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China’s Rush to get away

2003 Chinese travellers Shanghai railway station

Today is the eve of the Lunar New Year Eve, an event Chinese look forward to every year. The great migration. Major holiday. Boom time for travel. We view it through the camera’s eye.

Dedicated to the parents of WangZhu two of the most amazingly special
people it has ever been my privilege to meet. 西新年快乐.

Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is THE major holiday in China. A time when traditionally those, usually the younger gen, living and working in the bigger cities return to their hometown. To their roots. Often in China’s more rural areas.

An occasion to catch up with family and friends, very often in many cases, not seen in person since last Lunar New Year.
A time of immense excitement. Anticipation. And of course, intense emotion. Especially for parents and grandparents, aunts and great aunts and younger cousins left behind in the village 360 days ago.

The Changing “Face” of Modern China

There are also the “turtles.” A less than complimentary name originally given to Chinese who left to study or work overseas. Most of them will have been travelling for days from the US and other far flung places on the earth arriving back in China jet lagged. But still happy to be back home – albeit for just a few days when they must complete the arduous return trip. Possibly made more stressful by the US led Covid restrictions many countries are applying to incoming Chinese.

Another aspect of changing, modern China is hybrid Chinese. Those of mixed blood, with a parent of a different nationality. Some, those with European blood are more obvious, others, maybe a different Asian nationality, tend to blend in.

Once a rarity. Novelty, darlings of the entertainment industry, as China’s opening up attracted more foreigners, the intermarriage and mixed culture families increased. So for these people, Spring festival provides a balance. A way to weight their two different, and sometimes opposing and competing cultures. To find an identity. Their true self.

Around this time provincial, rural Chinese are busy preparing.

From having spent the better part of this month stocking up in anticipation of the arrival of hungry mouths, attention turns to detail. Markets will be busy places, not just for the buzz of excited conversation around returning relatives, but securing fresh ingredients for the mountain of dumplings that will be made.

Everyone from smallest fry has something to do. There is also the fish. Unlike western culture, prepackaged frozen fillet or packet of fish fingers is not on. Fish must be fresh, alive, whole. Pasting the traditional New Year good luck papers around their doors is also an important part of tradition.

Chinese-new-year-good-luck-papers. Ranny Bicknell
Chinese-new-year-good-luck-papers. Ranny Bicknell

And of course those hungry visitors will be faced with a barrage of questions, punctuated with what seems to be the obligatory:

” Look at you, as skinny as a rake, do you not eat well in the city?

However this year the excitement and anticipation is almost palpable as for many, it is the first time in 3 years they have been reunited with extended family. Yet somethings never change, and even after a lapse of 3 years, some will be met with questions like:

“Why are you still single”
Do you have a boyfriend?
When do you plan to settle down with a nice girl?”

China has modernised a lot over the years, but progress marches a few beats slower in the country side. Especially when it comes to social issues. So for some young Chinese they face the difficult task of:

Well mum, I don’t have a boyfriend – –
– – but I do have a girlfriend.”

An admission if you will, usually best saved to as close to departure time as possible. Even those who return home with a marriage certificate and partner will often be questioned about the possibility of the pitter patter of little feet.

But beyond the excitement. Beyond the anticipation of good food. Good company, good communication (and catching up on sleep,) one thing will be very much front and centre in everyone’s minds. Even if no one is willing to articulate it.

The inescapable knowledge that the risk of Covid ravaging smaller Chinese villages is high and increases with every train load. Every plane load. Every car load of city folk that arrive. Aware too, that many of China’s rural areas will be woefully unable to cope with anything even roughly resembling a small outbreak.

We know many in China’s urban regions who have scoured the city for medicines and have packed them in their suit cases – just in case. Chinese social media and news reporting has also covered city folk stocking up to take medicines back home to relatives – esp the aged.

But the human spirit is indomitable, and life must go on.

Traditional China- image by ranny
Traditional China- image by Ranny

However, as cultures age and countries modernise, subtle changes happen. For middle aged Chinese with no relatives in rural areas, Chinese Spring Festival travel often means a holiday in other part of China. Jiangsu and Sichuan are popular places, as is of course China’s Island of the South Pacific – Hainan. For those with a bit more cash to splash, overseas travel is popular, mostly to China’s Asian neighbours. Vietnam, Thailand, Bali, Cambodia are the usual suspects.

Another change in China’s tradition is the massive display of fireworks as each family commits, often hundred of dollars of pyrotechnics to smoke. With the same original aim as western Christmas crackers (to create noise and light to scare away ghosts and evil spirits in case you were wondering) many provinces and cities in China have discontinued that tradition in the interest of environmental protection.

There is also a sombre side to China’s traditional Spring Festival celebrations. Those returning home will visit the tombs (graves) of past generations to pay respects.
Chinese honour the dead for the foundations they laid for their future, promising they will move forward, building on what past generations provided.

Spring Festival is a time for building bridges, not burning them. For reconnecting with family, letting go of past hurts, going forward, facing the future with positivity and optimism. For giving thanks, if not verbally then by the action of travelling home to be with those that mater most.

So it is, life and human culture goes on. We strengthen that invisible thread that holds us and our society together – the tread that becomes a lifeline in times of trouble, adversity or hardship.
Covids come and go – culture endures.

At the end of the day, Chinese New year – Spring Festival is all about family – past and present. A human festival. Whether huge gatherings of generations or today’s modern nuclear family, travel and holiday, relaxation is uppermost in most Chinese minds. As always, the coming 12 months will be busy, hard work. Bodies and batteries need to be recharged.

Drawing by Ranny
Drawing by: Ranny

To close off today, and the old year, we bring you an image gallery, courtesy of our friends at Caixin of photos shot around China as people prepare for their travel. We’ve also included a few shot our self from Beijing’s Southern High Speed Railway Station.

All Aboard for China New Year 2023 Travel a safe link.

That brings us to a close for the Lunar Year 2022 – tomorrow is Chinese New Year Eve – again we are closed ’till early February.

However, Tuesday, (day after Chinese New Year ) we’ll publish a quick look at Chinese New Year Eve and day, looking from the perspective of crystal balling China’s economy for 2023.

The coming year is that of the Rabbit.
Perhaps with China’s birth rate falling, the administration will be hoping Chinese take their cue from that.
Wishing you all a very happy New Year 2023.

Beijing South Railway Station: courtesy of Ranny.

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