By Zheng Wen (Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of China in South Africa)
February 8 will see the most important traditional Chinese festival -- Chinese New Year, which is also called Lunar New Year. Celebrated for thousands of years, Lunar New Year contains profound Chinese culture.
In China, the concept of year originated from agriculture--the ancient Chinese people calculated their year based on the growth cycle of millet. The origins of the Lunar Calendar--the traditional Chinese calendar--can be traced back 4,000 years to the Xia Dynasty (circa 2070 – 1600 BC), so it also known as the Xia Calendar. The Lunar Calender, complemented by the 24 solar terms, reflects the seasonal changes of nature, guides the agricultural activities, as well as the daily life of millions. The Lunar Calendar was used for thousands of years before China switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1912.
Unlike the major traditional festivals in other parts of the world that are based on religious beliefs, Chinese New Year is based on the agriculture and embodies the Chinese people’s close relationship with nature. For thousands of years, generations have marked the holiday with gratitude to Mother Nature, celebrated the rebirth of all creatures and prayed for plentiful harvest. For thousands of years, Lunar New Year embodies the core belief of Chinese culture—Man and Nature as One.
Based on the core concept that human society is a direct reflection of nature, Man and Nature as One regards humans as inseparable from the natural world. More than 2,000 years ago, Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese thinker and founder of Taoism, said: "Humans reflects the earth, the earth reflects the heavens, the heavens reflects the Tao and the Tao reflects its own nature."
Human and nature are indivisible, interrelated and must live in harmony. The idea of Man and Nature as One has become an important ideological anchor in Chinese culture, and has made a profound impact on all aspects of the traditional Chinese arts—such as medicine, martial arts, architecture and design-- as well as every aspect of social life.
The idea of man pursuing a harmonious coexistence with nature is not only a part of traditional Chinese culture, but also has an greater significancein today's world. Global warming and environmental pollution are a common threat that has forced humanity to think from different perspectives on how it will respond to these challenges.
Green Development, which seeks balance between man and nature, has been gradually accepted across a range of fields, from science and the humanities to business and politics. The concept has become an important symbol of development for people in different nations and regions across the world.
Man and nature are not to conquer or be conquered, but are interdependent. The harmony between man and nature is based on the cycles and rhythms of nature. This is an important value the Chinese New Year celebrations bring to the world.
During the Chinese New Year, China is home to the largest human migration on earth. For a period of 40 days, hundreds of millions of Chinese working in other cities will return to theire hometowns to spend the holiday with family and then return. Althouth transport network have improved, Chinese New Year remains the annual peak traffic period. What drives this migration each year? The driving force comes from the heart, culture and the deep-rooted desire among Chinese to return home.
Like all other cultures, the family is the nucleus of Chinese society. But Chinese attach great importance to family reunions. They are regarded as peak moments of joy in life. Many Chinese people travel thousands of kilometres in winter to their hometown, where they were born and raised, to honour therir aging parents and enjoy a New Year’s Eve dinner
Family values do not belong to Chinese exclusively. Through a variety of social changes, many countries and nations have rediscovered the important meaning of traditional values to the development of today's societies. The idea of “family first” has been widely promoted and recognized. We can say that the harmonious family and community is a shared world value.
Celebrating the World
Observed for thousands of years, Lunar New Year is becoming a worldwide celebration.
Through the influence of Chinese culture, neighboring countries have long adopted the Lunar Calendar just as they adopted Chinese characters and chopsticks. They regarded Lunar New Year as their most important traditional festival. In these countries, Lunar New Year is a legal holiday. At the same time, overseas Chinese, including those living in SA, have also been celebrating Lunar New Year in various ways, showing how Chinese New Year culture has spread around the world.
The Chinese government and the local communities have begun organizing Happy Chinese New Year, a series of celebrations aiming to build the Chinese New Year as an important global platform for cultural exchanges between China and the world. Societis in different countries are increasingly understanding and actively participating in Happy Chinese New Year activities.
Once again, we invite all South Africans to join us in celebrating the Chinese New Year,where we wish to share the happiness of this holiday with you.