We’ve just celebrated 2 rather high profile Chinese holidays: New Years and the Lantern Festival. Most people know something about these holidays. They are fun, colorful, and celebrated by Chinese and non-Chinese around the world. This picture was taken at the St Louis Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2013.
But there are many other less known festival days that are tied to traditional Chinese culture. Some of these are tied to China’s solar calendar, some the lunar calendar, and some have become intermixed. One such holiday may be 驚蟄 Jing zhe, Insects Awaken. The holiday comes in the 3rd month (note People’s Daily Online). I believe this festival is also called the Shangsi Festival [上巳 節 shàngsì jié, shanghsih jier], which today officially lands on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar*. Traditionally this began the farming season in most of China.
It is said that the thunder of spring rains awaken the insects who have been hibernating all winter. There are a range of activities to mark this day, such as a sacrificial ceremony held near water where people could clean themselves and rid themselves not only of dirt but also of last year’s bad luck. Driving out evil and bad luck is a critical part of this festival. Wormwood was hung in homes to drive out insects, rats and snakes.
Celebrants also called back the spirits of relatives and awaken their own spirits. And, as often happens, people would go outside and enjoy picnics and hikes. After all, winter was over, the spring rains had started and there was new life everywhere.
Another custom the People’s Daily mentioned was that in some areas the white tiger was honored. This was done to avoid disputes during the coming year. If someone angered or displeased the tiger, that person would have conflicts with others during the year. I especially like this story because it exemplified how important maintaining peaceful coexistence with your neighbors and family was.
Veitnamese and Chinese New Year celebrations remind us of the many Asian Americans we have in the U.S.
The Vietnamese Americans are the fourth largest Asian group in the US (Chinese, Asian Indian, and Filipino are the top three). Their mass migration started after 1975 at the end of the Vietnamese War. At that time, people were fleeing Vietnam as refugees and came to the US with little material resources, although a strong ethic and desire for education and for their family to succeed. They left their homeland under duress. If they had stayed, they or their loved ones (father, mother, brother, sister) would have become a political prisoner, perhaps tortured and killed. They had little choice. Once here, however, they have embraced the US as their new homeland, with the intent to stay. They have assimilated politically, economically, even culturally.
At the same time, remembering their roots and valuing their own ethnic traditions are an important underpinning of their communities and families. While the first generation is not as wealthy on average as the first generation economically motivated Chinese immigrants (remember, most refugees come with little to no resources—no matter what their social and economic status was at home), they have poured their commitment into their children and their children’s success. Today, many second generation Vietnamese have completed college, become professionals, and can be considered successful in the US society.
The Chinese Americans are the largest, and certainly among the oldest Asian ethnic groups we have. [Note: I am using Asian as the US Census does: people with origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.] San Francisco’s Chinatown, which was established in the 1840s, is the oldest Chinatown in the US and has the highest density of Chinese-American residents. Most of these are, or were originally, from Guangdong province and Hong Kong and, therefore, are Cantonese speakers—Remember when I greeted you last week with Gong Hei Fat Choi! for Happy New Year? The reason is because historically most of our Chinese immigrants came from these southern areas; areas that have a long tradition of migrating out of their country for jobs and other economic opportunities. (Note: this includes other Chinese languages, but I’m using Cantonese as a catch-all for the Yue language branch of Chinese.) In the past, mostly men came and stayed in their new host country in order to make a living and send money home. Some of these men returned to their home areas periodically to take a wife, who may have remained in his home village living with his parents, or (once our immigration laws changed) brought them to the US to live.
In the last 10 to 20 years or so, more and more of our Chinese immigrants from mainland China are Mandarin speakers. This is bringing a change within the Chinese-American communities in terms of language use. Mandarin apparently is taking over as the lingua franca of the American Chinese diaspora. However, I must say that when I overhear a group of Chinese at a University or in a large, mixed group setting speaking with each other, they use English. Perhaps English is considered a “neutral” third language for them—one which doesn’t privilege any one of the various Chinese languages over another. Not to mention the fact that it is also the common language of the US and they all are adept at its use.
Naturally, the Chinese and Vietnamese Americans will be found at all levels of the U.S. socio-economic ladder but, overall, both of these immigrant groups have contributed quite a bit to our country. Personally, I am happy with the diversity they’ve added to our cultural understanding, yes, but (I’m being VERY selfish here) they’ve each (as with other Asian cultures) brought wonderful variety to our food cuisine! I love American comfort foods, but who can resist the flavors and textures of these “new” dishes?! If you’re interested in learning more, go on the Internet and type in foods from whatever country intrigues you—you will have a bountiful harvest!
To check on how many people are in each ethnic group in the US go to: http://www.census.gov/. You can get 2013 data as well—in some areas.
This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.
Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year? Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.
While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.