A real clash of cultures

This year that most commercialized of Western festivals, Valentine’s Day, fell, for the first time since being popularized with China’s urbanites, with the traditional Chinese festival of the Lantern Festival. Marking the end of the Spring (Chinese New Year) Festival.

The Lantern Festival takes place on the first full moon of the lunar year. It goes without saying, Chinese festival = food. For this one it is a kind of sweet dumpling, round in shape, like the full moon. Where’s there’s food there’s a gathering of family, and eating together as a family on the Lantern Festival is seen as symbolic of family unity during the following year.

For Valentine’s Day and the Lantern Festival to fall on the same day thus provides a clear choice for anyone with a significant other, but particularly young people (this term is stretched far beyond the Western concept of teenagers we have in the West – in a society that prizes the wisdom of the elderly, anyone under 40 is considered young).

So, a romantic dinner for two, or dinner with the family? A simple choice, but a hard decision! And who came out on top in this clash of cultures? According to various reports between 70% and 90% put family first. With Valentine’s Day as popular in Beijing as it is in London, this is perhaps a little surprising, and even if we discount those figures slightly to allow for those who gave the politically correct answer while doing the politically incorrect actions, there’s still a majority of lovebirds who put family first.

It would seem that 2,500 years of Confucian values still hold sway, with filial piety (which applies to girls as much as boys) and the good of the group over the interests of the individual still holding sway. Perhaps this outcome isn’t what we would expect from a British perspective on life, but it goes to reinforce the point that Chinese culture and therefore very often Chinese behavior is different to that of the British – at times markedly so. Appreciating cultural differences is essential for anyone engaging with Chinese people.

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