December 27, 2003
Christmas in China
in Chengdu has reached great proportions. Shopkeepers have seen
the frenzy with which people shop during the holidays and they therefore
adorn their storefronts with Christmas trees, snowflakes and white-lettered
exhortations to enjoy and buy.
even saw a Chinese version of the nativity scene at a noodle shop
near my house – Styrofoam snow, a barn, a horse and a small Santa
figure in a sleigh. Restaurants usually have two or three girls
in traditional dress at the front door looking good and doing nothing
– the past week its been a bored skinny young man in a Santa suit
– with beard – dejectedly ringing a bell and muttering something
about the specials going on.
the big event here every Christmas – dating back at least two years
– is the inflatable bat battle royale in Tian Fu Square in the center
of the city. Thousands of people gather at the square at around
8pm and then somebody shouts "it’s on!" and the whole
place erupts in the sound of plastic on noggin till roughly 10pm.
Then everybody walks home, bonking random passersby and ganging
up on bicyclists. All this happens under the protective gaze and
calm wave of the Chairman – one of the last big Mao Statues in China,
at the north end of the square.
the way home, I stopped in at a an opera theater and watched as
three rock bands, a hip-hop troupe and a punk band rocked the house
of roughly 200 high school kids and their parents. The punk group
looked like a crew of Robert Smith wannabees and the hip-hop group
had all the right clothes and jewelry. A girl in the front row had
binoculars and the kids created a small mosh-pit around her.
was a rave in the 20th Century Computer City.
I walked and swatted away with my bat I fell in with a group of
kids heading to a karaoke bar. They wanted to know if we celebrate
Christmas like the Chinese do. Do we throw concerts, gather in squares
for melees and generally party it up in honor of Baby Jesus?
mentioned caroling and pork roast and leaving milk and cookies out
for the fat guy. I mentioned gift giving and stockings and church.
doesn’t sound like any fun." And then they were off.
an older man fell in with me and told me how just five years earlier
nobody in China celebrated Christmas and that he still wasn’t sure
what it was all about. Jesus and Santa didn’t ring a bell.
we Chinese also celebrate your holiday and we do it in our own way."
seems to be the case with a great many things: Oreos, Pringles,
soda, cars, jump-start batteries, fashion, shoes, highways, spaceships
China it seems quite natural to absorb elements of the outside world
and make them Chinese. Whereas copying might be looked down upon
in the US, where innovation, creativity and such are considered
quite important, in China the ability to master a skill demonstrates
versatility and cleverness.
Chinese education system stresses rote memory and tests and the
traditional essays that led to official appointment in the past
were evaluated not based on originality but on how well they brought
in phrases and wisdom from the ancients.
calligraphy and water color have a certain set of subjects and rules:
mountains, bamboo and birds are standard water color subjects for
example, while calligraphy is written with one stroke, from memory,
emulating the millions and millions strokes that came before.
rigid "learn by memory" system is still very much alive,
but like most hallowed traditions in China, it is slowly dissolving.
The further China integrates with the rest of the world, the more
adaptation and innovation is needed from the vast pool of optimistic
and energetic young Chinese.
5000 year old mantras are met with a swift "what have you done
for me lately?" in today’s world. So now one notices such things
as green tea and Chivas Regal mixed together (very tasty) and Christmas
celebrations with bats and raves and confused notions of who the
fat guy is and who the skinny guy is.
what if Chinese artists are trying to figure out oil, architects
are trying to find the elusive "modern style, peasants are
trying to match a western suit with Liberation shoes and Sichuan
girls are trying to match every color and style they can possibly
think of together and then top it off with fur and big pointy boots?
it five years or so and New Yorkers will be beating each other down
with inflatables during Valentines Day, the Scots will start importing
green tea and France will usher in the new Spring fashion, straight
out of Chengdu, with big fur hats, pointy boots and painted-on eyebrows.