Celebrating Chinese Culture In A Year and A Society That Hates It
Updated: Jul 12
We’re all familiar with it by now. You probably know it as the coronavirus. If you want to be more scientific, it’s probably COVID-19 or SARS CoV-2. And, if you want to be racist, it’s probably China virus, Wuhan virus, or kung flu.
It’s a well-known fact that this pandemic has caused a spike in violence against Asians (because racists can’t tell us apart) worldwide, but particularly against Chinese people or Chinese-Americans. There are a variety of upsetting tragedies that I could list as examples, but won’t for the sake of both my mental well-being and yours.
Simply put, we as Chinese are outsiders. For Chinese-Americans such as myself, we’ve been alienated from our culture. More than ever, we’ve also been alienated because of our culture. And now, with Lunar New Year—the biggest celebration of the year—about two months away, it begs the question: how do we celebrate Chinese culture in a year and a society that hates it?
It’s something that I’ve found myself pondering upon these past few weeks, especially as 2020 comes to an end and we begin reflecting back on the year.
Chinese New Year celebrations in Mianyang, China in 2018, via NPR (https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/02/16/586285104/chinese-new-year-plays-out-differently-for-the-haves-and-have-nots)
To me, a celebration of Chinese culture (no matter the festival) has always involved gatherings—loud and boisterous, with more people than I could ever imagine and more food than I could ever make on my own in one day. But, of course, circumstances have changed. We can’t have those celebrations anymore. Although the Chinese festivals often call for a time of celebration with family, this year we cannot have those times together.
So, isolated and constantly on the lookout for the next racist attack, how are we supposed to celebrate Chinese culture?
What I’ve come to realize (as festivals have come and gone during these nine months in quarantine) is that celebrating means more than just meeting with family. It means more than just helping to prepare the numerous dishes that are made. In the end, even simply celebrating on our own is honoring the heritage and the culture we came from. It’s honoring everything that had to happen to get us to where we are today. It’s looking back on the long history of China and understanding that, in a way, we are a continuation of that history. It’s taking pride in our heritage, and telling the stories that only we can tell.
Maybe, you wear your qipao (旗袍 qí páo). Or maybe, you watch your favorite wuxia (武侠 wǔ xiá) movie. Or maybe, you sit in your dorm room eating Panda Express while you call your family and ask for red envelopes (拜年 bài nián). That last scenario will be how I imagine I will be spending my Lunar New Year.
Regardless of how you will celebrate, simply taking the time to do so is a grounding reminder of our culture and heritage—one that we should all be proud of.
And, know that even though it may feel like you are alone? There are millions of other people celebrating alongside you. There are millions of other people celebrating their history alongside you—your history and theirs.
Our history. Our culture. Our heritage. Our future.