Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Chinese" New Year?

Maddog at Taiwan Matters points to the debate on whether Lunar New Year should be Chinese New Year...

First, from the Liberty Times, the Chinese language Green publication:

范嘉芬提到農曆年,如果要用英文表達,幾乎絕大部份的人都會說成「Chinese New Year」(中國年),但這是錯的。正確的說法是Lunar New Year。

Fan Chia-fen observed of the agricultural new year, that if we use English to express it, most people say "Chinese New Year", but this is an error. The correct way to say it is Lunar New Year.

因 為太陰曆法(簡稱陰曆)依循的是月球運行週期所計算制定,所以如果要說成英文,就是Lunar(Moon) Calendar,過的新年就是Lunar New Year。而相對於此曆法當然就是以太陽之運轉為曆法計算基礎的太陽曆(Sun Calendar)了;也就是目前世界多數國家所通用遵循公元紀年,是根據阿拉伯的太陽曆法編製的。但使用到現在全世界沒有人會說是阿拉伯新年 (Arabic New Year)。

Because the solar-lunar calendric system (the lunar year) uses the movement of the moon as the basis for its calculations, if we say it in English, we should use Lunar (Moon) Calendar, so new year is actually Lunar New Year. The solar calendar, in which the sun is used as the basis for calculation, is used by many countries, but it is originally based on an Arab solar calendar. However, currently nobody on earth calls it "Arabic New Year."

全球不只一個國家在過農曆年,這並不是中國專屬的年節,所以不適合說是Chinese New Year。
(作者從事服務業)

Around the world more than one nation celebrates lunar new year. It is not appropriate to call it Chinese New Year.

The subject has also come up in the English papers. Here's caustic columnist Johnny Neihu receiving a letter about it:

Saturday, Feb 17, 2007, Page 8
Politically correct pork
Dear Johnny,
Is saying "Happy Lunar New Year" politically correct nowadays in Taiwan or will a group of irate "trade unionists" attack me if I say it?

Also, if the coming year is the Year of the Pig, will it be possible to buy decent bacon instead of the crap streaky bacon sold here?
Pete Jones

Taipei
Johnny replies: I've never been one to advocate political correctness. But I've never been one to advocate political incorrectness either. The actual content of both are vulnerable to whoever has the power to induce guilt or outrage at any time.

But I can tell you that "Chinese New Year" is a politically incorrect expression at this newspaper, not just because Taiwan isn't part of China, but also because China is not the only state or national "culture" that marks the lunar calendar.

So if some demented "trade unionists" (politically polite code for pro-blue-camp labor bosses) take you to task for daring to name a calendar event after the moon, refer them to me and I will find out why it is exactly that the Republic of China is averse to politically correct pork.
I've been discussing this privately with maddog. Frankly I think these analyses both err. The reason we call it "Chinese New Year" is (a) because the Chinese celebrate it at this time; and, (b) we celebrate it Chinese style. The second is far more important. I'm not waiting for the 25th of Kislev, I'm not doing Seollal with tteokguk, and I'm not observing a "Day of Silence." I'm preparing red envelopes for the kids, cooking up Chinese specialties, and decorating the house with red banners.

This is on the level of "freedom fries" or "victory cabbage." The whole point of Taiwan independence is political independence from China, opening up the world to the idea that a people can partake of the great Chinese cultural stream without necessarily being ruled by Beijing, and that Beijing is not the sole arbiter of what constitutes "Chinese culture." We need to destroy the way Beijing uses Chinese culture as an imperialist tool. We can do that by redefining it as something Taiwan owns too, in its own way, not by reifying its power through renaming cultural events away from China.

Your thoughts? Me, I'm off to celebrate Chinese New Year, hand out red envelopes to my nieces, and overeat.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I respect your point of view. But my mother always said celebration of “old calendar new year” (舊曆新年) or “agricultural calendar new year” (農曆新年). She never mentioned “Chinese new year” (中國新年).

In an article in today’s LA Times, both Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year were employed.
“Nothing boring about Year of the Boar festivities”
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-newyear17feb17,1,7602224.story

Anyway, Happy New Year!

Michael Turton said...

"Chinese" is really only a problem when it's rendered in English.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

a semantic critique? I like Johnny Neihu on this one. The politically correct will be more comfortable calling it 'lunar new year'. Will the pig create more trouble than blessings?

Anonymous said...

I saw this today at Pavilion, a Los Angeles supermarket: Free recipes to celebrate "Asian New Year."

jingyang said...

I agree with you here Michael. It is called "Chinese New Year" by native English speakers because it is seen as a Chinese cultural festival, and honestly the date or calendar is simply not very relevant to us.

I also agree about your point about the connection between Beijing and the definition of "Chinese culture".

A similiar POV for English speakers outside the US is the way many seem to define "the Anglophone cultural sphere" as simply being the US. Or for Europeans I met in Taiwan having their equally "Western" culture being ignored cos everyone knows that the US defines "western culture".

An interesting thing I saw related to this defining of China/Chinese/Chinese culture etc:
A PRC Chinese immigrant I was speaking to here in New Zealand was complaining about one of the Chinese language newspapers here using the phrase 我國 (woguo) to describe New Zealand (of which he was a citizen). His argument was that 我國 can only mean China,and that 我國 could not be used to describe New Zealand.

Anonymous said...

<<<<<<<<<<
This is on the level of "freedom fries" or "victory cabbage." The whole point of Taiwan independence is political independence from China, opening up the world to the idea that a people can partake of the great Chinese cultural stream without necessarily being ruled by Beijing, and that Beijing is not the sole arbiter of what constitutes "Chinese culture."
>>>>>>>>>>

I'm afraid we'll have to differ on this one, Michael. Elucidating why takes a great deal of time, so I don't know if I can do it justice in the space allotted.

Right now, I don't think Taiwanese cultural identity is robust enough to embrace the notion of political independence but cultural fellowship with China. When one breaks up or divorces from a spouse, there is usually a period of maintaining some space and distance, before the two can reconcile as friends or begin to enjoy each other's company and common interests---the more so, when the relationship has been abusive.

You've blogged approvingly on Taiwan's name change and name rectification activities, considering it a part of the post-colonial rehabilitation that a state undergoes after it has separated from its earlier colonizer. While the name changes certainly remove ambiguity and clarify the proper legal status of the companies and entities involved, they are also part of the process of disengaging from the old colonial yoke. Calling "Chinese New Year" Lunar New Year---or simply New Year---is part of that process as well. Of necessity, the Chinese-ness is de-emphasized so that Taiwanese-ness can be emphasized.

<<<<<<<<<
We need to destroy the way Beijing uses Chinese culture as an imperialist tool. We can do that by redefining it as something Taiwan owns too, in its own way, not by reifying its power through renaming cultural events away from China.
>>>>>>>>>

But Taiwan is not in a position to redefine Chinese elements as something that Taiwan also owns. Taiwan can do so only after its own security has been established, and its own cultural identity affirmed. Neither of these have come to pass, so Taiwan must remain ever vigilant while China looms ominously by.

<<<<<<<<<<<<
"Chinese" is really only a problem when it's rendered in English.
>>>>>>>>>

Yes. I think that's the gist of the problem. Americans and Englishmen can both be Anglo-Saxons yet maintain separate national identities. If it's accepted that Taiwanese and Chinese can both be Han while maintaining separate national identities, then much of the problem goes away.

Mark said...

Calling it a lunar new year instead of the Chinese New Year isn't just politically correct. It's also ethno-centric and inaccurate. Does Johnny really think that the Chinese are the only civilization that ever came up with a lunar calendar or celebrates holidays based upon it? Maybe he's never heard of any holidays based on any other lunar calendars, such as EASTER.

A "lunar calendar" could refer to any one of many different callendars. We call it Chinese New Year, because it's the one that Chinese people all over the world celebrate.

jingyang said...

anonymous, isn't that part of the of the 中國人 (zhongguoren) vs 華人 vs 漢族 distinctions? None of which are clear in English?
Could yourself or Michael point me to some sites/blogs that explain these more clearly?

I would be interested to know more about the debate over these terms of identity. Similarly, if anyone could give me more info on why 我國woguo is only used to refer to China (although I have often seen it used in Taiwan to refer to Taiwan, and assume Singaporeans would use it in this manner too) and what about other overseas Chinese newspapers? any ideas?

(please excuse, this the language learner/teacher in me getting intrigued)

Anonymous said...

<<<<<<<<<<
anonymous, isn't that part of the of the 中國人 (zhongguoren) vs 華人 vs 漢族 distinctions? None of which are clear in English?
>>>>>>>>>>

They are not clear in Chinese either. Zhonguoren is the most commonly-used term with a wide range of meanings: Chinese citizenship, cultural identity, ethnic affiliation, etc. Huaren is usually employed to refer to Han people scattered abroad, as if they were part of a diaspora. Hanzu is not frequently used, so far as I know, and like Hanxia, appeals to continuity of ancestry from ancient times.

I think Hanren (Han people) comes the closest to my earlier statement:

Americans and Englishmen can both be Anglo-Saxons yet maintain separate national identities. If it's accepted that Taiwanese and Chinese can both be Han-ren while maintaining separate national identities, then much of the problem goes away.

In reference to Michael's earlier observation:

--------------------
The reason we call it "Chinese New Year" is (a) because the Chinese celebrate it at this time; and, (b) we celebrate it Chinese style. The second is far more important. I'm not waiting for the 25th of Kislev, I'm not doing Seollal with tteokguk, and I'm not observing a "Day of Silence." I'm preparing red envelopes for the kids, cooking up Chinese specialties, and decorating the house with red banners.
-------------------

Are Taiwanese really celebrating it Chinese style, and following Chinese customs, or are they celebrating it Han style and following Han customs?

Most people would answer: "both"---because according to tradition, Han culture is a subset of Chinese culture. But if that is so, then does it not make sense for Taiwanese to simply adopt the Han cultural elements and discard the Chinese cultural elements? What elements in Chinese culture would be missed if only Han culture were preserved in Taiwan?

Some readers might object and say that I am splitting hairs, trying to disentangle Han culture from Chinese culture, and that Chinese culture amounts to Han culture, at least as it is practiced on Taiwan. But if that is so, then what benefit is there in referring to it as Chinese culture rather than Han culture? Isn't the term Han culture more precise and more neutral, and more in line with Taiwan's goal of maintaining a separate national identity?

Michael Turton said...

That's an interesting distinction. The problem is that the Chinese nationalists have co-opted the term "Han" into the service of Chinese nationalism. Millions of times I've heard Chinese say that "I am Han and people in Taiwan are Han, therefore they are Chinese."

One thing is for sure -- new terms are needed....

Patrick Cowsill said...

The Han originally came from the Yellow River area. As they spread south, they intermarried with the local Aboriginal populations in Fuchien and Guangdong. After arriving in Taiwan, they once again intermarried with the Taiwan's Aboriginal people. It is estimated that 80-90% of Taiwan's people today have some Aboriginal blood. If you talk to people, they will tell you that they associate the word Han with racial purity. So I agree, new terms are in order.

Kerim Friedman said...

As far as I'm concerned, the lunar new year is Rosh Hashana ... Maybe they should call it Tet? (Discounting the four years in the next century where the Vietnamese and Chinese calendars diverge...)