'Festival should stay with tradition'
Updated: 2013-08-14 07:53
By Zheng Jinran in Shijiazhuang (China Daily)
Romantic words on shopping malls and various gifts during the Qixi Festival get lovers' attention, but many cultural experts frown on the promotions.
"The current theme of the Qixi Festival, falling on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month every year, is known as "Chinese Valentine's Day", with a focus on love, but that theme is quite different from the traditional customs of that day," said Ye Shuxian, vice-president of the China Society for the Study of Folk Literature and Art.
"Many young people know little about the traditions, and are only interested in business promotions on love, making me feel sad for them and the fading of traditions."
The Qixi Festival, also called the Qiqiao Festival, has its origins in a love story.
Legend goes that Zhinu, a goddess, fell in love with Niulang, a mortal man, and had two children. But their love was not allowed, so they were separated on opposite sides of the Silver River (Milky Way), becoming the stars of Vega and Altair.
Only on the day of the Qixi Festival can they reunite on a bridge formed by the world's magpies.
Celebration of this festival dates to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). During the festival, people, mostly women, would perform rituals such as threading needles to pray for wisdom, beauty, and good skills in needlework, and some would make wishes to marry the right man.
"Most of the rituals were hosted in private gardens of their houses and restricted to women and young children," Ye said. "Love is only a small part during the traditional rituals, different from the current Qixi Festival."
Ye said that calling the festival "Chinese Valentine's Day" is not acceptable. Businesses' over-promotion of love on this day will lead young people to forget the traditions of Qixi Festival, which have been passed down for over 2,000 years.
"The government needs to promote lessons on Chinese traditions such as the folklore and festivals, and on ancient philosophy, literature and history, thus helping young people keep the traditions amid changes in modern society," he said.
His questioning of the current Qixi theme struck a chord among other folk experts, including Zhang Bo, associate professor at Beijing Union University.
"It's important to keep pace with the times to cater to the public, so the Qixi Festival is not restricted to women but is a day celebrated by many people, which also indicates a raising of awareness of women's rights nowadays," she said. "But the essence of traditions cannot be changed."
She said the current passion on the day, which is used to celebrate their love, can be helpful in promoting traditional customs to the public, if the governments uses it well.
"They can use various ways such as organizing traditional activities to transfer the public's attention to the origins and rituals, inspiring young people to learn more about the festival rather than seeing it as a counterpart to a Western festival," she said.
(China Daily 08/14/2013 page4)