2011 / 2月
Teng Sue-feng /tr. by Phil Newell
Has the Chinese New Year lost its pizazz? Has it ceased to be the uniquely important holiday it used to be, when family all gathered together to feast and (ideally at least) enjoy each other's company? A lot of people feel it has. In cities, fewer and fewer people are putting up traditional New Year's couplets outside their doors, and not that many still do ceremonies to pay respects to their ancestors. Is the Chinese New Year becoming just another day off from work?
A recent survey by 104 Job Bank revealed that nearly half of respondents (45.6%) felt anxiety when preparing for the Lunar New Year. Why? Reasons included "having to do spring cleaning and lots of household chores" (62.7%), "having to give away red envelopes" (Chinese have traditionally given cash wrapped in red envelopes as the main gift at New Year), and "the arrival of the New Year means that another year has passed and I am no better off than I was the year before" (34.2%).
Extra housework is mainly a source of stress for women, while men are often under pressure to "pass out wealth" though they may not have deep pockets. As for their plans for the extended holiday, 104 discovered that 43.8% intended to "catch up on sleep at home"; this was followed by "domestic tourism" (32%) and "returning to the family home for a family reunion" (27%).
Our cover story this month echoes the survey's findings. In particular, the Chinese New Year can be tough for married women, single parents, single persons (including gays and lesbians), the disadvantaged, and new immigrants, sometimes because of the burdens imposed on them by cultural rules, sometimes because they are -novel groups for whom the old cultural traditions have no place, and sometimes for financial reasons.
If the New Year is such a hassle for so many, does it really matter, as some have worried, that "Chinese New Year is doomed to extinction"? This question prompted quite a debate last year in the mainland Chinese media about preserving traditional family culture in this atomizing age of rapid economic growth.
Yet many still have strong memories of happiness from childhood New Year holidays. My own New Year memories are closely tied up with food. When small I lived in a military dependents' community, with people from all over mainland China and a dose of native Taiwanese for our neighbors. They would start long before the New Year hanging out sausages and bacon on bamboo poles in the courtyard, and my family would never fail to have bacon fried with green garlic as one of the dishes at the New Year's Eve feast. At midnight, after paying respects to our ancestors, we would light firecrackers and the explosions of firecrackers all over the neighborhood would frighten away Nian beasts and symbolize the beginning of a new year.
Sadly, although today's children get much thicker red envelopes, the New Year probably lacks the same sentimental punch. Therefore we have flipped through our files for images that will hopefully lend more vigor to the holiday this year and contribute to carrying on old customs. We hope to remind people that Chinese New Year is a time for families to be harmoniously together, so don't worry so much or ask so much of others, or you will stress yourself out!
In addition to our cover story on the Lunar New Year, we also have stories on Taiwan's grouper aquaculture technology, which is totally unique in the world, and on how fish farmers in southern Taiwan waded through bracing water to save grouper and milkfish when low temperatures hit the area in January. Because Chinese New Year is the time of peak demand for grouper, let's hope that Heaven will protect these people and keep their losses to a minimum, and that everyone can enjoy a prosperous start to the New Year.