Reflections on another Chinese New Year
Published: Feb 06, 2014 06:08 PM

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Every year is the same as the previous one but every year is also different.

Over the past week, the whole nation welcomed the Year of the Horse by traveling to family reunions and dinner parties, setting off fireworks and firecrackers, and playing poker and mahjong.

People in Shanghai claimed that the city has never been so quiet and deserted as many migrant workers left for their hometowns. Even the new generation of Shanghainese also went back to their hometowns to reunite with parents, relatives and friends. Quite a number of local Shanghai families chose to spend the holiday overseas or in scenic spots in China.

If you chose to stay in Shanghai for the holiday, then you probably found more seats than passengers on public transport and no traffic jams blocking the roads. The flip side is the difficulty of finding a place to get fed as many of the roadside eateries stop business. Fast-food chains do good business thanks to reduced competition. Ayi suddenly become very expensive to afford as most return home. These are all signs of the festive season.

On February 4, two firefighters lost their lives when they put out a fire in a factory in Shanghai's northern Baoshan district. They were buried and killed when the building suddenly collapsed. The whole city mourns and pays respect to the firefighters who guarantee the safety of other people's lives and property at the cost of their own lives. They are once again titled the bravest people in the country.

Let me go back to the New Year mood and the ways it has changed over the years.

Prior to the Spring Festival, online debate stirred about where newlyweds who are not from the same place should spend the holiday.

Traditionally speaking, a married daughter is like "poured out" water. That means she essentially belongs to her husband after marriage. It's one reason why families used to prefer sons to daughters in China. But, because of the one-child family planning policy, many parents of girls can't bear the loneliness on Chinese New Year's Eve if their only daughter is married. In big cities, gender equality is more common among the younger generation. Many young couples now take it in turns to return to their hometowns for Spring Festival. But as we all know, old habits die hard and it's not so easy for some families to reach consensus. Extreme cases of disagreement can lead to the divorce of a newly married couple.

Judging from friends and media reports, I have reason to speculate that more people will marry a person from the same hometown to avoid possible controversy or bitter fights. This may be one reason why many of my open and well-educated Shanghainese friends would say a firm "no" if their daughter dated a boy from another province.

There is no law stipulating where to spend the New Year, so we can only hope there is more understanding among all parties involved.

This holiday, the air quality index and the H7N9 virus were two hotly discussed issues. But while everybody voiced their concern over these life-threatening dangers, their actions didn't necessarily reflect their words. Fireworks could be seen every night in residential areas and firecrackers heard everywhere. During the two-week-long festivities, sanitation workers have to collect hundreds of tons of firework debris every day. It reminds me of the way every car owner complains about traffic jams and pollution, but continues to drive and never blames himself for his contribution.

Meanwhile, poultry farmers are protesting against the nationwide daily reporting of H7N9 cases, claiming that the industry is on the verge of collapse. Unfortunately, for the sake of the public's safety, the farmers must endure economic losses. Hopefully, a good insurance policy or government-backed emergency financial aid can soften the blow for the nation's poultry farmers.

The holiday tradition of eating excessively has changed into eating healthily. The traditional "three highs," namely, high fat, high calories and high cholesterol food has been replaced by more healthy food. Many restaurants are also following or leading the trend of healthy dining. Traditionally, just as it is in many parts of the world, celebrating the New Year in China is synonymous with getting drunk. But this is starting to change. Friends in Shanghai told me that for the sake of their health, many people are now drinking less during festive dinners.

Holidays also mean complete relaxation. And gambling has long been regarded as one form of relaxation in Chinese culture. Once dinner has concluded and the dishes are cleared, tables are repurposed for card and mahjong games. People are very serious and stern when they play mahjong or poker. They calculate money very carefully. Sometimes they even quarrel, but it doesn't ruin the holiday spirit. Controllable and affordable gambling is not all negative. But we also hear of disputes and huge economic losses thanks to Spring Festival gambling. Whatever the outcome, it's a Chinese New Year tradition.

Today most of the country returns to work. The Shanghai Morning Post reported Thursday that for every 1,000 passengers nationwide, 73 headed for Beijing while 40 went to Shanghai. It seems that big cities are still places to realize ambitions and the weeklong holiday is just a pause in the pursuit of dreams.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.