The Chinese government may be treading on some thin ice with their recent announcement about the Chinese New Year. The problem? They’ve announced that the official holiday falls on February 18 to 24 — conveniently forgetting about February 17, Chinese New Year’s Eve. Here’s a rough translation of a portion of this article in BBC China:
The report cites Professor Xiang Yong of Beijing University as saying “according to China, Chinese New Year’s Eve is the most important day of the calendar year. All of the celebration and ceremony that represents Chinese New Year is carried out on this day, such as putting up duilian on the sides of your door, hanging lanterns, eating a family dinner together. It’s these traditional customs that give an ordinary day a completely different meaning, and make it the most respected and anticipated day of the year. This is what propels it to become a distinctive part of the Chinese heritage.”
Xiang Yong points out that this situation illuminates how the labor/employment bureau and government officials understand little of traditional Chinese cultural customs. When making decisions that affect the masses, they often fail to honor and preserve traditional Chinese culture. “For the customs of Chinese New Year, you can only do it on that one day for there to be real meaning. If you did it on the first day of the new year, it would lose the original meaning. Additionally, on that day, you would have very few people who would peacefully work. There’s no actual meaning to this. So, the officials should act according to the real situation, they ought to amend their proclamation on the holiday for Chinese New Year.
Well, if you don’t do Chinese New Year, let me put it into perspective. Imagine if someone suddenly told you that all businesses in your country had to stay open Christmas Eve — or even Christmas morning.
Chinese New Year’s Eve, which falls on February 17, is the most important day of the year in Chinese culture. That evening families share in what will probably be the most lavish, intimate and awaited dinner of the year. The finest dishes and wine will grace the table and everyone will gather around the TV to catch the annual CCTV Chinese New Year extravaganza.
But many people in China don’t live right down the street from their families. The mass migration during Chinese New Year is well-documented — and for those of us who have experienced it first-hand (yours truly) — a logistical nightmare. People need time to make it back home. And that’s time they won’t have if Chinese New Year’s Eve is immediately after they get off work.
I think this represents an interesting dilemma in Chinese culture — one which many marketers should take to heart. Culture matters in China. If there’s one thing you never want to forget when you’re making your plans, it’s culture. The government officials did and now they’re in for some serious criticism…and then some. Behind all of that glittery “communism with Chinese characteristics” (or “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” — take your pick) lies a country of people who yearn for respect towards their traditions. Show respect in what you do and you’ll win the hearts of the Chinese public.