Many of my foreign Chinese language students are surprised that we Chinese celebrate Western-style Halloween so enthusiastically in Chinese cities today. I will try to explain a few important reasons in today’s lesson!
In fact, China has its own traditional version of Halloween, the “鬼节 Ghost Festival” of Chinese Taoism each July.
Wǒ cónglái bú guò Guǐjié.
我 从来 不 过 鬼节。
I never celebrate Ghost Festival.
Nónglì qī yuè shí wǔ shì zhōngguó de Guǐjié.
农历 七 月 十 五 是 中国 的 鬼节。
The fifteenth of lunar July is the Chinese Ghost Festival.
On a lighter note, Western Halloween, or “万圣节 (Wànshèngjié)”, does not contain serious family traditions or somber feelings. It’s a fun event that brings laughs, smiles and exciting screams! The images of jack-o-lanterns, children trick-or-treating and ghost stories are famous in China.
Xiǎoháimen xǐhuān zài Wànshèngjié de shíhòu zuò nánguādēng.
小孩们 喜欢 在 万圣节 的 时候 做 南瓜灯。
Children like to make pumpkin lanterns during Halloween.
Wànshèngjié shì wǒ zuì xǐhuān de jiérì.
万圣节 是 我 最 喜欢 的 节日。
Halloween is my favorite holiday.
So, why does Western Halloween, or “万圣节 (wànshèngjié)”, along with its ghosts, witches, pumpkins and costumes seem so appealing to young Chinese today?
Many Chinese holidays are actually quite serious and gloomy, with respectful and somber worship of ancestors being part of the tradition, not a “celebration” the way that many Western holidays unfold. In fact, during the Chinese “鬼节 (Guĭjié) Ghost Festival”, families will build lanterns and boats to honor deceased relatives. The success of the paper craft’s journey will determine the fate of the ancestors’ spirits. It’s quite a serious matter!
Western Halloween, or “万圣节 (wànshèngjié)”, is a much more fun and carefree holiday. While Chinese Ghost Festival is spent with family, for young Chinese Western Halloween is an opportunity to celebrate with friends and colleagues. Instead of worshipping family, the celebration is lighthearted and fun. Growing up, many Chinese see Halloween celebrations in movies and on TV shows such as Friends. Watching others dress up in silly costumes and have a party seems fun to us, so we usually jump on the opportunity to join the party if we can!
More and more young Chinese are studying abroad and bringing western interests back to China with them. In addition, more foreign travelers, students and workers are living in China now, bring these traditions with them. At the same time, young Chinese are watching popular Western TV shows and movies, many of which are set during holidays such as Halloween and Christmas. China’s growing engagement with the rest of the world over past decades has brought some interesting new opportunities to China’s youth, just as New Yorkers now have more access to “true” Chinese restaurants opening up there each year. Likewise, the Chinese are importing some new traditions in!
Although there may be no snow during Christmas season in Shanghai or Shenzhen, you will certainly find Santa Claus in the shopping malls there! Embracing Western holidays is an opportunity for businesses or run promotions and have special deals, attracting Chinese customers to their shops with opportunities to spend money and purchase new items. Many restaurants, amusement parks, bars and nightclubs will have special events to bring in customers at times when attendance may be low otherwise.
Western “万圣节 (wànshèngjié) Halloween” is an opportunity to promote candy, costumes and movies into the Chinese market. Pretty smart!
So, now you know why young Chinese are increasingly celebrating Western Halloween. It’s all in fun!
1. Which of the following is NOT the reason that Chinese are celebrating Western “万圣节 (wànshèngjié) Halloween”?
A. Young Chinese want to honor their ancestors
B. Shops and bars use the opportunities to run special promotions during this time of year
C. Western Halloween is a fun reason for friends to get together and do something different
D. China is becoming a more international country, with increasing foreign cultural options
Becky Zhang is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!
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