Lantern Festival, which marks the end of Spring Festival, falls on Friday this year. Spring Festival, the most important festival in China, has been celebrated for 15 days for almost 4,000 years. The festival represents the Chinese core values and cultural spirit, which are important to not only China but also today's world.
Despite the addition of many ceremonial customs and rituals to Spring Festival, some customs and rituals have been common through the ages including composition of spring couplets, new year paintings, paper cutting, the Chinese character fu (meaning happiness), Chinese zodiac animals, red lanterns, Chinese knots, fireworks and firecrackers, and the family reunion dinner. They not only enhance the festive atmosphere but also symbolize the cultural spirit and values of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Values and spirit of Spring Festival
The symbols of Spring Festival represent Chinese culture and encompass traditional Chinese values and spiritual pursuits fundamental to the Chinese nation.
To begin with, Spring Festival culture embodies the principle of "oneness of heaven and humanity", representing the highest value of traditional Chinese culture and soul of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Laozi, the ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, advocated: "Man is modeled on Earth, Earth on heaven, heaven on Tao, and Tao on nature". As a result, traditional Chinese culture emphasizes the unity between man and nature, and regards man as an integral part of nature.
For thousands of years, the Chinese people have been celebrating Spring Festival to thank Mother Nature for her bountiful gifts, and looking forward to the revitalization of all aspects of life and praying for favorable weather and a bumper crop in the new year. Spring Festival customs and rituals manifest Chinese people's belief that harmony between man and nature is a prerequisite for humankind to lead a secure, orderly and happy life.
The concept of unity between humans and nature has profoundly influenced all aspects of Chinese social life, even shaped the idea of "green development", which China lays special emphasis on today.
More important, Spring Festival culture represents the value of family reunion and the pursuit of harmonious family relationship. The yearlong yearning for family reunion during Spring Festival is manifested in the travel rush, when China witnesses the largest human migration in the world with hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling across the country to their hometown to enjoy the Lunar New Year Eve dinner with family and friends.
Customs such as paying homage to ancestors, enjoying the family reunion dinner, and gifting red envelopes with "lucky" money to youngsters serve as the moral and ethical edification of, and embody the Chinese people's belief in family values and pursuit of harmony. No wonder filial piety and love for youngsters are embedded in the heart of the Chinese people.
A family-based rather than individual-based approach to values has hugely influenced the governance of traditional Chinese society. The "family way" of governance is the foundation of traditional Chinese social governance, and the basis of the contemporary relationship between individuals and society.
Inclusiveness of Chinese culture
Spring Festival culture also highlights the inclusiveness of Chinese culture. The great river of Chinese culture is fed mainly by the tributaries of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The different customs and rituals practiced by people across China during Spring Festival reveal the spiritual essence of Chinese culture: harmony without uniformity.
Although the people believe in different faiths and perform different rituals during Spring Festival, the inclusive value of harmony without uniformity make them get along well with each other. After all, inclusiveness and tolerance are fundamental to building a harmonious society.
Also, Spring Festival culture indicates the Chinese people's quest for peace, progress and newness. Celebrating Spring Festival at the end of winter and beginning of spring itself means a new beginning. Before the Lunar New Year, the Chinese people are busy cleaning their homes and decorating them with paper cuttings and lanterns, and composing new year couplets, all of which symbolize the removal of old and heralding the new, and a desire for peace and a better life.
Spirit of creation and a better future
Spring Festival culture, in other words, embodies both the spirit of creation and the vision of a better future for the Chinese people. In order to realize a better life, the Chinese people consider hard work a virtue. This explains why the Chinese are among the most hardworking people in the world. The values and spirit embedded in Spring Festival, which have profoundly shaped the character of the Chinese people, are essential for achieving harmony between man and nature, man and family, and man and society.
These values are important for addressing many common global problems as well. Bertrand Russell applauded Chinese tradition, because it possesses "something of the ethical qualities in which China is supreme, and which the modern world most desperately needs".
Global warming and environmental pollution are among the most serious problems facing the world today. And the concept of green development embedded in the idea of harmony and unity between man and nature can help the international community solve this problem and build a healthy and beautiful world.
World desperately needs inclusiveness, harmony
Many countries, including the United States, are facing social divisions and struggling to deal with racism at the domestic level, while anti-globalization and unilateralism pose a severe challenge to the international community, which, to some extent, are related to the spread of extremism. Due to the lack of inclusiveness at the both domestic and global levels, extremism has gained ground in the age of social media, widening the social divisions and deepening the ideological differences.
Therefore, the world today is in dire need of inclusiveness, which the Chinese culture of harmony without uniformity celebrates.
Given the significance of the values and spirit embedded in Spring Festival for global governance, Spring Festival is a festival to be celebrated not only by people in China but also those around the world.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
The author is a professor at and director of the Center for Global Governance and Law, Xiamen University of Technology.