47 - Chinese Christmas


 While my European readers have suffered the encroachment of the marketers’ idea of the event since probably mid-October, we in China have had the same but with some subtle differences.

Few people understand a lot of English, even if they study it frequently and in some depth. I met a class teacher last week who discovered that the whole of her class recognised Jingle Bells, but no-one knew more words than the title. Many Chinese can hum the complete tune – with good reason, as it is played incessantly and all year. I have heard a number of Christmas standards all year buried in bar musak, including what we might describe as Christmas hits such as ‘two little drummer boys’, but also those that mention the festival by name. I caught a supermarket playing a Christmas CD in June (not just a track, the whole CD). I have heard ‘O Come all ye Faithful’ in May.

It is just noise to sell to.

That, I am afraid is almost all there is of Christmas that has travelled this far. In some ways it is refreshing to see the salespeople’s ideas shorn of the religious connotations. Christmas trees and fake snow are included in displays in a city that sees snow rarely.  Jan 2008 was ‘the worst winter in living memory’ in Nanjing; some snow fell and the transport system was in chaos, largely because it was (i) unexpected and (ii) difficult to travel to the north.

China generally does not recognise religion, it pays it no heed in practice and it officially seems to deny the existence. France is a country that is fiercely non-religious and is suffering from the encroachment of the Muslim faiths. In China, while there are no rules about dress codes so you can wear faith dress if you wish, many of the trappings considered essential for the perceived practice of some religions, such as appropriate buildings such as churches and mosques, are not achievable projects. So there are many obvious Moslems, many not-so-obvious Christians – but one must always remember that here, ‘many’ can still be a tiny percentage of the whole.

I am being told repeatedly that: (i) the countryside population of China is 70% (so reversing that, the urban and suburban is 30%, or about 400 million); (ii) these country people are poor in an absolute financial sense; yet these same folk are rich in having good air, in feeding themselves directly from the land and are under a different set of restrictions from their fellow natives. Meanwhile the car population grows apace—there is a joke about traffic here, that the government wants you to own a car but not to drive it—yet car ownership is at a giddy 0.3% of the population as a whole. I suspect that this forgets those whose car is provided by their employer, even when that is the government, but if I am right then that would hardly double the figure at worst. Whatever the true figure, car ownership is very, very low.

What has this to with Christmas? Well, unlike religion—which one would practise here from belief, and those who hold beliefs are fairly passionate at that—Christmas is much more a product of sales pressure than the comparable criticism of the same event in the West. That sales pressure being what causes the demand for cars (public transport is hardly slower), for property - yet another essay, and for anything obviously new.

DJS 20091201&23

An unrelated, except that it is Christmassy, page is to be found in extension work / end of term / chrsitmas message

I am reminded, in 2016 when being told in a mild moan about ‘having to work at Christmas’, that I worked on most Christmas Days in the seven years in China. In order to give the foreign staff their expected holiday I worked the day with the local staff and we ran exams or tests for the whole holiday period. This might convey to you more of the meaning of a commercial event; no celebration whatsoever. The end of western year was marked, but in no way on a par with the celebrations of Chinese New Year. If you live in Britain, think how we celebrate Thanksgiving andf you’ll have the idea about right.


© David Scoins 2017