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Chinese Traditional Festivals and Culture Essay


Introduction

The Chinese culture is one of the most celebrated cultures over the world. Owing to this culture, there are many festivals associated with it. Through these festivals, the Chinese culture has become overwhelmingly popular in many parts of the world.

The festivals fall in different times of the year and are celebrated in differing styles. All these festivals may be classified under four categories (Gibney, p. 109). This paper will focus on the three Chinese traditional festivals.

These are the Spring Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Dragon Boat festival. This paper will briefly describe the three festivals and their importance to the Chinese people.

The paper will also explain what the festivals tell the audience about Chinese traditional culture, values and the similarities among these festivals’ values. Chinese have various festivals and Cultures which have different values and similarities. The festivals tell more about the Chinese cultures and values.

The Spring Festival

Of all the Chinese festivals, the Spring Festival has the greatest value to the Chinese people with its value equated to the value of the Westerners attachment to Christmas. It is a time of the year designated for merrymaking when family members come together to celebrate the occasion.

This period is characterized by congestion and overcrowding in all the transport networks. Millions of Chinese fill the airports, bus stations and rail stations in a rush to return home (Kalman, p. 20).

The Spring Festival is celebrated for a period of three days every year though its entire duration is a bit longer. The festival falls on the first day of the first lunar month but starts unceremoniously in the early days of the twelfth lunar month and extends to the mid of the first lunar month of the following year.

During this entire period, the eve of the Spring festival and the following three days have the greatest importance to the Chinese people (Kalman, p. 20).

The history of this festival dates back to the 12th century. The custom has survived through the centuries though the meaning has slightly changed. Today, the festival does not necessarily involve offering sacrifices to gods or ancestors, but simply marks the end of a year and the beginning of another.

The government attaches a lot of importance to the festival and even stipulates that people take the first seven days of the New Year to celebrate. A series of events carried out by the Chinese people mark the Spring Festival (Kalman, p. 21).

The occasion starts on the eighth day of the last lunar month. On this day, families make laba porridge which is made of beans, rice, lotus seeds, millet, jujube berries, longan and gingko. Following this, preparing delicious meals is held on the twenty third day of the same month.

Initially, the meaning of this day was to offer sacrifice to the Chinese kitchen god; however, today, people prepare the meals to enjoy themselves. The day is called the ’Preliminary Eve’ after which people commence the actual preparations for welcoming the New Year. During this period, people go into a shopping spree buying all they will require during the New Year celebrations (Kalman, p. 21).

To mark a new beginning associated with the up coming New Year, all the people carry out a thorough cleaning of their clothes, utensils, houses and compounds. This is followed by colorful decorations to create an atmosphere of joy and festive mood.

At this time, the Chinese mastery in calligraphy is brought to the fore. All houses are decorated with various patterns depending on the tastes of the owners; however, the most common colors are red and black. The most popular decorations involve pasting of the door panels with couplets which have red and black collage patterns.

The Chinese associate different colors and patterns with personal wishes, such as good luck and success in the New Year. Those who still harbor strong traditional attachments decorate their houses with images of the gods of wealth whom they believe will bring them abundant wealth in the New Year (Kalman, p. 22).

The most remarkable symbol that is almost consciously mandatory in the New Year celebrations is the character fu which stands for the happiness and blessings. Other characters and patterns with various meaning associated with the festivities are also commonplace around this period. For example, red lanterns erected on opposite sides of the doors and other brightly decorated images have special meanings of the new beginning or renewed hope to the Chinese populace (Kalman, p. 22).

Another popular custom is the setting of fire crackers and fireworks. The special meaning of this practice is biding farewell to the previous year and welcoming the New Year. The custom of using the fireworks exists in China for a long and is an integral part in many other occasions, such as sports events and wedding ceremonies.

An important event on the New Year day involves visitations. People move around to visit friends and relatives to send their New Year wishes. Culturally, the young visit the elderly to offer the wishes. The elderly in return offer them monetary gifts wrapped in special red wrappings.

It is considered essential to visit one another and pass the New Year regards; however; with influence of technology on the modern generation, nowadays, people use phones and e-mail services to pass their New Year messages (Kalman, p. 23).

A characteristic delicacy during the festival is the Jiaozi, a preparation of flour stuffed with various fillings. The meal is culturally recommended since its shape which resembles an ancient Chinese currency means that the New Year will bring wealth.

To add to that, different ethnic groups attach other symbols to the dumplings associated with good luck. For instance, candy is believed to signify sweet life, and chestnuts represent vigor. To start the year on the right footing, people try to avoid bad behavior or explicit use of some words such as kill, dead or bad because they believe they could be a bad omen for the New Year.

No sweeping of floor is allowed as it signifies pushing away blessings. There are many other taboos associated with this festival that vary from one ethnic group to another. These signify the wealth of the Chinese culture and the value attached to it (Kalman, p. 23).

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival also referred to as the Moon Cake Festival is commemorated every fifteenth day of the eighth month. The festival is associated with the connection between the mankind’s spirit and nature. The term Moon Cake Festival is used in reference to a special sweet cake, yueh ping, which is baked during the festival and resembles the moon. The cake is prepared and filled with duck eggs, sesame and ground lotus seeds (Kalman, p. 27).

The history of this festival can be traced back to the 14th century. Different theories explaining the origin of this festival exist, but this is not withstanding; the Chinese continue to celebrate annually. One myth about the origin of the Moon Cake Festival states that China was under the control of oppressive Mongols in the 14thcentury.

A revolutionary named Chu Yuen-Chang and his deputy Liu Po-Wen came up with a strategy to overthrow this leadership. Liu entered a besieged city in the disguise of a Taoist priest and distributed cakes in the shape of a moon to the city inhabitants in readiness for an up coming festival (Chung Chiu).

On opening the cakes’ wrappings, people found messages calling on them to help coordinate a rebellion with his army located outside the city. The plan succeeded, and Chu Yuen-Chang became their emperor successfully overthrowing the oppressive rule of the Mongols.

Every following year during the Chung Chiu festival, people in the empire prepared moon shaped cakes, and the custom stuck into all the upcoming generations to signify freedom (Jasmine, p. 38).

Another version argues that a woman lived on the moon during the Hsia dynasty. This woman, Chang-O, was the wife of a great general, Hou-Yi. One day, this general, a skilled archer, shot down eight suns that had mysteriously come out.

These suns, they believed, would have brought disaster to the Earth. The General was thus rewarded by the emperor. People believed that those suns could re-appear and cause more havoc. They, therefore, offered sacrifices to the god of heavens to make the general immortal, so he would forever protect their generations. Their prayer was answered, and Hou received the immortality pill (Jasmine, p. 39).

It is said that the wife, Chang-O, stole the pill and went to live on the moon. Due to the cold weather on the moon, she began coughing until the pill came out. She decided to crash it and scatter it to the earth so all the people would become immortal.

A hare described in many Chinese mythologies as Jade hare helped her and gnawed the pill into dust. Together, they spread the dust all over the earth in the hope it would reach everyone. Owing to this worthy gesture, the Chinese always put images of Chang-O on moon cake boxes and Moon Cake Festival posters as a gesture for good wishes (Jasmine, p. 39).

The third version is based on an ancient belief that marriages are organized on the moon. Yueh Lao Yeh, an old man who was believed to live on the moon, carries out this role. He is said to have a record of all the newborns, their future plans including their matching partners in marriage.

During the Moon Festival, many Chinese including little children climb onto hills and mountains or visit open beaches to have a clear view of the moon and make their wish to the old man. They use symbols with a cultural meaning.

For instance, a butterfly signifies long life, star-like fruits symbolize seasons, a lobster represents mirth, a crap is used to signify strength and wisdom since the symbol was originally a decoration of ancient emperors’ gowns.

The value of this cultural practice among the Chinese indicates that they believe in presence of supernatural beings who determine mortals’ destiny as it is common across almost all the cultures all over the world (Jasmine, p. 40).

The Dragon Boat festival

In China, the Dragon Boat Festival is referred to as Duan Wu Jie. This festival is commemorated every fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The origin of this festival dates many centuries back and is based on activities in remembrance of a great Chinese poet, Qu Yuan.

The Chinese culture has a strong connection to the history of Yuan who is still regarded to be one of the greatest patriots in the Chinese history. It is said that Qu Yuan served as an advisor to the emperor Huai. He opposed corruption fervently which apparently annoyed many of the empire’s officials.

Due to corruption and bad leadership, the empire of the Chu state was easily defeated by the Qin state. This disappointed him so much that he committed suicide by drowning into the Miluo River (Stafford, p. 113).

The Chinese government has tried to emphasize the importance of this holyday for the entire nation apart from being held in remembrance of a great patriot and also offered an appropriate platform to remind everyone the importance of good conduct and loyalty and inculcate the culture of being committed to the national course in the people (Stafford, p. 113).

What the festivals tell the audience about Chinese traditional culture and values

The Spring Festival can be said to be a time for family members to remember one another by coming together and celebrate the success of the past year together and cross over to a new year encouraging each other. Giving money to the young by the elderly is a sign of wishing them good fortune in life.

This creates oneness in the society and shows the caring nature of the populace. It is also a time dedicated to commemoration of the ancestors from whom the current generation emerges. This ensures continuity and inculcates the sense of belonging (Katz, p. 27).

The Mid-Autumn Festival is characterized by worship. People use this festival to offer their thanksgiving to the moon (heavens) and the earth for all the blessings and successes they have had in their lives. It is also a time to pray for good fortunes. The moon shaped cakes consumed during this festival demonstrate family unity. During this festival, the Chinese people also take time to observe serenity (Katz, p. 27).

Nowadays, the Dragon Boat Festival is also called the Poet’s Festival as it commemorates the death of a great patriotic poet. This patriot committed suicide following disillusionment by the failure of the ruling class to fight corruption or uphold integrity in leadership.

Through this festival, the Chinese are reminded about the value of upright nationhood, commitment to the national course and integrity observation in all the deeds of day to day lives (Katz, p. 27).

These festivals are part of the Chinese effort to maintain their culture and values amidst the overwhelming globalization. The involvement of the Chinese government in promoting these festivals goes a long way in creating a national culture for all the Chinese ethnic grouping which in turn would enhance harmony.

Almost all Chinese ethnic groups attach a lot of importance to these festivals and other cultural practices which has resulted in the practices gaining prominence across generations. The Chinese have indicated the importance of their culture on many more occasions and not only the three festivals mentioned above.

For instance, in 2004, during the Athens- based Olympics, the Chinese performed an extravaganza displaying colorful features of their culture. The use of Chinese only attire and symbols at the event and many other events they perform all over the world, in particular during cultural exchange events only acts to demonstrate the actual value they attach t their culture (Katz, p. 89).

Numerous transformations have occurred in the way the Chinese run their politics, education, family structures, language, the military and the judiciary, however; the traditional practices and festivals that demonstrate the Chinese value attachment to their culture have undergone little or no transformation over the their entire 5000-year history.

Social experts claim that the modernized Chinese who have tried to embrace other cultures of the world that are deemed more civilized especially western cultures have found themselves in a ‘lonely world. This has therefore forced majority of the Chinese to tow the cultural line in an effort to remain relevant (Stafford, p. 202).

One of the strategies that the government has employed includes offering sponsorship and an aggressive media awareness campaign to sensitize the populace on the importance of observing and participating in cultural events and festivals.

Aside from the national governments efforts, local authorities have also made it their responsibility to inculcate the essence of observing the festivals and teaching the importance of the same to their children.

Several individuals have also been involved in promoting culture development by sponsoring events or other programs with a cultural orientation. The maintenance of cultural activities in china such as the traditional festivals has also been prominent due to efforts of non-governmental organizations that have kept the government on its toes to protect culture as it was demonstrated in the out cries when the central government started destroying traditional shrines, artifacts and other heritage sites (Stafford, p. 207).

The national media has lately been at the forefront in promoting traditional holidays and events such as the Dragon boat festival, the Mid-Autumn festival, the Moon festival and other cultural events that were earlier deemed contradictory such as the Maoism, globalism and socialism.

These traditional Chinese festivals have gained so much popularity to an extent of being integrated into the curriculum from basic level education to higher education (Katz, p. 28).

All the Chinese festivals described above have many characteristics in common. They all demonstrate a common desire for joy, well-being, and encourage unity among the people to unite the family. They show an element of the vital link between mankind and their creator.

The issue of avoiding misfortunes is also highlighted. The Chinese use all these festivals for relating and merrymaking. It can be also stated that these festivals are an important opportunity for Chinese to take a break from the hectic day to day life chores (Katz, p. 28).

Conclusion

Chinese have various festivals and Cultures which have different values and similarities. The festivals tell more about the Chinese cultures and values. Despite the culture transformations going on in all the parts of the world that have led to erosions of cultures, China is among the few societies that have maintained traditional festivals and customs.

The continued cultural links of the modern Chinese population show the importance of the attachment to the history and culture. There are many other factors that unite the Chinese community, such as language, and ethnic ties, but none of these has a stronger bond than their cultural identity.

Works Cited

Gibney, Matthew J. Immigration and Asylum: From 1900 to the Present. Entries A to I, Volume 1. California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print.

Jasmine, Julia. Multicultural Holidays: Share our Celebration. Huntington Beach, CA : Teacher Created Materials, 1994. Print.

Kalman, Bobbie. China, the Culture. New York: Crabtree, 2008. Print.

Katz, Paul R. Demon Hordes and Burning Boats: The Cult of Marshal Wen in Late Imperial Chekiang Albany. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995. Print.

Stafford, Charles. The Roads of Chinese Childhood: Learning and Identification in Angang. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Chinese Traditional Festivals and Culture." March 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinese-traditional-festivals-and-culture/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Chinese Traditional Festivals and Culture'. 29 March.

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