New Chinese documentary made in partnership with National Geographic explores China’s festival traditions
‘Celebration Nation’
Published: May 22, 2019 06:08 PM

Promotional material for Celebration Nation Photo: Courtesy of Tencent Video


Promotional material for Celebration Nation Photo: Courtesy of Tencent Video

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to count down the days to the next festival or celebration because it meant we wouldn't have to go to school and we could snack on various yummy food. 

China is famous for being a nation boasting a variety of colorful holiday celebrations such as the Spring Festival or the Dragon Boat Festival, which can be seen in Chinatowns around the world or are shared by other Asian countries like South Korea. However, do you really know the meaning behind these Chinese celebrations and traditions? 

A recent Chinese documentary Celebration Nation, streaming on Chinese online platform Tencent Video and airing on the National Geographic channel, delves into the stories that are not that well known, even to some Chinese, behind China's celebrations over the course of three episodes. 

Spring, Autumn and Winter 

"Chinese culture is an extension of an agrarian civilization, so our festivals and customs are strongly connected with farming culture," Zhu Lexian, general manger of Tencent Penguin Pictures Documentary Studio, told the Global Times in an email interview. 

"Our ancestors paid a great deal of attention to time, which is why they created these different festivals and the 24 Solar Terms to divide up the seasons." 

"The show doesn't just present how people celebrate these festivals, but also examines the logistics behind them," he added. 

"Sow in spring, look forward to the harvest; harvest in autumn, celebrate the harvest; gather in winter, look forward to the coming year - that's China and that's Celebration Nation."

This marks the first time that the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC), Tencent Video and National Geographic have collaborated on a project featuring the traditions of China. 

"Working with Tencent Video will allow us to reach more young viewers so they can fall in love with China's traditional culture," said Li Mian, director of the international communication center at CICC, which has long had partnership with National Geographic. Previous CICC has produced several documentaries with National Geographic, such as China From Above and Extreme China, as well as TV program China Revealed

"Telling the stories about China's festivals and celebrations from an international angle is interesting for audiences both at home and abroad," Li added.  

"Due to positive feedbacks from pre-screening events, multiple language versions of Celebration Nation are in the works and will be aired overseas." 

Also shown at Asian Film and TV Week during the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations recently held in Beijing, the documentary introduces six major traditional Chinese festivals: the Qingming, Dragon Boat, Mid-Autumn, Double Ninth, Spring and Lantern festivals as well as some smaller local celebrations spread throughout China and in countries were Chinese communities can be found such as Singapore and Thailand. 

Values of family and harmony 

"Ancestors," "love" and "reunion" are the key words the documentary centers around. 

"It aims to show how culture reflects the traditional Chinese values of family and harmony," Zhu explained. 

Additionally, the show also shows traditional prayer ceremonies to Fuxi, the ancestor of humanity in Chinese myth; birthday celebrations for Mazu, the Goddess of the Seas; and a parade for the Buddhist Bodhisattva Guanyin held in Thailand to celebrate the Mid- Autumn Festival. 

"Although they portray different stories and have various characteristics, the core of the festivals and the human emotions they involve are the same," noted Li. 

"This is not just a simple introduction to the festivals and their development, what really matters is the stories of the people taking part in these celebrations. Hundreds of years have passed since the very beginning of a particular festival, but the core remains respect for our ancestors, a yearning and love for family and the desire for a better life. Each of these stories is capable of striking a chord with viewers." 

To capture these scenes and film stories, the crew spent an entire year traveling to cities like Lishui in East China's Zhejiang Province, Zigui in Central China's Hubei Province, Hong Kong and Singapore, with another six months spent in post production.  

According to Zhu, Chinese produced documentaries aimed at international audiences, such as Celebration Nation, have been well-received by domestic audiences in China as well, which is the reason why Tencent Video began to cooperate with CICC to produce more content.  

An important part of the Tencent Video's celebration activities for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China this year, the documentary is also part of Tencent Video's overseas content strategy. Following its well-received food documentary Flavorful Origins: Chaoshan on Netflix, Celebration Nation marks the streaming giant's most recent coproduction targeted at a global audience.