Believe it or not, there are at least three so-called "Valentine's Days" in China. February 14, which has been associated with love and romance since the 14th century in the West, is the most popular. Chinese Qixi Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, has been called Chinese Valentine's Day for little longer than a decade.
There is a Chinese mythical story related to Qixi, which goes that a heavenly fairy named Zhinü fell in love with a man named Niulang but was forbidden by the heavenly Queen to see him except on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
Some Chinese experts started suggesting that we worship Zhinü as China's new goddess of love and celebrate the date as "Chinese Valentine's Day." The popular appeal of Qixi was in turn co-opted by local corporations and businesses who desperately wanted to stimulate consumption via festive celebrations.
However, in recent years, there has been an emerging voice against celebrating Qixi as Chinese Valentine's Day. They argue that Qixi was celebrated in ancient China as a festival strictly for females to ask heavenly blessings of their intelligence and skills for needlework.
Illustration: Lu Ting/GT
Meanwhile, Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month) was always more qualified as a Chinese Valentine's Day because young women of ancient times could go out together on the night of Lantern Festival to meet male suitors; the rest of the year girls were generally forced to stay at home to tend to chores and rarely allowed to go out freely.
This year, Lantern Festival falls on Saturday, February 11. I asked several of my friends in Shanghai whether they will celebrate the festival as Chinese Valentine's Day however, most of the responses I received were no.
"Although I heard the festival was about romance in the ancient times, the festival for me is a time for family reunion. Usually I will visit my parents and other relatives, sitting around eating glutinous rice balls," said one male friend who had planned to celebrate Western Valentine's Day with his girlfriend by taking her out for dinner and a movie.
"Only gift vendors who want to make a profit on Lantern Festival would dare celebrate it as Chinese Valentine's Day, a female friend said to me, noting that in recent years China has invented so many new so-called "festivals" that are really just an opportunity to compel people spend their money in retail stores.
In this regard she is right. Besides Qixi and Lantern festivals, there is also May 20th, which is considered a romantic day for couples as its Chinese pronunciation (wu er ling) resembles the Chinese expression "I love you." And of course the new, notorious Singles Day on November 11, which was literally promoted by Alibaba Group to encourage sales on their e-commerce platforms.
Partly because I'm still single and partly because I don't have much money for such shopping festivals, I'm more attracted to traditional Chinese events and their rituals. Many places in China still hold old-fashioned activities for Lantern Festival. For instance, Shanghai's Yuyuan Garden will organize a lantern showcase and prepare riddle games in which singles can meet and socialize. Qixi Festival is also still celebrated in other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea in accordance with their traditional spirit to cherish female intelligence and skills.
Wu Bing'an, honorary director of China Folklore Society, told Chinanews.com that traditional festivals should "not be merely considered as a holiday or purchase season, but instead we should understand the spirit of the festival and cherish good virtues celebrated during them."
I wholly agree with Wu, especially in this era when young adult Chinese place more value in economic growth over moral growth. We as a society should be consuming more cultural and spiritual nutrition instead of only material possessions. Don't let consumerism overshadow China's cultural diversities or traditional festivals.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.