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Spring Festival: Carrier of cross-cultural communication

JI FANGFANG | 2018-02-08 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Spring Festival is the most grand celebration of the Chinese diaspora and its traditions and customs, such as shopping for festival food, gifts and decorations, pasting the red spring couplets and red Fu Character, giving red envelopes with money to kids and having a reunion Spring Festival Eve dinner, have been passed down and innovated over millennia. (669PIC)


Traditional culture is playing an increasingly important role in cultural diplomacy, communication and trade. Last year, when US President Donald Trump visited China, he was invited to walk along the Forbidden City’s central axis, which includes Taihedian, Zhonghedian and Baohedian. He attended an antique exhibition and observed some relic restoration at the museum conservation workshop. He was also greeted with three classic Peking operas: Spring Seedlings in the Pear Garden, Monkey King and The Drunken Beauty.

Similarly, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Lincoln High School in Tacoma of the United States in 2015, he presented students with classic books, such as Dream of the Red Chamber, Tang Poems and Song Poetry.

In terms of cultural exchange and trade, the Chinese government has been promoting Chinese language and culture on the world stage since 2004 in the form of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms. According to the Confucius Institute Headquarters, by the end of 2016, China had established a total of 512 Confucius Institutes and 1,073 Confucius Classrooms in the world’s 140 countries and regions.

At the same time, Spring Festival and other important Chinese festivals also create opportunities to hold various events, including galas, exhibitions and temple fairs, to engage international audiences in Chinese culture.

The 2018 Happy Spring Festival program was initiated in Denmark, the United States and other countries to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb. 16. In sum, the Spring Festival has become a vehicle for cross-cultural communication.


Global celebration
Spring Festival gives the Chinese diaspora a sense of identity and comfort while the holiday carries profound cultural meaning. Its traditions and customs have been passed down and innovated over millennia.

Customarily, before Spring Festival, every family will have a thorough house cleanup and go shopping for festival gifts and decorations. The red spring couplets, red Fu Character, and red animal paper cut are pasted for decoration. Also, new clothes must be bought, especially for children. At the reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve, people from the north will eat dumplings while southern people customarily have Niangao, a type of glutinous rice cake. Fireworks are set off to create a festive atmosphere, and red envelopes with money are given to kids and elders to share the blessing.

Today, influenced by Western customs, many overseas Chinese celebrate the festival with Chinese New Year parades, featuring lion dances, cultural dance troupes, marching bands, martial arts performances and much more, which could be seen as a new folk culture.

In addition, under the influence of overseas Chinese, Spring Festival has increasingly become a global festival enjoyed by more and more non-Chinese people. In Southeast Asia, where Chinese migrants are a vital presence in the population of many nations, traditional Chinese New Year customs are also popular, though they have been somewhat transformed by the cultural awareness of local communities and local political situation.

In Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, Spring Festival is a statutory holiday. With the adoption of multicultural integration by multiethnic countries as a political and cultural strategy, Spring Festival is increasingly recognized outside Southeast Asia. For example, New York City passed an ordinance in 2016 listing Spring Festival as a holiday for primary and middle school students. Starting in 2017, the Canadian government proclaimed the first day of the Lunar Year as the beginning of the 15-day Spring Festival.

In an era of globalization, it is notable when a pluralistic society recognizes an ethnic group’s festival as a public holiday for the purpose of bringing the community together and as a reminder that diversity and inclusion are sources of strength.


Cultural soft power
As Xi pointed out in his report to the 19th CPC National Congress, China will improve its capacity for engaging in international communication to enhance its cultural soft power and tell China’s story well, presenting a true, multidimensional and panoramic view of the nation. Spring Festival is now a public holiday in more than 10 countries, providing an essential platform for promoting Chinese culture and enhancing cultural soft power.

Since 2010, the Ministry of Culture has cooperated with local partners to hold a series of programs that fall under the umbrella of “Happy Chinese New Year,” to increase appreciation and understanding of Chinese culture. The program has branched into many categories of performing and visual arts, such as exhibitions of Chinese art, traditional Chinese music, tours of Chinese artists, temple fairs and galas, aiming to present the charm of Chinese culture in its most diversified and animated forms.

The 2016 “Happy Chinese New Year” programs held a total of 2,100 cultural activities in more than 400 cities of 140 countries and regions, which drew more than 250 million overseas participants from all over the world.

In a BBC documentary on Spring Festival, hosts were invited by a couple who rode motorcycles to return to their hometown for a reunion dinner. They were touched by the reunion and sentiments. They said that hospitality, food and companionship are the universal language. The documentary—divided into three episodes that respectively focused on migration, reunion and celebration—is an eye-opener for most audiences in the West. The film enabled the values of Spring Festival to be better understood by people of different cultures.


‘Going global’
In the foreseeable future, we will see that “culture plus” will be further integrated with the broader national economy, reshaping the industrial form of agriculture, industry, retail business and enriching the spiritual life of consumers. In fact, cultural creativity has contributed greatly to the process of the Spring Festival “going global.” In the 2016 North American “Happy Chinese New Year” program, a series of Hello Confucius multimedia events featuring interactive games, painting and live performances were held, attracting large numbers to participate and learn about Chinese culture.

Partnerships with overseas media platforms to promote Spring Festival have also yielded positive results. As the branch of the “Happy Chinese New Year” program, “Walking Spring Festival Eve’s Dinner” has been praised widely among Western audiences. Delicate and delicious Chinese cuisine has demonstrated Chinese people’s family concept, sentiments and values.

In 2016, this activity was held in Silicon Valley. Seven of China’s top chefs visited the headquarters of Facebook, cooking Chinese food for Facebook staff, including founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. To promote the event, Facebook set up and ran the official account of C-live. Zuckerberg recorded a video with his family in Chinese to thank the Chinese chefs and wish all the Chinese a happy Year of the Monkey. Facebook has 2 billion active users across the globe, so this cooperation allowed a wider foreign audience to get a taste of China’s Spring Festival culture and food.

As a cultural identity and a custom containing life aspirations, the Chinese Spring Festival is a continuation of the past but also contains various innovations of today. To say the least, it has increasingly become a carrier of cultural integration in a pluralistic society. Whether one is talking about tangible or intangible culture, strategies and business opportunities must be emphasized and every effort must be made to provide customized activities for the diverse Chinese diaspora.

It should also be noted that there are differences within the overseas Chinese community due to geography, employment or length of immigration. Thanks to the mobile internet, Chinese are able to reach one another with a simple click of mouse. However, from the perspective of cross-cultural communication, we should not only stress the output of culture, but also strive to build a bridge for people from different backgrounds to achieve a two-way communication when exporting the Spring Festival culture.


Ji Fangfang is from the Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

(edited by YANG XUE)