Dongzhi (冬至) Celebrating Winter Holidays in China

by Joe

For many Americans, the fall months bring some of our happiest memories and traditional celebrations that we share with family and friends.  Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas follow one another in quick succession ensuring many moments of happiness as we celebrate our friendships and shared values.

Of course, this is also true in China, although the celebrations are as different from ours as our two cultures are unique from each other.  We are approaching the period of Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year), which normally occurs in China on either the 21st, 22nd or 23rd of December each year.

History of the Dongzhi Festival

China is a vast country composed of many different peoples, each of them has their own traditions.  On that day, the northern hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After that, areas in this hemisphere have longer days and shorter nights.  This is the traditional time of year when fishermen and farmers prepare for colder months to come. 

“Dongzhi” means ‘the arrival of winter/ winter’s extreme’ and this festival is thought to be one of the most important festivals the Chinese celebrate.   Having its origins in the concept of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, the winter solstice festival represents balance and harmony in life:  the yin qualities of darkness and cold reach their height of influence on the shortest day of the year, but they also mark a turning point for the coming of the light and warmth of yang.

In Northwestern China (Shaanxi Province), Winter Solstice was traditionally regarded as the starting point of a new year during the Zhou and Qin dynasties (1046 – 207 BC).  Festivals and ancestor worship still play important roles in this holiday. 

During the reign of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), the holiday grew in importance. It was important during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)  and Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) when the emperors officially proscribed it as a day to worship and sacrifice to their god and to the ancestors. It has also been called the Changzhi Festival or Yashui.

 

Traditional Foods Served During the Dongzhi Festival

Traditional dishes vary with the region: the north emphasizes different foods considered warming in traditional Chinese medicine because of their warming qualities or because they help ensure a healthy respiratory system

Pronounced tōngjyùn in Cantonese and tāngyuán in Mandarin and meaning “round balls in soup” has the same sound as a word that means “reunion”, “wholeness”, or “unity”.

In Southern China, sweet, sticky rice balls are served at this time of year. This dish is a great example of how the Chinese enjoy using homophones (words that sound like other words) to give each other good wishes or refer to desired qualities.  For instance, one winter solstice dish pronounced tōngjyùn in Cantonese and tāngyuán in Mandarin (汤圆) and meaning “round balls in soup” has the same sound as a word that means “reunion”, “wholeness”, or “unity” (团圆).   The round shape of the balls and the bowls in which they are served have also come to symbolize family togetherness.

 

Celebrating the Winter Solstice, a Chinese family shares a traditional Tibetan meal of Tsampa.

Another much loved food is Tsampa, a food that is considered integral to Tibetan culture.   It is  a hearty, nutty-tasting flour made from roasted barley and mixed by hand with butter tea, dried dri cheese (the dri is the female of the yak species) and sometimes sugar, to form a dough.   Along with Tsampa, people also enjoy mutton (rabbit), noodles or drink winter wine for celebration.

 

Folklore and history play an important role in Chinese cultural life and there is an old story about the dumplings served during this festival.  At the legend goes, Zhang Zhongjing was  a renowned medical scientist at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty (25 – 220).  He’d been away from his village for some time and when he came home, he  found his fellow-townsman suffering from coldness and hunger.  More severely, many of them had terrible chilblains in the ears.  To relieve the suffering, On the Winter Festival, he cooked food named Jiao Er with a stuffing of medicine and other ingredients fending off the cold to feed these people, and they recovered soon.  The local saying, that one’s ears will be frozen if he doesn’t have dumplings on the Winter Solstice, is an echo of this historic moment. 

 

The Chinese also share various proverbs or sayings related to the weather during the Winter Solstice.  A few of these include:

·         The Nines of Winter (Shu Jiu 数九):  This is a common custom for the festival. It refers to the nine periods of nine days each following the Winter Solstice. After that, it becomes warmer and spring will be around the corner.  A familiar folk song reminds people about appropriate safety measures during this time of year; People cannot put their hands in cold air in the first and second nine days; walking on ice can be achieved in the third and fourth nine days; willows on the banks start to sprout in the fifth and sixth nine days; ices dissolve and water flows freely in the river in the seventh nine days; in the eighth nine days, wild geese fly back to northern areas, and for the following days, farm cattle start to work in the field.

·         Zhejiang 浙江 (An Eastern, coastal province of China): If it is fine on Winter Solstice, the first month of the lunar year will be rainy; it also works to the contrary.

·         Heilongjiang 黑龙江 (Northeastern China): If it is sunny on Winter Festival, the New Year will be rainy. If it is rainy during Mid-Autumn Festival, Winter Festival will be sunny.

·         Hunan 湖南 (South Central China) and Guangdong (Southern China): If it is cold on Winter Solstice, the New Year will be warm. On the contrary, if it is warm,  the New Year will be cold.

·         Shanxi 山西 (North Central China): If there is northwest wind on Winter Solstice, it will be dry for the next whole spring.

No matter how you and your family choose to celebrate the coming holidays here at home in America, the entire staff at Word4Asia wishes you a very warm, happy and healthy Holiday Season!

 

Patriotic Celebrations in China

by Joe

A beautiful fireworks display is held on Nation’s Day.

Every October, China celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This year marked the 69th anniversary of this event. On the mainland, “Nation’s Day” is given a seven-day celebration (referred to as Golden Week) while in Hong Kong and in Macao, the celebrations are shorter; one day and two days respectively. China’s Martyrs’ Day is closely associated with “Nation’s Day” and actually occurs one day prior to it. In total, this span of time is set aside for the Chinese people to reflect on their country’s significant achievements since the founding.

Nation’s Day has become a popular day for weddings in China.

Nation’s Day
A number of different events help make Nation’s Day special. Beijing, for instance, is draped in flower decorations and festive plant sculptures. This past year, a gigantic flower basket placed in Tian’anmen Square attracted many tourists.
There is also a patriotic flag-raising ceremony at Tian’anmen Square. In 2017, 115,000 people from many Chinese provinces assembled to take part in the festivities. Sporadically, military parades may also be held. Since 1949, there have been 14 such parades. The last one was in 2009 when China celebrated its 60th anniversary.
In recent years, Golden Week has become a very common time for weddings to take place.
Gift giving is also common during this period. As in other Chinese celebrations, the Chinese custom of placing cash in red and gold envelopes continues. Very often, the gifting custom is limited to newlyweds during this celebration. Amounts may range from $45 to $75, most commonly, but in some groups, amounts are much higher, extending to hundreds or thousands of Yuan.

Martyrs’ Day
Many people in China’s history gave their lives to the founding of the nation. China officially recognizes as many as 1.93 million martyrs although the figure may be as much as 10-times higher than this.
Martyrs are officially defined as “people who sacrificed their lives for national independence and prosperity, as well as the welfare of the people in modern times, or after First Opium War (1840-1842).” This special day of recognition was approved by the Chinese legislature on 9/30/2014. The statement made at the time was that Martyrs’ Day is aimed at “publicizing martyrs’ achievements and spirits, and cultivating patriotism, collectivism, and socialist moralities so as to consolidate the Chinese nation’s cohesiveness.”

Modern China’s social values ( click for more detail).

On Martyr’s Day,  the nation also recognizes China’s socialist values which include prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendship. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between how the West defines these terms and the way they are perceived in China. The Chinese think of these as ideals to work toward instead of already accomplished realities.
In addition to Martyrs’ Day, there are two other annual, national memorial days. The others are “Victory Day of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” on September 3 and “National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims” on December 13.

Sources:
http://en.people.cn/90785/8494839.html
https://www.8020sourcing.com
https://www.travelchinaguide.com

 

Word 4 Asia believes that understanding Chinese culture is a very important foundation for building productive relationships in China. For over twenty years, we have helped our clients achieve their goals in China by working closely with the Chinese people and their government. If your plans include a focused effort in China, we hope you’ll contact us. We’d love to share our expertise and be a part of your progress. Contact Gene@word4asia.com to start a dialogue!

 

Business Lessons from a Road Trip

by Joe

Lesson #1: Los Angeles and New York are not America!

Word4Asia Consulting is a true boutique firm. My team and I assist Western nonprofits who wish to work legally in mainland China. We work with the largest network of #nonprofits in our sector and as our reputation grows, so does our client list and vice-versa.

I’m a motorcycle enthusiast. For some years now, I’ve reserved a special ten day period in the summer to get out on America’s backroads for a solitary ride. The goal is to ride roads I have not been on before. I literally take the ‘roads less traveled’. I’ve just completed my latest trek, a 3,995 mile adventure from my home near Los Angeles to northern Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and then back again via Highway 50, the loneliest highway in America. I avoid the interstates whenever feasible.

Using this unique perspective, I’d like to share some business thoughts derived from my hours of reflection. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the read and some truths which will be helpful to you in your arena of #leadership.

 

 

Hear me!  I like large Cities. My wife and I live in Orange County.   I enjoy NBA, NFL, options for eating, beaches, malls and people. Despite the high cost of living, it would be hard to leave.

This past spring, I heard Steve Mnuchin share at a Los Angeles World Affairs event.  He said, “One thing I learned quickly when I took the position is that New York and Los Angeles do not necessarily represent America.”  Riding the roads of our country brings this home mile after mile after mile. Not only do most people not live in LA or New York, they have no desire to do so. They question why my wife and I would spend the money we did for our crackerjack size property when we could easily trade it for acreage. Maybe we’re insane.

On my annual ride, I’m mostly ‘alone’.  I don’t encounter the number of cars I see en route to LAX.  In rural/normal America, there are seldom lines, people are usually ready to begin a conversation and seem quite content to live in a location where demonstrations are not experienced, helicopter chases of stolen vehicles are unseen and the price of gas is a dollar per gallon less than we Angelenos have to pay. Scenic lakes, mountain vistas and bucolic landscapes are still unencumbered by sub-divisions.

Frankly, the only way I know of to fully appreciate this principle is to go ride the roads. Statistics don’t fully make the point. To fully understand the drastic difference, you have to experience the drastic it.

Like America, China is replete with super large cities full of energy and life.  Often colleagues or clients assure me they understand China when what they have seen is Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. China is a big country.   However, as in America, it can be tempting to paint with too broad a brush.   The truth is that 42% of China’s population is still living in rural areas. Over the past twenty years and over 120 trips to China, I have been able to see pretty much all areas.  This includes the most rural regions where roads do not touch. Like America’s small towns and back roads, these places are also China and the people who live there have very real opinions and feelings.

Today, China is undergoing an unprecedented rate of change.  As I think about my experiences there, I have to consider two factors; what I’ve learned on my trips and when I learned it.  To assume that what I learned about China ten years ago is still true would be a mistake.

As thought leaders trusted by others to recommend and guide decision making, we must be sure to remember “Los Angeles and New York are not the sum total of America.” We live in a big, complicated and varied world.  What is appropriate in one location could absolutely be disastrous in a nearby community.

As #consultants let’s discipline ourselves to get off the Interstates, out of the airports and five star hotels and experience, listen to, and actually see the expanse of our targeted space.

Gene Wood is founder and CEO f Word4Asia, a leading non-profit consulting firm headquartered in Orange County, California.  We work with customers who want to legally conduct business in mainland China.  With over twenty-years of continuous operations, we have successfully helped our clients accomplish their objectives.  If your plans include China, we’d be happy to talk with you and provide some insights we hope will be helpful.  You can reach me at gene@word4asia.com.  I’ll look forward to your call!

Hoop Dreams in China: Yao Ming Leads the CBA

by Joe

The Chinese are fanatical in their love of basketball.  The game has been a part of their culture for nearly as long as it’s been a part of ours, as surprising as that may sound.  In fact, Piengiane, a Chinese government official who had seen the fledgling game being played in America, introduced it to China in 1896.  This was the same year that Dr. James Naismith first hung his peach basket in a Massachusetts gym.

In the following century, the game of basketball took on entirely new dimensions as sports became a major industry across many leagues, including the NBA.  The change was revolutionary.

In China, leaders like the PROC’s first Prime Minister, Chou En Lai, and  Chairman Mao Zedon of the People’s Republic of China have used basketball as a way to improve youth fitness and promote teamwork.  Today, the game continues to be supported by China’s highest officials.

Some of the best Chinese players in the NBA have had their start in the CBA, including Wang Zhizhi (Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, Miami Heat),  Mengke Bateer (Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors), Yi Jianlian (Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Texas Legends).  Of course, the greatest of the Chinese players, Yao Ming, previously played with the Houston Rockets for fourteen seasons (1997-2011).  Previously, he played for the Shanghai Sharks.  Yao’s CBA and NBA accomplishments are legendary.

Along the way, the Chinese have thrilled and cheered to the marvelous athleticism of American basketball legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant whose peerless feats astounded all of us and changed the game.

Chinese basketball has its own version of the NBA, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Sports Company, Inc.  It is the pre-eminent professional men’s basketball league in Asia.   However, for Chinese basketball to continue to grow and attract new players and fans, the league needs continued improvement.  To address that need, Yao Ming was unanimously elected president of the CBA.   As president, he has been empowered by the ‘top brass’ of China’s central government to institute changes that will make the game more competitive.  (source: China National Radio.)

Obstacles to a more competitive league include the fact that the CBA has intense rivalries but no conferences. Officiating is seen as inconsistent at best, corrupt at worst. There’s no free agency for Chinese players, who are bound to their clubs. And those clubs struggle to develop youth talent.  When asked about where he sees challenges he’ll need to address, Yao Ming recently said   “The question reminds me of the year 2004, when our first foreign coach of the national team, Del Harris, asked me the same question,” Yao said. “My answer then was, ‘There’s no biggest problem, because there are problems everywhere.’”  Yao has been very busy instituting reforms in the way the CBA approaches both the game and the business of basketball.

The most attention-getting of Yao’s reform measures is the formation of two national teams, each with an independent coaching staff and roster, to alternately represent China at international events through 2018. The move aims to motivate coaches and players by creating competition between the two squads and involving as many young players as possible.  Like in the United States, youth have many alternatives they can pursue.  He recently said, “Basketball faces stiff competition from sectors such as electronics sports in attracting the young generation.  That’s why we will encourage Chinese basketball to continue its cooperation with the education and entertainment sectors to create a platform where kids can enjoy learning different things simultaneously.”   Another related  challenge is that China is still in the early stages of creating a system to develop young players as they mature.  In the United States, our young players benefit from school team participation, club teams, college teams with sharp-eyed recruiters and attractive athletic scholarships.  A very small percentage  ultimately make the NBA at the end of this long development cycle.   About developing China’s version of this system, Yao Ming has said, “”Before we choose the road for development, we need to make sure what fits us most and what prerequisites we already have.”  True to his culture, Yao Ming is proceeding slowly and methodically.

Professional basketball can be as big a business in China as it is in the United States, if not bigger.  However, in various ways, the profit motive has been elusive.   As with all other aspects of life in China, government officials installed by the Communist Party leadership oversee the sport.   Yao has asked for changes so that more power is shared between the government officials and the team owners that have investments in their teams.  As of this time, new changes in how the league runs will provide the owners more voting power on league decisions and more access to marketing deals.  To orchestrate the privatizing of the CBA, Yao Ming will need to demonstrate the same acumen for team work and leadership that he so skillfully employed on the court.  Of course, to invest more, team owners want similar earnings opportunities as their American counterparts have in the NBA.  Under the previous system, CBA franchises were required to transfer sponsorship earnings to the league, who then take a cut and give millions to broadcaster Infront Sports & Media before dividing the remainder between the sides.  Such a system left franchises with little to invest, and many had lobbied for a system like the NBA’s, which sees teams keep most of the sponsorship they earn.

To play at the same level as American athletes, the Chinese will need to continue to sharpen their ability to communicate with each other on the floor verbally and body-language-wise, and to acquire the same passion for the game.  So far, these traits have been lacking.  To improve in this area, Yao Ming has called on his relationships within the NBA.  Foreign (American and European) coaches are participating in NBA sponsored leagues for hundreds of teams in Beijing and Shanghai under the Junior NBA brand. The goal is to get kids playing the game in environments that prioritize creativity and fun over training-focused activity.  It’s not enough to master the drills that incorporate highest level skills.  Chinese players should ‘feel the game’ the way American players do and they must be able to use the skills with the same finesse as American players do.

To help his CBA players learn to think and play more like NBA players, Yao Ming is encouraging the recruitment of American players.   Playing on CBA teams is an excellent opportunity for older NBA players who are extending their careers as well as an opportunity for other players who have not made it to the NBA.   To attract the best players in China as well as American players, the CBA is offering very attractive salaries.  The minimum salary for a rookie in the NBA is $582,180 and in the CBA is $815,615.

Jimmer Fredette, who in his senior year with the Brigham Young Cougars literally attained ‘superstar status’, is a great example.  In his senior year, Fredette was averaging almost  29 points per game, but once in the NBA only played at so-so levels and lasted only five seasons.  Prior to the 2018 season, Yao recruited Fredette to the Shanhai Sharks to prove what can happen to the social fabric of a Chinese team when American players are added to the roster.  As expected, Fredette changed the culture of the team, made it more American with high-fives, butt-slaps and laughs. The team responded, going 30-8 and making the playoffs, with Fredette leading the league at 37.6 points per game. Fans responded as well, leading to sellouts of Sharks games before the season ended in March with a first-round playoff loss. Fredette’s flair for scoring, and enthusiastic embrace of the local culture, sparked something powerful in China, where he soon was provided a shoe deal and his own commercial.

Yao Ming is also working to professionalize the game itself, in terms of the need for a standard set of rules.  David Shoemaker, who just recently stepped down from his role as CEO of NBA China has commented on  Yao’s efforts in this regard and said, “He wants rules that people understand — a draft for players, more movement [via free agency], rules around salaries and salary caps, things that he as an NBA player had exposure to and now has chance to impart on the league.”

Changing the CBA is going to be a challenging game for Yao to win.  Its been reported that CBA owners pushed back on Yao’s first round of recommendations which included splitting the league into two conferences, increasing the number of games (CBA teams play just three months, plus playoffs) and restricting the court time of non-Chinese Asian players.   Yao has also proposed ending the compulsory play on the national team in favor of the invitation model in place in the US.  As it stands now, compulsory play means that the CBA game schedule is interrupted.

No stranger to on-court injuries, Yao Ming is approaching his new opportunity as though it’s still early in the first quarter.  He’s’ going to play strategically and he’s going to give it his all.  If what we have seen from Yao, the Houston Rocket’s Center, is any indication of what Yao, the President of the CBA, has ahead, he’s going to play this game to win.

 

 

Word4Asia is a Southern California-based consulting company helping organizations accomplish their objectives in China.  We have over twenty years of experience and have put many wins on the board during that span.   Founder and CEO, Gene Wood, is passionate about helping clients as well as being an avid basketball fan who can be regularly seen courtside watching his beloved LA Clippers.   If your organization has aspirations in China, or even if you’d just like to talk ‘hoops’, Gene hopes you’ll reach out.  He can be contacted at gene@word4asia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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