Opinion | The whitewashing of China from Chinese New Year
"Wishing everyone around the world a happy and healthy #YearoftheRabbit and #YearoftheCat. The United States enters this Lunar New Year optimistic that we can join our friends and allies around the world to create a better future for all."- US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken wrote on Twitter. While at first glance the message may seem a generic festival greeting, as has been seen many times, the tone of this message was in fact passive aggressive.
It was widely noted that first, it was narrowed to include only "friends and allies" and then secondly, all mention of China was excluded from it, either directly or indirectly, as if the message were not geared to them. The image which accompanied the tweet, which came with Hongbao envelopes, was also generically red, with no Chinese characters or inscriptions upon them. Anthony Blinken had effectively marked a major Chinese occasion, by effectively ensuring it did not mention China at all.
Likewise, many anti-China Twitter accounts also took the opportunity to also celebrate "Lunar New Year" while excluding the concept of China from it altogether, deliberately. While of course it is true that the Lunisolar calendar is celebrated in other states, such as Vietnam and South Korea, and thus it has gained the name "Lunar New Year", it is nonetheless true that an aspect of identity politics has been added to it with the goal of removing association from China, the country that invented it. Having lived in Hong Kong myself I experienced this phenomenon directly, with Taiwan also doing the same thing.
While for the above locations this trend is not new, the rise of anti-China sentiment in the west has marked the emergence of a more concerted campaign to remove the "Chinese" from Chinese New Year, which has marked the more widespread usage of the terminology "Lunar New Year" in official discourse. As seen with the Blinken tweet, this is most obvious at the highest levels of US officialdom, with past comparisons having been posted on Twitter showing how the US had no qualms about celebrating "Chinese New Year" in the past and wishing China well, but subsequently does now.
In fact, it is now official US policy not to wish China "well" on anything. When the China Eastern Airlines disaster occurred last year, the US did not send any official condolences beyond the ambassadorial level. This is because any perceived goodwill towards China or attempt at "humanization" is seen as a soft-power gift to China and contravenes the new narrative of framing the country as an enemy state. This subsequently coincides with the bid to also, in favor of other countries diplomatically, the bid to now separate Chinese New Year from the notion of China itself, and for that matter even talk of Chinese people themselves celebrating it.
This logic of association of course works both ways. While good things such as Chinese New Year should "not be associated with China", on the other hand bad things, such as the covid-19 pandemic, are actively associated with China. Thus, it is apparently not correct to praise a cultural practice as being "Chinese" but it is perfectly okay to scapegoat the country for a pandemic and to spread conspiracy theories about its origin. This goes to show how the US government actively manipulates public discourse to either associate or disassociate things to its own advantage.
For China's people themselves, this is gravely insulting. Not only did they create the Lunisolar calendar, but they are the single largest country that celebrates it and it is the biggest event of the year, for 1.4 billion people (not including the worldwide Chinese diaspora). Yet apparently, that should be played down or dismissed just to quell the sensitivities of countries who have adapted this practice, but have a problem acknowledging where it came from.
While it is of course true on the other hand that festivals such as "Christmas" do not belong to a specific country or nationality, and can be open to whosoever seeks to celebrate it, at the same time the Chinese New Year debate is actively being fuelled by the hatred and phobia of a certain country, and in turn official actors are now encouraging this behavior. Whatever happened to the old dictum Anti-China voices claim to adhere to: "Love the Chinese people, hate the government", yet again the mask slips and it becomes scathingly apparent that in fact it is all things Chinese that are hated, including Chinese New Year, which of course has nothing to do with Communism whatsoever.
The author is a well-seasoned writer and analyst with a large portfolio related to China topics, especially in the field of politics, international relations and more. He graduated with an Msc. in Chinese Studies from Oxford University in 2018.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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