Saturday, December 23, 2006

In China, Feeling Snowed Under by Christmas

By Edward Cody
The Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 23, 2006; Page A12

BEIJING, Dec. 22 -- Scrooge is not a familiar character in China, and "Bah, humbug" does not easily translate to Chinese. But a group of graduate students set off a spirited debate here Friday with a crotchety screed condemning Chinese people for their growing tendency to celebrate Christmas.

The students, from such elite institutions as Tsinghua, Peking and People's universities, wrote a weighty-sounding open letter complaining that Christmas is a Christian holiday imported from the West and suggesting that Chinese should stick to the traditions and festivals observed in their own culture.

"We 10 doctoral students from different universities and research institutes solemnly call on our countrymen to be cautious about Christmas, to wake from their collective cultural coma and give Chinese culture the dominant role," they wrote in a letter posted Thursday on the government-controlled China Daily Web site.

In some ways, the students' sentiments harked back to former policies of China's Communist Party, when foreigners were regarded with suspicion and Chinese who fraternized with them were warned of the dangers of "spiritual pollution." But more broadly, the students took issue with the pervasive influence of Western culture since China opened to the world 25 years ago. They also resent the willingness of many Chinese to embrace foreign goods and fashions as superior to their own.

"Western culture has been changing from a breeze and a drizzle into a wild wind and a heavy storm," they declared. "This is vividly embodied in the rising popularity of Christmas."

To counter the trend, the students suggested Chinese stop sending Christmas cards, decorating their homes and businesses, and buying gifts for their children. Rather, they said, Chinese should focus on the traditional beliefs of Buddhism and Daoism and revitalize the Confucian philosophy that has underpinned mainstream Chinese culture for centuries.

As soon as the anti-Christmas letter was posted, the debate erupted online. One popular site,, reported that more than 43,000 people had weighed in with opinions by Friday, and more were pouring in.

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