each province has their own way of doing things. This is especially true as you venture further into the countryside to the small villages; there are ways of celebrating that are unique to their specific location.

Being in China during Spring Festival is indeed a remarkable and memorable experience. Aspects of it remind me of Christmas in my home country of Denmark; it’s not necessarily just about gifts and food, but a chance to spend time with family and enjoy the spirit of the season.  Enjoying this type of festive season while living abroad is very special, and is a great reminder of why I have chosen China as a place to live and work.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson
Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here