By Jongyeop Jeong, 12th Grade
On January 19, NewJeans’ Danielle (a K-pop girl group member) sent a message to her fans on Phoning, a fan communication platform, asking them what they were doing for “Chinese New Year.” However, this phrase soon drew criticism as it implies that the holiday is only celebrated in China when it is also celebrated by many other East Asian cultures. This issue was further highlighted when fellow NewJeans member Hanni, also from Australia, referred to the holiday as “Lunar New Year” in her own Phoning messages. In response to the backlash, Danielle posted an apology on Instagram on January 21, acknowledging her mistake and promising to be more mindful in the future. What is wrong with the phrase “Chinese New Year”?
There’s not much aversion when we see or hear the phrase “Chinese New Year.” We’re just too used to it that we don’t know what’s wrong with it or probably never even thought about it seriously. Known as the celebration of the start of the Lunisolar (according to the Moon and Sun) calendar, which contrasts with the Gregorian calendar (solar) of the west, the “Chinese New Year” is the biggest holiday in China. The festival marks the start of spring, when people say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new, typically lasting around 15 days. The primary purpose of the holiday is to go home and stay with families, enjoying a big meal or having a party with friends and relatives. The holiday is also the busiest time for travel, as people return home to see their families. It’s the largest annual human migration event, with around 3 billion trips made within China during the New Year period, making it significantly larger than other annual human migration events, such as America’s Thanksgiving, which results in around 50 million trips. The exact dates of the holiday change slightly each year, falling between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar.
In China, the holiday is referred to as the Spring Festival, while in other East Asian countries, the day is celebrated with a different name. The issue is that almost every year, the Chinese New Year coincides with the Korean New Year (Seollal), the Vietnamese New Year (Tết), and the Tibetan New Year (Losar). Not only do they differ by name, but their cultural and food practices are different. For example, South Korea celebrates the Lunar New Year for only 3 days in length rather than 15, and they eat Tteokguk (rice cake soup) made from rice cakes cut into a round shape resembling the Sun (a New Year’s Sun), while the Chinese eat “Tang Yuan” and “Nian Gao,” which means “to live together on this day” and “developing year by year,” respectively. Moreover, South Korea celebrates the New Year with a traditional board game called “Yut Nori”, while the Chinese play “Mahjong.” In short, they have their own characteristics but are similar in that they wish for health and happiness for the new year.
Not to mention, the ‘Chinese’ New Year is not just celebrated in China but also by the Chinese diaspora, with an estimated 50 million people celebrating worldwide. Other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia even consider it a public holiday. And, of course, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tibetan immigrants around the world also celebrate their respective New Years.
Indeed, this particular day’s history has its roots in China, but undoubtedly it’s now become more extensive than that. It’s the same as calling January 1 “Roman New Year” or “European New Year”, just because the Gregorian calendar (of which January 1 is the first day) was initially adopted in Rome. So, in the spirit of inclusivity, there’s been a move to call this day Lunar New Year- even though, for scientific accuracy, it should be referred to as “Lunisolar New Year” as the East Asian calendar months are based on the Moon’s cycles and the years are based on the Sun’s cycles.
The term’ Chinese New Year’ probably came from Western countries distinguishing the New Year celebration of the Chinese from their own, and as the Chinese are the most widespread ethnic group globally, they tend to be overrepresented among Asians. Whatever you call it, Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, or Korean New Year, as long as it’s about family and friends, and food and gift-giving, it doesn’t really matter (assuming an absence of bad intention). However, it’s good to note that the holiday is not uniquely Chinese, and the phrase ‘Chinese’ New Year can be offensive to non-Chinese East Asians who celebrate the holiday. Understanding the variety and identifying where these traditions cross paths are equally essential.
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