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The 'national' in National Day

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Is there anything to National Day besides a Golden Week vacation? Examining that question are two pieces written for previous National Days, translated below.

Xiao Feng (肖锋), lead writer for New Weekly magazine, wrote a glossary of national terms for last year's festivities. The piece is reprinted in Minority Faction (少数派), one of a set of four collections of columns by New Weekly writers published on the occasion of the magazine's 10th anniversary.

National Day, National Pastime, National Flavor...

by Xiao Feng / New Weekly

National Day: National Day has become a travel holiday. The solemn national consciousness of the past has been replaced by joyful consumerism. Using the long holiday for travel or shopping is the main theme of the day. If parades and putting up banners were patriotic in the past, then active consumption is patriotism today.

National Pastime: Mahjong used to be the number one game in China; there was a saying in the 1980s that "out of 1 billion people, 900 million are playing mahjong." Today, the national pastime during the holidays is travel. In truth, it is no longer that era when everyone in the country can play the same thing. Those who have cars play at their cars; those who do not, play at their own "route 11 bus." Those who have computers play games, and those who do not can amuse themselves with idle chatter.

National Cuisine: The cuisine that Chinese culture has marketed to the world is how to eat differently. People have suggested setting up an International Eating Committee. "When you've sung your part, I take the stage" is what food is like today; no one can speak for a "National Cuisine." If you really want to find one, then perhaps hotpot is one national dish. But children and youth might rather suggest to you McDonald's or KFC.

National Learning: Originally a culture of ancient books, guoxue has returned to importance. Renmin University's Institute of National Learning has been called a symbol of the revival of guoxue, as well as a symbol of the revival of a great nation. Confucianism is an ethical system; our actions in our daily lives make up another system. Propriety, justice, honesty, and honor are the four moral standards of the country; if they are not upheld, the country will fall. Facing this frighteningly chaotic world, the promoters of guoxue should preach more from the perspective of societal control. Meaningless study has no benefit to the people and will only make our thinking formulaic.

National Art: The national art of China has got to be wushu, or Kung-fu. And within kung-fu, Tai-chi probably best captures the essence of Chinese civilization. Tai-chi "push-hands" has been used on the political stage; the art of power has been satirically called the national art. Playing at "push-hands" or playing at nunchucks — this is a division between the old era and the new.

National Skill: No question, the sport of table tennis. The Chinese have taken so many ping-pong championships that it's embarrassing. Using a tiny sphere to turn the political strategies of the big sphere once successfully opened up the road of Sino-American relations. China's land area is limited, so hopefully this athletic activity that requires just a table can continue to flourish.

National Medicine: National medicine, or zhong yao, is not the medicine of China, but rather the medicine of the mean. Essentially, illness is anything taken to excess. "Halls of national medicine" have started up chain stores. The resistance of Chinese medicine to standardization has caused it to be spurned by the international pharmaceutical world, and it has become a mark of wandering outsider doctors. Today, old Chinese doctors plaster ads throughout every street and alley advertising special sex cures.

National Curse: Everyone knows this, so I won't mention it. There's a trend toward the national curse being replaced by "kao". This shows the speed at which the new language of the online era is replacing the old language. In addition, TMD is also the abbreviation for America's strategy to contain China.

National Car: In the hearts of the Chinese people, Red Flag is the National Car, the first domestic brand of sedan. Too bad it couldn't compete; the high demands of the Chinese people turned their hearts to a new love. Actually, the transportation device that most represents the nation is not an automobile but a bicycle.

National Bird: A NPC representative put forth a proposition to select the red-crowned crane as the national bird, but this bird is getting scarcer by the day. There's also a thought that since the Chinese people love peace, the dove should be the national bird. But in Guangdong, fat doves only make one think of roasted pigeon. And actually, in the cities, cranes have taken up the responsibility of being the "City Bird."

National Performance: In the past it was the Spring Festival Evening Show, when 900 million of the billion citizens were watching. Now, the Show has dropped to a program for peasants (and our peasant brothers don't necessarily watch). When the three Super Girls PKed, they snatched up a majority of Chinese eyeballs.

National Flavor: Chinese flavor is not hanging up a few strings of hot peppers in the doorway; it's not the four treasures of the studio; it's not the four great inventions — none of these. The core of Chinese flavor is not readily expressed by these dead ideas. "What it is" is hard to say. I only know that cultural heritage isn't a day's work; it should be one generation teaching the next through example rather than preaching. If the previous generation themselves didn't amount to much, then what attraction is there to Chinese flavor?


Dongfang Yu (东方愚, aka Zhang Hua) is a business journalist who keeps an interesting blog about media and current events. Here's his post from this year's National Day, in which he looks back at a piece he wrote for the event two years ago:

National day in the age of angry youth

by Dongfang Yu

I unintentionally ran across something I wrote on National Day two years ago, and found it hard to stifle my laughter. I was really an angry youth then, unable to open my mouth without speaking of freedom and constitutional government. Real cute. One month later, on 1 November 2004, I formally began a new life writing economic commentary. Ironically, when I truly connected with writing, I no longer possesed those impassioned words or that free belief. What was left: just read a few good books, mull over a few issues, or be like Xue Yong, not coy about it at all, and write for hire. I don't know whether this is progress or backsliding. Yesterday night I went out drinking with the guys from Window on the South. We all poured out our hearts, and I discovered in a flash that I had "progressed" quite a bit from where I once was. The true meaning of life or writing lies in having direction and strength in the midst of the ordinary.

National Day: How should the nation be celebrated?

1 October 2004, 4am

As the 1 October Golden Week comes round for the fifth time, the sight of prosperity and excitement is acclaimed by international tourists. Traffic at tourist attractions is like the torrential Yangtze, the sea of consumers at shopping centers form a Great Wall — this is China's unique "National Day." Compared to the tattered, decrepit state 55 years ago when New China was just founded, today's China is at its zenith, ready to unleash its power. The rapid pace of prosperity in the cities and the development of business gleam with this young country's potential to rise up and take flight. For the common people, there is truly nothing more worth celebrating over these 55 years than the step by step improvement of their lives and the gradual filling of their purses; material benefits are best, and there is no one who is not filled with a deep pleasure at going out touring with friends and family over the National Day, or at buying inexpensive, high-value goods.

However, when there is only "travel" and "shopping" in citizens' hearts on National Day, I start to wonder about National Day's original meaning: for a national celebration, what are we supposed to celebrate? How should we celebrate? Of course, we have no reason to demand that the common people elevate their understanding of National Day to any particular level or degree, but at a time when both material and spiritual lives have been filled and raised up to such an extent, should we not take this special day of national celebration to strive a little, to think over questions of freedom, of political life and democratic rights today and in the future (the time for celebration is still far off)?

If 15 March is a day for consumers to protect their multitude of economic rights, then I think National Day ought to be a day for a country's citizens to strive for and defend their political rights. Today, half a year after individual property rights and political civilization have been written into the constitution, have they actually been integrated into the system, into regulations, so that the people can truly enjoy them? Or does the government, also party to this constitution, still ride roughshod over the people, defiling the will of the people, "legally violating the constitution"?

So in a certain respect, though quite effective on some fronts, the country's decision to give a week's vacation on 1 May and 1 October nonetheless might actually profane the original meaning of Labor Day and National Day. If you say that this is the direction of the market, and that what I bring up here is merely the cost of reform, then I suggest that starting from the next Golden Week, the country should gain even more "proceeds" from a balance of economic benefit and development of political civilization.

In Innovation at the Margin of Tradition, Sheng Hong said that institutional transformation always arises out of the masses. However, under a consolidated, calcified, particular ideology, what the masses adhere to is not necessarily the direction of optimum value. In today's Golden Week, for example, what the common masses are concerned with is nothing more than how to enjoy low prices on good things and to see a wealth of beautiful, interesting sights; they rarely think over or appreciate their own democratic rights and the situation of the republic 55 years on.

A country that truly wishes to establish democracy and a legally-governed society must not let National Day fragment into a commercial paradise or playground. The progression of constitutional government should march in step with, or even lead, reform of the economic system. Otherwise the country's development will be like water without a source. The rights of the people to discuss and participate in politics, to be "their own masters," are far more important than a few coins in their pockets, and to be played with and marginalized for such a long time is truly hard to take. At the same time, a nation with hope should not be one that on National Day blindly preaches about the "glorious era" following the establishment of the country; rather, like a student preparing for an exam, it should fill in the gaps and look for its inadequacies. Like Sheng Hong said, a nation that is alive is one that can look critically at its own history; the capacity for criticism is what gives a people space for innovation.

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