Five Chinese Festivals Worth Remembering

The Internet is bringing the world closer, and international corporations are doing business in all of the global times zones. If you do business in China, or with Chinese companies, understanding their culture can assist in improving both your business and social relationships. To impress your Chinese colleagues, invite them to celebrate these traditional Chinese holidays with you.

Dragon Boar Festival

On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (this year it is June 9), the Chinese celebrate the renowned poet Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 BC). Although much beloved by the people, he was banished by the local king. He committed suicide by throwing himself into the Miluo River; the villagers chased his body down the river in their (what are now called) dragon boats.

Dragon boat races have been held in China for over 2,000 years, although the Chinese government only recognized them as a sport in 2008. Today, thousands of people in more than 50 countries annually race their boat after their “poet.”

Children’s Day

Children’s Day is celebrated on June 1 in China and many other nations around the world. It began in Switzerland in 1925 when 54 international emissaries gathered to discuss the welfare of the world’s child population. This “World Conference for the Well-being of Children” passed the “Geneva Declaration Protecting Children,” which called on countries to protect their child populations from poverty, child labor practices and diminished educational opportunities.

Arbor Day

Although this traditional celebration of the tree began in Nebraska (United States) in 1827, the Chinese adopted it in 1927. In 1914, a ranking administrator at Nanking University submitted the idea for a National Celebration of the Tree to the Republic of China ministers, who initially rejected it. After Dr. Sun Yat-sen died, the idea was resurrected, and the holiday was established as a tribute to him because he was such a staunch supporter of forestation projects.

In 1981, the People’s Republic of China embraced the idea and declared March 12 to be its official Arbor Day holiday. On this day, millions of Chinese and international participants plant trees on personal and public property to beautify their cities and clean their air.

Qingming Festival

Early April (this year, it is April 4) sees the celebration of this Chinese springtime rite. The holiday is connected to both the emergence of spring and to paying respect to the dead.

Thought to have originated as many as 2,500 years ago, the holiday originally commemorated the loyalty of a deceased royal subject. When that reverent day also coincided with the blooming of spring, the two celebratory elements were combined.

To celebrate the spring aspect of the festival, festival goers enjoy kite flying, outdoor activities and riding on swings. “Tomb-sweeping” is the central element of the “respectful” festival. Ancestral tombs are cleaned, and their gardens are weeded and cleared of debris. The deceased’s favorite food and paper representing money are burned as offerings, to ensure they do not lack food or money where they are.

Lantern Festival

Perhaps the most beautiful festival is the Lantern Festival, which occurs each year on the 15th day after the first lunar month. This year it was celebrated on Feb. 22.

For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese and other Asian countries have celebrated the beauty of silk and paper lanterns. Originally used to honor Buddha, the lanterns became common after an ancient emperor decreed that all temples should be lit with lights. The Chinese have developed numerous presentations of lamps, including floating, fixed and flying lanterns. Many dances are also associated with the festival, including dragon and lion dances. During the festival, traditional Chinese imagery is highlighted on the sides of thousands of illuminated lanterns.

Doing business internationally requires an understanding of the culture of your colleagues. Your Chinese counterparts will appreciate and be honored by your knowledge of their traditional homeland festivals.

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