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People's Daily Online>>Opinion

A reality check on lunar new year

By John Coulter (China Daily)

14:07, January 31, 2012

Foreigners may scratch their heads in wonder at the world's largest annual human migration, as more than 300 million Chinese people travel to and fro to celebrate the lunar new year.

I still remember my first experience of Spring Festival travel. In 1982 I took a four-day train ride from Beijing to the Gansu-Xinjiang border to take a jeep to a new oilfield in the Qaidam Basin. Even then it was bedlam. I can clearly recall a woman at Luoyang station thrusting her baby at me through the window so she could wrestle her way onto the train.

Thirty years have passed, but Spring Festival is still the same for many Chinese people: head home, reunite with family, share food and exchange gifts, and then try to get a ticket back to work. Perhaps the more people change the more they want reassurance that some things remain the same.

Three decades ago, a watch, a bike and a radio were the prerequisites for a wedding. A "Seagull" watch of 50 yuan ($8) or a "Flying Pigeon" bicycle of about 100 yuan was enough to prove the owner's wealth and taste.

Now an imported luxury watch is de rigueur for many. Shanghai now has a "Millionaires' Exhibition" simply promoting top-shelf items that might be the playthings of millionaires, from extravagant jewelry to private helicopters. But even the designer stores in the big cities do not seem based on the reality of most ordinary people. Many micro-bloggers have complained that the red envelopes containing lucky money that they gave to children this year were "bigger" than those of last year and that the lucky money is becoming a big burden. One 10-month-old baby in Changchun was reported to have received more than 20,000 yuan of lucky money from his grandparents and other relatives during the Spring Festival.

So the lunar new year and returning home raises the question: How to convey love? What are life's priorities? Is it the material world, measured in dollars and brand names, or in the intangible feelings for loved ones, for the deep bonds that last a lifetime from generation to generation? While the latter seems right to many, the commercial media convey the message that it is the former that is the key to happiness.

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wende at 2012-01-3171.255.83.*
It is unfortunate that Chinese are beholden to wealth as expression of love. Although this trend started in the west long ago, Chinese should not be led down this path. Local officials and cultural group should constantly exhort the long lasting virtues of Chinese. Material things will last a few moments, but the warmth of loving care will be remembered for the longest time.

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