Archive for December, 2007

聖誕節快樂! Christmas in China

December 26, 2007

I am not in China anymore, so I this is not a first-hand observation, the impression I got on Christmas in China is thus a result from e-mails that I received the past days. Of course this post will be not objective because it is based on few opinions mentioned in the mails and my interpretations.

Christmas is a relatively new holiday in China, so in contrast to the well established Chinese holidays it has few tradition and has become popular just in the past years after the opening of China and the growing exchange with foreign countries. The main holiday in winter still is Chinese new year (spring festival) in February.

So it seems that rather the young people are celebrating Christmas, some students do have some days off, while others don’t have much holidays. They are waiting for the upcoming longer winter vacations to visit their parents of do traveling. I was told that nowadays many people celebrate Christmas – a student from Taiwan wrote me that she very much cares about this holiday, maybe even more than traditional holidays which makes herself in her eyes a “strange Taiwanese”.

Many students admit that the business people are doing a lot of decoration so without them there would be much less Christmas atmosphere and Christmas after all is a “sales event”, there is a “a thick color of commercialization” in Christmas. However, the “sales event” is not seen too bad by a few students, because in the end, it is more than justified that after one year of labor one can treat oneself and others with some gifts. Still, some students got the feeling that there is a lack of Christmas atmosphere, Chinese themselves feel that “Christmas with Chinese characteristics” is not the same as in Western countries and not as authentic.

One withes friends “marry Christmas” – or 圣诞节快乐 (Shengdanjie Kuaile) in Chinese, and exchanges some small gifts. I learned that apples are popular gifts between students who cannot effort to buy more expensive gifts or don’t see Christmas that important that it is necessary to buy luxurious gifts because it is not such an important holiday. The apples are sold because the Chinese word for apple “pingguo” sound like “ping’an” – at least the sound of the first syllable matches. “Ping’an” means peace or peaceful, and that is quite a good Christmas blessing.

Apple with the Chinese character 福 (good fortune; blessing; happiness)
Apple with the Chinese character 福 (good fortune; blessing; happiness)

Although there are a lot of elements of Western Christmas in Chinese Christmas, there are some differences: Most students just want to have a nice time, being with friends, maybe do some traveling, but most stay home or at their university.

At the end I want to wish all readers happy holidays and a happy and prosperous new year.


Being checked on

December 16, 2007

As I recently was asked how I accessed my blog in China, I can at least say that it was not always easy to update it. Due to the Internet censorship it most of the time was not possible to directly write on my blog. The so-called “Great Firewall” sometimes made it impossible to add posts or to read the blog. There is a really good article about Google and the Internet in China overall, the best and most comprehensive one I have read so far. I was published in the New York times and its only downside is the length of about ten pages, so it takes some time to read.

Chinese flag in front of the Google headquarters in Beijing, China
Chinese flag in front of the Google headquarters in Beijing

Many web pages are permanently or temporarily blocked in mainland China, including websites that rank among the most popular in Europe or the US. For example it was impossible to access Wikipedia for most of the time. But one has to add that the firewall is a dynamic system operating with keywords and specific blocks so at certain periods of time it was possible to access pages that were blocked the day before. Besides that there seems to be a regional difference in the selection of the blocks. I can say so for my blog because that was probably the web page I was looking on a fairly regular basis.

To edit my blog I relied on a VPN provided by my university in Germany. With such a network one can easily circumvent the firewall since the traffic is redirected via Germany. While being on the road, however, this was not possible because to access it, I need some VPN software. I could have used a proxy server, but most of the time I mailed the content home and had my brother update the blog.

But the Internet is not the only place where there is a control of people: The Chinese “Hukou”-System (户口) is a powerful measure of control. Basically this system was introduced in the 1950s to control the flow of people and make a distinction between rural and urban residents. I am not going into the details, but this system makes it very hard for people from the countryside to move into the cities. I once saw police arguing with workers about their illegal status in Beijing. Once I got into a passport control by myself: I needed to show the passport and a certificate that I was a registered resident in Beijing. I was only able to present a photocopy of my passport so the police officer called the station and after they only after had checked my residence status they let me go.

One’s passport also needs to presented every now and then during travel: At each and every hostel one checks in, one has to present the passport and fill in a form. During my travel I was able to memorize the nine digit passport number – but I was not able to impress any Chinese with that because it just seems natural for them to know the number of their ID (身份证).