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星期四, 18 4 月, 2024
HomeModern Chinese EssaysFeng Jicai: Spring Transport Is a Cultural Phenomenon~ 《​春运是一种文化现象》(冯骥才)with English Translations

Feng Jicai: Spring Transport Is a Cultural Phenomenon~ 《​春运是一种文化现象》(冯骥才)with English Translations

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Spring Transport Is a Cultural Phenomenon


Feng Jicai




Today, the advent of Spring Festival is no longer heralded by the aroma of laba porridge1, but by the hustle and bustle of Spring transport, or “Spring travel” from the passengers’ point of view, that gets thickly covered in the media. When the year enters its twelfth lunar month, “Spring transport” gets under way like a hurricane, gathering momentum each day. Toward the end of the month, it sweeps all over the country with an overwhelming force.


When this happens, I cannot help wondering if there is such a thing in any other country that, once a year, millions upon millions of people rush home for their New Year.


We look at “Spring transport” as a special periodof passenger transport, and think of it as a crazy traffic torrent resulting from the movement of hundreds of thousands of rural people into the cities for employment, a phenomenon of China, characteristic of its development at current stage. The object of “Spring transport” is, by resorting to all kinds of resources available, to fulfill the unparalleled heavy task of taking the passengers to their destinations.


However, if we perceive it as a cultural phenomenon, we will see that what “Spring transport” does is to take the people working elsewhere back home for family reunion, a highly cherished dream of the Chinese people over history.


I still remember an incident I witnessed at a railway station a few years ago. It was probably the day before the Eve of the Lunar New Year. A short, thin middle-aged man was hurrying to catch a train home. As it was about to leave, all its doors closed, the man became so desperate that he began to climb in at a window, fearing that if he missed it, he would not be able to get home in time for the New Year’s Eve.


Usually, the platform workers on duty will pull him back for his safety, and the passengers in the car will push him out. But what happened was the reverse. The passengers inside began to drag him in, while the platform workers helped to push him in from outside. The small adventure evoked hearty laughs in and out of the car, including the adventurer himself. The train rumbled off, the car carrying a crowd of passengers with broad smiles on their faces. Why? It is the common sentimental desire – to go home for the Festival.


So, when I find myself in an overcrowded airport or a railway station with long queues scrambling for tickets, I am simply moved by the festival culture deeply engraved in the minds of the people. Isn’t the enthusiasm exhibited by the eddying crowds the core of the festive culture – family reunion? Is there any other culture that can set so many people on the move around the country once a year who demonstrated so strong a sense of affinity with their hometowns and families?


“Spring transport” is brought about by the people from the country for employment in the cities. There is no doubt about it. But it is also a unique cultural phenomenon that has emerged in the past two decades. As folk culture reflects people’s lives and is represented in the form of everyday life rather than of pure culture, we are not aware of its cultural connotations right away.


This reminds me of a topic coming up during Spring Festival in the past few years: the festive atmosphere of the Lunar New Year is thinning out. I think there are two possible causes for it. One is the change of life style, so fast that the well-fabricated festival culture, established on the basis of the super-stable life over the past several thousand years, is relaxing, and it is difficult to reconstruct a new one in a short time.


The other is that, due to our misconceptions about the festival culture, we look at traditional customs as outmoded practices and cast them aside of our own accord, such as celebrations with fireworks and firecrackers, and sacrifices to ancestors, etc. Some people even advocate celebrating it as a leisure break, or simply transforming it into a western carnival.


A festival without folk customs would naturally becomeprosaic, especially the ones embedded in people’s memory. Once they are cast aside, you cannot find substitutes for them. I should like to say that the breaking up of our culture by our own hand is most fatal. I remember an article I read about a decade ago, which predicted that the Spring Festival would become one of the multifarious festivals, and it would cease to be the annual principal one in China.


Just at this time, however, “Spring transport” came about. You can do without Spring Festival in five-star hotels, dance halls or bars, or on golf courses, but in the hearts of the people the festival complex still holds fast. When the Lunar New Year comes, the festival complex will bebudding and blooming. People will go home to celebrate it and reunite with their families. They will wear new clothes, pray for a peaceful happy life and kiss the earth of their hometown.


Because we did not understand their cultural psychology and failed to meet their cultural needs, we had no idea how to preserve traditions when society was undergoing transformation and what to do when some traditional festival customs were thinning out. Now we understand that, in the hearts of the people, the Spring Festival is not thinning out; what is thinning out is the declining old ways and forms of celebrations.

1. laba porridge: a rice porridge with nuts and dried fruits, served on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month.

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