Editorial: The fake Chinese Lunar New Year

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

The world has witnessed a strange version of the Winter Olympic Games where even the natural snow which to everybody’s surprise fell from heaven one day came under suspicion of being engineered by the organisers.

More importantly lacking however was the feeling of a “meeting of the youth of the world” which is supposed to be the core idea of the games. Never have the Games been the source of so much criticism in media around the world, with comments and cynical lampooning like the new interpretation of the Three Lions football anthem with the lines “Virus’ coming home, its coming home”.

Just before the start of the Olympic Games the world also witnessed the beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Water Tiger according to the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Here the fake factor is at least as big as for the Olympic Games, with the Chinese government, the UN with a set of commemorative stamps, media around the world and millions of messages all celebrating the “Lunar Year of the Tiger”. It is worthwhile to have a look why this wrong information has become a commonly accepted alternative truth.

The facts are simple: If you count twelve full moons as a year, you end up with about 354 days. The earth needs 365.25 days for one round around the sun. A lunar calendar accordingly is moving backwards through the seasons by 11 or 12 days each year, as for instance the Muslim calendar does. A solar calendar disregards the moon cycle and just reflects the trip of the earth around the sun, as the commonly used, originally Christian, calendar does. The beginning of a new month is not connected to a full moon in the sky. Only the date for Easter is determined by the date of the first full month after the spring equinox.

A lunisolar calendar uses the period between two full moons to define a month, but adds every couple of years an extra month to keep the beginning of the year in the period after the second new moon after the winter solstice (i.e., between Jan. 21 and Feb. 21 in the internationally used calendar). The Hebrew and the Chinese calendars are examples of a lunisolar calendar.

In Maoist times, Chinese traditions were seen as part of the “bad old things” and as superstitious. Nobody dared to openly celebrate Chinese New Year. Only after 1978 red paper strips with good wishes re-appeared on the doors. With the insistence of China becoming accepted as a modern, globalised country, the Chinese government changed the wording of the festivities in the 1990s to “Spring Festival”, as if it was a seasonal festival like thanksgiving, painstakingly avoiding the term “Chinese New Year”.

The Xi government is caught in the middle: On the one hand it brought back Chinese traditions, if in an edited way, back in fashion, on the other hand China should not be seen as having a second-rate calendar, which is not the “correct” international one. Therefore, the specific Chinese calendar is renamed the “lunar” calendar, which sounds as if this is just an alternative form of calendar on an equal footing with the solar calendar.

The TV gala show on New Year’s Eve, the biggest TV show on earth, is still called the “Spring Festival Gala”, but otherwise all kind of combinations like “Chinese New Year Spring Festival” etc. can be found and for private greetings the term “Spring Festival” is seldom used. Even the United Nations, which could be expected to stay with scientific facts, uses the plainly wrong wording of Lunar Year.

The shallowness of the usage of Chinese traditions in today’s China can also be seen in the fact that the year is uniformly called “Tiger Year”, when according to Chinese astrology the element ruling the year is as important as the zodiac sign, in the case of the current year resulting in a “Water Tiger Year”, which is very differently seen in comparison to a Metal Tiger or even a Fire Tiger year.

One can also often find the statement that 2022 is the Tiger Year, when it is of course not (in fact it is the period between Feb. 1st 2022 and Jan. 21 2023, except in Japan, but that’s another story).

The Cultural Revolution and globalisation have robbed Mainland China of most of its traditional roots and traditions, while the reinvention of traditions according to current needs is further muddling the water. Let’s hope that this will not make the Water Tiger angry.

PS.: Today is the 22.2.2022, the last chance to get such a combination before the 22.2.2222, if nobody invents a new calendar in the meantime.

PPS.: Last week we encountered some technical problems. So if you wonder if your humble editor became the manager of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area – no, this honour still belongs to Dr. Freddy Manongi. However, back in 2009 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area won a COTRI CTW Award for exceptional work with the Chinese outbound tourism market.

As always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!

COTRI Intelligence

COTRI Intelligence is the indispensable source of weekly consulting, analysis, data and news for everybody seriously interested in the post-pandemic Chinese outbound tourism market and changing Chinese consumer preferences.  COTRI Intelligence is published by COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and edited by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS. Regional partners and Content partners [...]

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