10 Reasons I Hate Chinese New Year

17 Feb 2007

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I am well known for being positive and upbeat about life in China, but sometimes I just have to vent a little. This one is a special case, because when I first arrived in China I was thrilled to be celebrating the real Chinese New Year, with real Chinese people, the authentic way. With each passing year my enthusiasm has faded just a bit more, until it became this colorless loathing for the alpha holiday of the Chinese calendar.

I suppose “hate” is a strong word, but let me just say I’m not fond of the ol’ CNY. (Still, I’m keeping the word “hate” because I’m so sassy.) So now I give you the 10 reasons I hate Chinese New Year, in the order that they come to me:

1. It’s noisy. Yeah, fireworks are fun. Yeah, the Chinese invented them. Yippee. I always thought the best fireworks were the bottle rockets that exploded midair in colorful displays. Well, here in China, the most common kind is firecrackers, or just any kind that isn’t much to look at but makes a lot of noise. This kind is fun in moderation, but “moderation” is entirely out of the question when CNY rolls around. We’re talking non-stop pili-pala (the sound of firecrackers) for days on end. What? You wanted to go to sleep? Too bad. What? You wanted to sleep in past 6am on your vacation? Too bad.

2. It’s dangerous. It should come as no surprise that an environment seething with explosions is not particularly safe. The Chinese aren’t exactly world-renowned for being “safety conscious,” either. If the public pyrotechnics everywhere weren’t bad enough, this is also the time of year when kids have firecrackers too, and they just go around lighting and throwing them at random.

3. It paralyzes the nation. Not being able to get a taxi or go to your favorite restaurant isn’t the end of the world (although, my regular Xinjiang restaurant, I do not forgive you for going back to Xinjiang for CNY an entire month early — I’m pretty sure you didn’t walk back). The problem comes when you try to do anything bureaucratic. Virtually nothing can be accomplished if CNY is even remotely near. It’s all a smile and a mei banfa (there’s nothing we can do). It’s an excuse that’s not only incontrovertible, but one you’re also supposed to be happy about it. You had better hope your visa doesn’t expire right before Chinese New Year, because you’d be screwed.

4. It encourages craptaculars. The Chinese New Year craptacular (春节联欢晚会) is the mother of all Chinese craptaculars. Watching it is not only a family tradition for many, many Chinese families; it almost seems like a patriotic duty. Year after year, I hear people saying, “the craptacular was crappier than ever this year,” and yet they watch it, year after year after year. This horrible TV tradition somehow imbedded itself in the nation’s cultural DNA, and the populace seems resigned to this.

5. It brings out overzealous hospitality. Chinese food is good. Eating is good. But Chinese hosts are infamous for “hospitably” force-feeding their guests, and this is the holiday when that impulse goes into overdrive. You can starve yourself for days, but it will do no good. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “even a large bucket cannot hold the sea.” (OK, I made that up, but it sure makes my point.)

6. It involves lots of Chinese liquor. I like Chinese food, but I will never like Chinese rice wine. This is one of those Chinese holidays where I have to buck up and just drink it. I’d be a dick if I refused. And man, it is nasty.

7. It causes temporal cognitive chaos. I’ve talked about this before. Around CNY, Chinese people refuse to use the solar calendar for a week or two and cognitively switch over to that alternative universe where the moon determines the dates. If you don’t make the temporary crossover with them, you’re in for some serious calendar confusion.

8. It screws over the little guy. At Chinese New Year, everyone goes home to spend the holiday with their families. Oh wait, did I say “everyone”? I meant everyone except for the wage slaves that have to work in the restaurants for the New Year’s Eve dinner because the city folk don’t like to bother celebrating at home anymore. Oh, and except for drivers and operators of essential public transportation. The more commercialized the holiday becomes, the more people that get cheated out of it. This is nothing new to someone from a capitalist nation, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I see it happening anywhere.

9. It’s a mass migration the country can’t really handle. It really can’t. One of my co-workers from Guilin will not be spending the holiday with her family for the first time ever because she simply could not get a ticket home. She’s not the only one. It’s just way too many people trying to “go home” all at the same time. It’s the world’s largest human migration, and it’s only getting worse as more and more people move to the big cities to make a living. It’s one hell of a problem for the government, totally cultural in origin.

10. It’s serious pollution. Those fireworks are more than just noisy and dangerous; they’re bad for the environment. Keep in mind that in China there are way more people more densely packed than in the U.S.; the amount of fireworks going off in one night all across the nation is simply staggering. If China didn’t already have such a great handle on its environmental issues, I might be worried. (Oh, wait a minute…)

I have tried for years to warm up to Chinese New Year, but I have stopped trying. My conclusion is that if you didn’t experience Chinese New Year as a child, you’re not going to learn to like it. It’s an exciting holiday for a Chinese kid… you get to see all those fun cousins, eat lots of great food in ridiculous quantities, and receive a hongbao (red envelope full of cash) from all your relatives. As an adult cultural outsider, I really don’t think I have any hope of ever truly enjoying this holiday.

But, here we go again…

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. 5 Reasons I Like CNY

    1. The street outside my apartment, umm…sorry–house, is clean, and almost pleasant.

    2. There is no guy on a bike going back and forth banging his little pot yelling a/c, computer, I can fix it, I’m a MIT-trained computer science major, double EE.

    3. Right at this moment, right now, there are no cars honking.

    4. Everything is closed, I can’t do anything I’ve been avoiding, so there.

    5. People give me stuff, fruit, red packets with gold-coin chocolates (where’s the CASH man), socks.

    ….this all changes in a relatively few short hours, then I’m with John.

  2. ChinoChano Says: February 17, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    You are a complete Mr Chinescroodge, John. I guess tonight the three spirits of the Xinnian, teh Hounian and the Qunian will visit you and make you change.

  3. Oh come on, John, there’s lots of good baijiu out there.

  4. […] Sinosplice ranting away in “10 Reasons I Hate Chinese New Year“. […]

  5. After my post I realized that not everybody might realize that today, Feb 17 is new year’s eve and pretty much everyone gets this day off. All the shops are closed, it’s desolute out there. It is quiet. It was around lunch when I posted and everyone was home eating. That’s when I LIKE Chinese New Year.

    It’s about 5 pm now and John’s nightmare has started. Just imagine having a Hong Kong movie-esq gun shootout audio-track playing outside one’s window.

    One day is fun, but this goes on for a week! Plus.

  6. Chris: where? Can you name a brand that isn’t too expensive? Everything I’ve had has been awful.

    I’m 100% with John on this post. Chinese New Year’s in China sucks!

  7. I couldn’t agree more. I enjoyed the calm before the storm today but now the full-scale recreation of the Battle of the Somme has started, so the slightly reddish mist has started to descend (along with the smoke, bits of burning cardboard and the other crap that will make your eyes burn if you ever make the mistake of looking up).

    My willingness to share the excitement of someone who just can’t resist the urge to celebrate the fact that it’s 3.48am by letting off a bumper box of mortars may be tempered slightly by the fact that this year I’m sharing my apartment with my 3 month old baby.

    We’ve just rushed home from a meal out with a large group of friends so that my wife can watch “The best TV programme of the year”. Yep, it’s that craptacular.

    The irony is that both John and my wife are probably right about it.

  8. […] New Year 2007 John Pasden: 10 reasons I hate Chinese New Year. Obviously it applies to only those who live in big metro city in China. Funny that we, the […]

  9. The fireworks are bloody awsome!

  10. CNY is even shitter when you’re stuck in Sunny Daqing and its – 15.

    Lets just say my testicles have retreated to somewhere warm inside my body.

    I will never, ever, spend CNY in China (or Asia) ever again.

  11. I’m not there yet but is sounds a lot like our season from from Thanksgiving to New Year’s here in the states. Bah humbug We don’t have the fireworks but where I live Bubba gives little Bubba a new shotgun for Christmas. Let’s all go celebrate by killing something son. Hmmmmmmmmm

  12. In this post, you sound a wee bit like the guys at Sinocidal. I don’t have a Chinese spouse or Chinese in-laws, so the only Lunar New Year hassle that got on my nerves were the fireworks that deprived me of a good night’s sleep. I lived just outside the city limits of Qingdao, so cityslickers flocked to our neighborhood to let off their bombs and rockets unfettered by ordinances.

  13. As we couldn’t afford to go to Malaysia to spend this CNY with the in-laws, we’re spending the weekend with friends here in the UK. Unfortunately, one of said friends’ mother is visiting and owing to the fact that she speaks no English and the craptacular is the only thing on TV that’s Chinese, guess what’s blaring away in the corner?

  14. You sure did name all the reasons why I love Chinese New Year:

    1,2,10. As Ben said the fireworks are awesome, and I can’t think of any better way of celebrating on the edge of danger. Where I live, part of the time, in the Lib Area, Controlifornia, the TV news crackles every July 4th with warnings about new police technology to catch anyone setting off “illegal fireworks.” Here, on the Utopian peninsula (San Mateo) of the “Land of the Free,” that means all fireworks. The TV news sternly demos the point by showing a video of a policeman confiscating a four-year old’s sparkler. This is awful from the standpoint of Evolution. How else is the genome going to be purified of nincompoops, if a nannystate prevents them from doing themselves in by hanging on to a big skyrocket. People who can take care of themselves, however, can have the time of their lives on CNY, lighting off stuff that would have the SWAT team over here swarming over you.

    3,8,9. So China is still growing. Infrastructure needs time to catch up to Chinese hopes and dreams. They will resolve transportation issues. Besides, the transportation debacles we’ve just had this winter in the Great 48 doesn’t give this American much podium on which to decry Chinese transport. As for the little guy who has to work, where else in the World does everything shut so all can be home? Certainly not in America.

    4,5,6. Craptaculars are not for watching. They are like prime-time TV (which our American media moguls seem to think we need a lifetime daily dose of to keep us clueless and passivated). CNY Craptaculars are to be used as background for the application of peeves no. 5 and 6, plus lots of happy talk as the whole family perfects the art of living enjoyably together. Don’t you have a big family to have fun with while the Craptacular drones on, filling in the few lacuna of silence? Now, I feel sorry for anyone who can’t appreciate good quality rice-fermentation based rocket fuel. Get someone who knows how to avoid the ja-mau product to buy some Wu Liang Chwun and see if that, with tuna sashimi and wasabi, doesn’t make life heaven. As for your case of cognitive chaos, this is obviously diagnosed as a Wu Liang Chwun deficiency on CNY.

  15. […] It’s Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Pig this year, so we find ourselves in the final year of the cycle. According to tradition, someone born in the year of the pig is honest and humble. One of these years I would like to throw a party for CNY; maybe next year. Even though I’m not Chinese, it’s good to find any excuse you can to throw a party. If you’d like to learn more about Chinese New Year or the Chinese zodiac (it’s really quite involved), then check out the linked wikipedia entries. Or go to China and see it for yourself. Although let me warn you. You may be biting off more than you can chew. […]

  16. Hey, loved the post. I spent the New Year in Lijiang, looking out over the New City (Old City bans fireworks) and I really enjoyed it, but I can still appreciate everything you said. It was fun for me to look at it and for a second I felt like I was 10. The tiny gangs of kids throwing fireworks everywhere is probably the worst part for me. Actually, gangs of tiny kids, not tiny gangs, my bad.

  17. Jeff: Jinliufu, Menggu Wang, Guizhou Chun are my favourites, all quite reasonably priced.

  18. My two highlights from the warzone that was last night:

    (1) seeing a traffic cop [white helmet] chucking fireworks at the few cars frantically still on the road. Then walking further down the street and seeing two unsupervised 4 years olds doing pretty much the same thing.

    (2) seeing a woman dangling a long ammunition belt of fireworks from her window. Then watching her just drop them onto the sidewalk two floors below when they started getting a little too close for comfort.

    Part of me always goes into shock seeing this. But the other part kind of likes seeing stuff blow up. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Haide. Right on with the overzealous hospitality comment, btw.

  19. Ha! Nice venting John — it’s good for the soul. Just don’t go to the dark side — it’s a slippery slope.

    Couldn’t agree more with the points listed. It’s hard not to feel that way. As foreigners we tend to get overwhelmed with Chinese traditional culture. Everybody wants to teach us about what people eat on certain days, ect… It get’s tiresome and CNY is just a huge unavoidable explosion of all of that annoying traditional stuff.

    Also, I suppose there’s always a bit of envy, and maybe a slight pang of exile. I always felt that CNY just reminded me of the fact — once again — that I’m a foreigner …

  20. Chris,

    I suspect that the non-Chinese that develop a taste for baijiu, or that say that there are tasty brands of baijiu just really want to like it. That’s fine, but I’m not a big drinker. I don’t want to like it or dislike it, but I naturally dislike it intensely.

  21. Andrew,

    I actually spent one CNY in Lijiang too. It was quite nice. Now that I have a Chinese wife, though, I think all my CNYs in the foreseeable future will be spent here in Shanghai.

    • 现在春节丽江也不安静,到处是游客,呆在家里是最好的选择。我是很喜欢春节的,小时候最盼望的日子,有新衣服有好吃的,还有压岁钱,而且大人是不能凶小孩的。现在时代不同了,年变味了,但是心里的情怀还在,回家过年四个字听着就觉得温暖:)

  22. Jeff,

    Heh, don’t worry, I think I’m pretty good at keeping away from the dark side.

    You’re right, holidays like CNY do remind us that we’re outsiders. The thing is that CNY is a rather intrusive holiday. You can boycott Valentine’s Day, but there’s no escaping the sound of the CNY firecrackers.

  23. Happy Chinese New Years, John, SS, and the whole SH-HZ crew!

  24. a new approach to telling a person if s/he is an outsider: by looking at the amounts of bainian messages s/he got during the holidays.

    in general, the more popular, the more you will get, meaning the more close to crazy Chinese New Year messengers.

    by the way, i got nothing.

  25. […] may “hate” Chinese New Year, but it’s inescapable. We also do coverage of it at ChinesePod, of […]

  26. I just celebrated CNY with my entire family through a webcam…any wanna trade your CNY with my christmas next year? 🙂

  27. I like going “home” for the Chinese New Year. I think it’s a memory being made that I’ll remember fondly thirty or forty years down the road.

    Your friend from Guilin wasn’t creative enough. There are ways…

  28. You so wish that baijiu was made from rice. If it were made from rice it would be much sweeter, and at worst have a vodkaish alcoholic neutrality to it.

    Spring festival is akin to living in a wartime economy for a short time.

  29. […] response to Jonh at SINOSPLICE’s rant about why he hates Chinese New year, I’d like to leave a quick note about why I like […]

  30. We didn’t watch the craptacular!

    I do enjoy a glass of 五粮液 Wu Liang Ye at lunch in the cold weather.

    Blowing shit up rocks!

    I can actually sleep through fireworks; a talent I developed in Hebei.

    I love Mahjong!

  31. Watching a grandma with about 500 dangling firecrackers is unusual until you notice the all too familiar look on her face. The look is similar to the look that my Mississippi grandmother did when she was removing old magnolia branches from the yard and tossing them towards the curb. It’s not so much a celebration, it’s a duty. Then, she has to go out there and sweep that stuff up! I have spent several CNYs here in Shanghai or Taiwan and have to say, that the best thing is that one can travel across town in about half the time. Because of the Craptacular, many folks are off the road. What I don’t get, is when you get to where you are going, the crowds suddenly appear. What? Do you they all walk there? A women’s catfight in the hotdog area of IKEA is worth the crowds. Gong Xi Gong Xi,-I agree with the sentiment that it’s just something that you had to grow up with, but I have to admit I get pleasure out of watching the Chinese goof off for a reason. Is it a bad thing to ask your ayi for a loan after you had given her the last of your cash in her red envelope?

  32. […] John at Sinosplice created a similar post about why he hates Chinese new year, and I think it is right on the money. A good read if you have the time: 10 Reasons I Hate Chinese New Year […]

  33. LOL. Great post, John. Although it is different if you have relatives locally….so many more reasons to hate it… LOL.

    Michael

  34. julienne~~~ Says: February 28, 2007 at 12:38 am

    I love Chinese New Year ( no I’m not a China newbie), even the craptacular (I only watch the CNY craptacular, tho- not a crapaddict by any stretch of the imagination. ) My friends loved it – they want to get it on DVD. I hate the skits though. How can you have a 20 minute skit?
    I love getting invited for Chinese New Year’s eve supper. It didn’t happen this year cuz I’m new in this city and I was so disappointed.
    Crappy New Year to you!

  35. […] So, what you need to know about the ChinaCarsons is that we love CNY and we celebrate it in China, in Shanghai, for a reason–it is out-of-this-world exciting! Of course we are also not interested in paying the CNY “tax” of traveling elsewhere within China, and it would be a shame to go back to the States, where family and friends are all busy with life. We stay here and enjoy it. Others don’t, and you can read all about it here in this cleaver post. […]

  36. hey,i just came across your site and read this artical.
    i am a chinese,i know what you are telling is exactlly true!but as a chinese,you know,we will just throw ourselves into it everytime it comes!no matter what it may bring!
    in fact,i have to admit that in china many people are also complaining about it,but this tradition holiday has a soooooo long history,it affects everybody here.i cannot imagine what it will become when we don’t have it!
    and you know hongbao is so actractive to us,heh.
    i will post your artical in my space:http://pob1989.spaces.live.com
    if you don’t like it,just leave a message there or mail to me:
    L.TEDDY@163.com.
    thank you!

  37. That’s quite a disturbing link about fireworks’ pollution. A host of heavy metals including lead and cadmium, dioxin, carcinogenic sulfur compounds and arsenic fill the air. Then there’s all the toxic garbage that people leave on the streets, some random parts of it unexploded. When I was in Dunhuang there was a kid who stepped on a simple firecracker that wasn’t fully exploded and he lost the use of his left foot. Cool, huh? Okay people, there’s nothing you pro-“guo nian” can say for yourselves. Lesson in the golden rule and preschool ethics: do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t harm others.

    BTW the people attracted by these “shiny things” and big booms are the dregs of society. It’s like cigarette butts. You’ll never get that group of people to buy safer products, and you’ll never get them to pick up after themselves, because they are apparently a wild pack of warthogs. Until the day pigs fly, even a huge nationwide campaign of “responsible fireworking” won’t work, either. Ban the suckers.

  38. […] circles of late. Whether it be John’s generally always upbeat blog (except when it comes to Spring Festival), the well-written “10 Reasons Why Living In China Is Great” or Rick’s […]

  39. If it’s like Taiwan, crime goes up because people tend to have bunches of cash in their homes for hongbao purposes.

    I can’t stand the fireworks, as I live in a prime area for that kind of thing, but all in all I do like the atmosphere of the Chinese New Year (which the DPP wants to rename the “Lunar New Year That Has Nothing Necessarily To Do With China”).

  40. I guess that’s just different culture, chinese may doesn’t like our culture sometimes. I did talk with a chinese guy ,and he said he did not like western party, he said we just stand there, talk and get drunk doesn’t make any sense. because if chinese attend parties they are always with some kind of purpose, such as business, public relation , or something like that . it seems like chinese don’t know there is a ”purpose” called ” having fun”. I don’t know, i kind of like them, they work really really hard, and do anything to get their achievement, i guess that is the reason China are going so fast , they never stop until they get there and prepare to catch another goal.

  41. Hey isnt this way better than christmas and thanksgiving.
    Also u get money instead of crappy presents from this cheap store.
    As for food u eat much better stuff than that turkey that u cant even chew. SO I DONT UNDERSTAND WHY IN THE WORLD U HAT CNY.
    Alos try firing the fireworks yourself.

  42. i remember once i was sleeping in the next morning of the chinese new years eve, at 5 am, some assholes fired firecrackers loud enough to wake up every single person in the town.

  43. Thats right John. Is hard to enjoy if you want a quiet holiday.

  44. hey man .i am completely agree with u.
    although i am a pure chinese ..folk.
    but the hongbao is essential.haha

  45. Personally, I’d like to go outside and stick a firecracker up the arse of each and every one of those idiots who let them off. I also have a baby this year who keeps getting woken up by the noise. The whole thing is infantile.

  46. […] down and, judging by the fact that everyone’s using the gōnglì 公历 again (see number 7 here), I think it’s safe to say that Chinese New Year is officially behind us. Real bloggers would […]

  47. totally agree with the firework part, i remember shouting ‘shut the fuck up, i’m tryna watch a film in here’

  48. Sea Turtle @ HK Says: February 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    The Chinese culture is noisy, possibly originating to ancient times when noise was a psychological comforter, indicating safety by numbers, and a means to drive out ghosts or whatnot. This is especially true during the Chinese New Year, when legend has it that the firecrackers were used to drive a sea monster back to the depts of the ocean. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nian)

    But you know, you hit the nail on the head. I don’t think anyone can like the Chinese New Year – except for nostalgic reasons. The kids love it! New clothes, lots of pocket money, long holiday from school! What is there not to love about it, if you are a kid? The adults retain those fond memories of their childhood and reminisce over them.

    For the rest of us, we really should go on holiday abroad during these times.

  49. […] 我的结论是,如果你不是在中国长大,绝对不会喜欢上春节。但是作为一个外来的成年人,对于自己有朝一日能真正地学会享受这个节日,我真的觉得,这是不可能的。[王大发财 via Sino Splice] […]

  50. Dora Leung Says: November 12, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    其实在广州之类的大城市,过年的气氛并没有农村那么浓。如果你不喜欢农村的气氛,不如在过年时候来大城市?

  51. I am a Chinese and I grew up with Chinese New Year and I still loathe it.

    If you think it maybe fun for little kids, it never was for me. The relative gatherings are more like time for the adults to gossips and compare the children. The red packet is nice but my parent got to keep it, and I would gladly have worked to earn it myself.

    Firecrackers is dangerous and being a physically weak kid among others make firecrackers no fun.

    I do wish they could end the tradition, the kid doesn’t have to do obligations like going home in peak season and visit zillion relatives house to say greetings and their relatives don’t need to break the bank to give out red envelopes. What a nuisance.

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