That’s Chinatown, Jack
Coming from a city heavily populated with Chinese natives in London everyone is completely nonchalant when meeting someone of oriental descent. On the flip side, being in Fuzhou where there are limited meetings between Chinese nationals and foreign nationals things are not quite the same. Being in England most people were well aware of the Chinese New Year being an alternative festival to our own New Year, even if less people realised it occurred at a different time of the year to our own.
I, myself, had knowledge of the Chinese New Year, and some of the more intricate details concerning it, having been good friends with Dan for many years and the fact his mother is from Hong Kong. Trips to Chinatown in London had been fun and insightful and I always enjoyed taking part in the festivities. Coming to China for real though has opened up my eyes to just how many festivals make up a Chinese year.
Since I have been here there have been a few social festivals, including the Dragon Boat Race weekend, the Mid-Autumn Day Festival and the Chinese National Day. There really isn’t much comparison to festivals back home and there seems to be a wider sense of pride and spirit when celebrating them. Not in the sense that they are blind acts of nationalism, but that they are genuinely seen as a time of coming together, being together and participating.
Dragon Boat Festival
On June 23rd there was a coming together of people to watch traditional dragon boats race up and down various waterways all over the country. For a couple of weeks before hand there were practices seen along the rivers and lakes from men of all ages. Professional teams and amateurs all prepared for ultimately just one day of racing. The races themselves were barely competitive events however as it seemed to be more about the taking part than the winning. Racers, mostly male, started and finished several competitions one after the other without the Olympic precision that we had all viewed in Beijing.
Aside from the races there were traditionally made ‘zongzi’ to consume by the bucket load. Made from rice, with either red bean or pork inside, they are wrapped in banana leaves and really quite hit or miss depending on where you bought them from.
Mid-Autumn Day Festival
Another festival, but this time well after summer, when it’s a bit cooler and you’re happier to be outside with several thousand Chinese people. This festival is a huge deal in China and you get to take a week off of work – even better. Aside us though this also means the entire of China has a day off. The place is heaving with traffic, pedestrians and shoulder to shoulder tourists. This year it was on the 30th of September and luckily for ten of the York teachers we were invited to the National CCTV (China’s government TV channel) Mid-Autumn Gala which happened to be taking part in Fuzhou this year. It’s normally held in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, so for it to be held here was tremendous for the city and ourselves.
Sitting opposite the centre of the stage with other foreign nationals we preceded to watch a two hour spectacular of famous Chinese and international singers. Of course, we hadn’t heard of any of them but this was a minor point. To be invited was very gratifying and to be a part of one of the biggest national holiday features was great. To think that maybe a sixth of the worlds population saw you on TV is also quite bizarre. The day itself takes place on the full moon of the lunar calendar which happened to be right next to the next Chinese festival.
The China National day is always on the 1st of October and carries on the social aspect of the other festivals. Having a lot of people coming together can mean a lot of chaos too but there seems to be a large amount of pleasure from people gathering without any trouble erupting.
Along with these bigger festivals there has also been the lesser known celebrations such as Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Student Day (which I personally hated) and Teachers Day. The latter was definitely the best, if not to be recognised for all the hard work I have done, but also for the salted crackers my students gave me as gifts.