China is among the well known countries in the world for a variety of desirable tradition of folk art and traditional festivals (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). The culture of the country is filled with unique symbols which are widely enjoyed by Chinese people and people in other countries who had cultural exchange with China. According to Morrissey and Lee (2006), the festivals are not only celebrated by Chinese people but also celebrated by people in other countries such as in Asia who share Chinese culture. This paper seeks to identify and discuss some of important festivals which are important to Chinese tradition. The second part of the study will compare the Chinese festivals with Indonesian festivals.
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As acknowledged in the introduction, China enjoys a variety of festivals; each of the festival has a unique meaning to the Chinese people and people who share Chinese culture. One of the widely celebrated festivals in China is Mid-Autumn Moon Festival known as Zhongqiu Jie in Chinese language (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). This festival is used to mark the appearance of new moon in every mid-September. That is the same time when Chinese people celebrate good harvests of that year. During this time moon appears near the horizon which makes it appear bigger and round than usual. People spare their time and join their families and loved ones to watch the new moon (Morrissey & Lee, 2006).
The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in other words the Moon Festival is a special event in China observed to honor female goddess of the moon called the Chang E (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). The festival honors the female goddess of the moon, the females or the women in the families are the ones supposed to prepare for the celebrations. Morrissey and Lee (2006) points out that, the women hung ‘moon papers’ on doors which are posters made of bamboo. The posters are called Yueguang ma’er in Chinese local language. The bamboo posters are split into three parts including a picture of Chang E at the top, moon goddess at the center of the poster and a picture of Jade Rabbit believed to live in the moon (Pan & Tang, 2004). During the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Chinese people and those who share Chinese culture buy rabbit sculptures and statutes for their families and loved ones at home (Morrissey & Lee, 2006).
As a sign of gratitude and sharing of joy, many kinds of offerings and special foods are prepared to mark the Moon-Autumn festival. During that festival celebration, women prepare Yue Bing which is a round moon-cake (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). The cake is decorated with different sweet filings including walnuts pastes, dates pastes, and mashed beans to make the cake as sweet as possible for the people. According to Morrissey and Lee (2006), the moon cakes are very popular especially in the southern China. Other ingredients such as coconut, lotus seed paste and egg Yolk are put at the center of the cake to symbolize the moon. The cakes are usually eaten the same night when the moon appears in the horizon as people celebrate (Pan & Tang, 2004).
The other equally significant Chinese festival is the Dragon Boat Festival called Duanwu Jie in Chinese local language. This festival started approximately two centuries ago in southern China. It is used to honor the dragon god believed to control rivers and rainfall in China. During this festival, people pray through Dragon god for the rain to feed their rice plants (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). The Dragon Boat Festival in China has not been forgotten to date; the festival is currently an exiting event across the country and is used to celebrate the beginning of summer in the country. To mark this festival, people parade in rivers with their boats where they organize boat contests or race to entertain people (Morrissey & Lee, 2006). During that day people also prepare different special meals.
The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on every fifth day of the fifth moon which mostly happens on the 21st day of June every year (Morrissey and Lee, 2006). This festival is also used in remembrance of QuYuan who was a very famous Chinese patriotic poet. The boats used in the competition in the lakes and rivers are usually made taking the shape of a dragon. The capacity of the boats is approximately 80 people (rowers) (Morrissey and Lee, 2006). The rowers paddle as drums are played to make the event as entertaining as possible.
According to Chinese customs, the dragon day or the fifth day of the fifth moon is a very dangerous time. The day is associated with evil. The dragon races are therefore meant to protect people from such evil. At the end of the competition, those who were participating in the race are supposed to throw offerings into the river and lakes. That is believed to drown all the evils thus making people secure (Chambers, 2004). Before people live for the celebration, they tie different crops such as sweet-flag, garlic and mugwort on their front doors to protect their loved ones from evil. During the dragon boat festival people also carry xiang bao which are sachets with sweet-smelling flowers and herbs to guard themselves from the evil.
Another very important festival in China is the Clear Brightness known s as Qing ming Jie in Chinese local language. That day which is also called the Tomb Sweeping Day is used to mark the beginning of spring and the end of winter. The festival mostly occurs on the 4th, 5th, or 6th day of April each year (Chambers, 2004). To mark this day, Chinese people and those who share Chinese custom take time to remember their common ancestors and loved ones who passed away in the previous year. They usually visit the tombs or graves where those people were buried. When visiting the graves, people are very happy making the occasion very cheerful, they usually prepare foods for the ancestors and go to clean and weed the tombs (Chambers, 2004). According to Chinese customs, the dead people are not separated from the living, the living and the dead are usually connected in many ways. The dead or the ancestors are supposed to be very much respected and not forgotten lest they harm the living.
During the Clear Festival, people and relatives clean family graves, take beautiful flowers to the graves and burn paper money to please the spirit of the dead. Wine and foods are also taken to the graves as a symbol of love and concern for the ancestors and their late loved ones. Most important to note is the point that, people do not just move to gravesites together, different groups go to different sites (Pan & Tang, 2004). Grandparents, aunts, uncles an cousins have their rseparate grave sites where they go during that festival. The coffins are not buried underground but left outside the tombs placed on mounds of earth commonly called the burial mounds, this Chinese traditional practice begun 1,500 years ago.
Moreover, the ancestor worship in Chinese culture is a sign of respect for the dead. During such worshiping event, the ancestors are treated like living beings (Pan and Tang, 2004). The ancestors are worshiped to please them so that they do not harm the living. However, the ancestors are not believed to be as powerful as gods and therefore they cannot punish the relatives but gods can do. During the Clear Brightness Festival, the ancestors are supposed to try their best to help the living if they are requested to do so (Pan & Tang, 2004). If the ancestors fail to help the living people up on request during that festival, the living abandons or ignore them implying that they no longer offer fruits, paper money or other foods to them (ancestors) (Pan & Tang, 2004). In any case if the ancestors are ignored, they become external ghosts and they start loafing around in search of food.
Chinese also celebrate dengjie or the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of every first month of the year. The festival is used to mark the end of a year and the beginning of a new year. The lanterns are carried in the streets during the last night of the New Year holiday (Pan & Tang, 2004). Thousand of people celebrate all over the streets being hopeful of the New Year fortunes and end of the may been hardships of the just ended year. This festival began 1400 years ago in the history of China (Sievert, 2006). People carry lanterns made from all materials some made of papers, glass other of wood and in different sizes and shapes. Often such festival is mostly celebrated in the city of Harbin located far north of China. The lanterns used in the city for this festival are made of ice taken from rivers. As pointed out by Sievert (2006), the lanterns are usually painted with different Chinese symbols, historical scenes or characters while other lanterns are made in shapes of important animals in Chinese traditions such as dragons and crabs. The lanterns are made during the year in preparations of the festival.
The lion dance also called the shi wu in Chinese local language and long wu (dragon dance) are performed to mark the Lantern Festival (Chambers, 2004). On this special day, men put on colorful lion heads to disguise themselves. The dragon to serve in this festival is made of bamboo rods with colorful cloth, 20 to 30 feet long (Chambers, 2004). The manmade dragon is then held up on poles to make it firm thus possible to be moved along the streets as people celebrate. The culture of dragon dance is not only practiced in China but also in San Francisco.
Another remarkable Chinese festival is the Lunar New Year Festival locally called the Xinnian. This is celebrated each year in the history if China (Wei, 2011). It is a very cheerful day longed by many people both Chinese and who share Chinese culture. It is celebrated during the first day of first new moon. According to Chambers (2004), the event lasts for two weeks during which people share their joy with their families and friends. The 1st day of January marks the beginning of a new year in China. However, the New Year Festive follows the lunar calendar. The festive begins on the night preceding the lunar month and continuous until the 15th day of the Lantern Festival (Wei, 2011). To mark this festival, people worship different gods and spirits. People take their time during the celebration to clean their homes (Flanagan, Zhurkina & Labbo, 2004). During this the New Year Festive people also clear their outstanding debts to ensure they start the New Year without debts. The elders also distribute lucky money (Hong bao) in closed red envelops to children to make the New Year a year full of opportunities (Flanagan, Zhurkina & Labbo, 2004). The young person visits their friends and businesses are closed for days to celebrate the New Year.
The markets are not left out during the New Year festival, every corner of the market is filled with special foods and different decorations. As argued by Flanagan, Zhurkina and Labbo (2004), the fireworks are used to electrify that New Year holiday. Lively music, lion and dragon dances are used to entertain people during the New Year Festival. According to Wei (2011), families also decorate their doors with beautiful pictures of lucky symbols and gods. People come together to wish for the new year to be full of happiness, riches and good fortunes for their families and loved ones (Flanagan, Zhurkina & Labbo, 2004).
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Comparison between Chinese festivals and Indonesian festivals
Festival celebrations in Indonesia are mostly religion-based. The country consists of many ethnic groups including Hindu, Christians and Muslims and has varied local traditions. Nearly every month in Indonesia there is a certain festival event (Ver, 2010). Just like in China, some of the celebrations are used to mark the end of a year and a beginning of a new. The following are popular festive seasons celebrated in Indonesia in close comparison to Chinese festivals.
The people of Indonesia just like does the Chinese celebrate the New Year’s Day. The festive day is called the Tahun Baru in Indonesian local language and it is the 1st public holiday in every year in the country (Backshall, 2003). This event is what the Chinese refer to as Xinnian. Just like in China where people welcome the New Year by celebrating in streets, in Indonesia the New Year is celebrated with fireworks, street celebrations and other kinds of celebrations (Ver, 2010). Just like Chinese people visit relatives in New Festival celebrations. People Indonesia and mostly Christians visit each other on the wake of New Year and also go to churches to wish good fortunes for the New Year.
Just like Chinese celebrate QuYuan; a popular and patriotic poet on the 21st day of June, in Indonesia people mark the end of March and beginning of April by celebrating Garebeg Maulad which is a festive meant to remember the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (Vaisutis, 2007). On that day, Muslims move in big towns reciting Koran (Backshall, 2003). This celebration begins seven days before the actual event and lasts for one month. Just like people in China go to nearby lakes and rivers during the Dragon Boat Festival where they give offerings and the evils are believed to drown in the water, in Indonesia, a public holiday called Nyepi or the solar New Year is held at the spring equinox (Backshall, 2003). During that day, every business in the island and people remain silent. That was meant to prevent thwarts by evil annoyed by the previous night’s activities (Lexus, 1997). It is believed that the spirit would assume there were no people in that island and will leave the island causing no harm to the people.
The day before the Nyepi Festival, special people carry offerings and sacred objects and go to lakes and rivers to give offerings wishing for blessings for their people (Backshall, 2003). As discussed in the Chinese customs, any person could go to rivers and lakes, watch the dragon boat race and from there the contesters just like special people in Indonesia were supposed to give offerings believed to help in drowning evil spirit thus preventing them from harming the people (Backshall, 2003). Unlike in Chinese traditions where people are free to move up and down during Dragon Boat Festival, in Indonesia during the Nyepi Festival people have to observe some rules (Zuehlke, 2006). For instance, visitors are not allowed to move for twenty hours during that festival. They should remain in their visiting restaurants, or choose not to visit the island during Nyepi Festival celebration (Rasmussen, 2010).
Just like the Chinese people celebrate Clear Brightness also known as Qing Ming Jie to remember their dead loved ones and common ancestors, in Indonesia, every fifth month of the year (May) people celebrate Waisak Day. That festival marks the birth and death of Buddha at Candi Mendut in Yogyakarta (Zuehlke, 2006). In the same way Chinese people move to graves carrying flowers and foods to remember their dead relatives and common ancestors, in Indonesia people carry flowers, candles and images of Buddha. That is meant to commemorate the Ascension of Buddha (Rasmussen, 2010).
In Indonesia ancestors or the dead are connected with the living. The same traditions are present in Chinese traditions where ancestors are believed to influence the lives of the living people. The only differences are the names where in Chinese traditions the common dead people are ancestors while in Indonesia are referred to as prophets (Backshall, 2003). For instance, in Indonesia, Prophet Mohammad is believed to speak with God and return to earth with important instructions for the people (Zuehlke, 2006). The prophet thus influences the lives of the living in many ways just like ancestors in Chinese traditions are believed to influence the daily activities of the people.
During Maulud Festival in which people celebrates the birth day of Prophet Mohammad, people also visit the tombs of famous religious leaders just like Chinese people would visit tombs of common ancestors. Zuehlke (2006) points out that, in Indonesia the foods prepared are not taken to graves like done in Chinese traditions, the special foods prepared during the Maulud Festival are given to people who attends the celebrations either in Mosques or in streets (Zuehlke, 2006). Rice decorated with cakes and burns are the common types of foods prepared for that festival.
In the same manner the Chinese traditions observe the appearance of the new moon or Moon Festival also called the Zhongqiu Jie, Indonesian people celebrate Wesak on the day of new moon in the spring (Zuehlke, 2006). The day marks the birthday of Buddha as well as the day he passed away. People go to temples to celebrate together marking that important festival. Gongs and drums are played just like drums are played in Chinese traditions during Dragon Boat Festival. The event also involves dancing while keeping a distant from the statute of Buddha. During this event, the rich people give free food not to ancestors but to the poor people who pass by (Backshall, 2003).
A close look in the Chinese festival and the Indonesian festival shows that, while Chinese festival concentrated much on traditions and mostly on ancestral believes, the Indonesian festivals are mostly based on religions. In Indonesia most of festivals are meant to commemorate prophets inform of birthday celebrations. On the other hand the Chinese festivals are linked with marking end and beginning of seasons such new years where people meet to wish for fortunes and protections from evil.
However, in the two countries, the festival celebrations use similar symbols like cakes, fireworks, and moon during the festival. The differences are possibly due to ethnic compositions of the people in the two countries where Indonesia is multi-ethnic country with Christians, Hindu and Islam who are the majority. China on the other hand comprises of majority Chinese people with widely common traditions.