Expats in China can feel a little left out during festival times, keeping away from the celebration activities during the periods of Chinese festivals.
One way to circumnavigate this problem could be to pick up a copy of "Chinese Festivals" written by Wei Liming.
In this book, all the influential Chinese festivals are grouped into three categories for the convenience of readers: traditional festivals, statutory festivals and those of Chinese minorities.
Among all the holidays, the traditional festivals are the focus of the book because of their great popularity and influence.
Before detailing each festival and its cultural significance, the author introduces its historical background.
In the eyes of numerous Chinese scholars, a clear analysis of the historical background is helpful in improving people's understanding of a cultural phenomenon.
In the opinion of the author, despite the transformation of society as a whole, the culture of festivals is deeply rooted in the minds of everyday people because they are part of the heritage of Chinese culture.
Wei puts forth his viewpoint that almost all the traditional festivals in China are closely related to the development of mathematics, astronomy and the calendar, with the beginning of the traditional festivals linked with the so-called 24 seasonal division points under the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.
Devised by people in the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), the 24 seasonal divisions played a key role in helping to form the traditional festivals.
This had a lot to do with people developing their customs and activities on the basis of the yearly change of seasons and natural phenomena.
Many traditional Chinese festivals began in the Qin Dynasty. During the Han Dynasty, the major traditional festivals had been settled to a large extent, while In the Tang Dynasty, the festivals were stripped off their mysterious coat of primitive sacrifices and superstitions, changing into more entertaining amusements.
In addition to their origins and cultural significance, the book also focuses on expounding people's knowledge of what to do during the festivals, this can be of particular interest to foreigners.
For example, the Spring Festival, which falls on the first day of the first lunar month of Chinese calendar, is the grandest and most exciting festival in China.
To celebrate the festival, people often stay up all night until next dawn. This is called shou sui in Chinese (waiting for New Year).
When the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Eve, people eat jiao zi (Chinese dumplings) because it means new replacing the old and the changing of years.
Making New Year visits or bai nian is also an important custom during the holiday. Other activities include tie chun lian (sticking New Year couplets on doorways), letting off firecrackers and the giving of ya sui qian (money to children by elders). All of the folk customs are also explained in detail in the book.
In the eyes of Wei, by getting close and even into the culture of these colourful festivals, the reader can get in touch with the essence of Chinese culture.
In this way, an expatriate can melt into local Chinese people's lives and any sense of loneliness might be discarded.
Publisher: China Intercontinental Press. In English. Price: 90 yuan (US$11.10).
(China Daily 12/30/2005 page13)
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