Christmas in China

Here is an an al-acarte of stories and posts related to Christmas in China. And as we say in Chinese, Shengdan Kuai le (圣诞快乐), which means, well Merry Christmas. The Chinese word for Christmas is Shengdan Jie (圣诞节), which literally translated means Holy Birth Festival.

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From The Economist: Oh What Fun: Christmas with Chinese Characteristics

Cities across China blink with fairy lights, fancy hotels flaunt trees and tinsel, and glossy magazine covers display festive recipes and table settings. “Joy up!” reads a sign (in English) on three illuminated trees by a shopping mall in Beijing. The Chinese are doing just that.

From the Atlantic: Why Christmas is Huge in China

There’s a joke going around: “Santa Claus was descending into China from the sky. Due to the heavy smog, he fell to the ground, but no one dared help him up. While he was still lying in the snow, his bag was ransacked for presents, and his reindeer and sleigh taken away by the chengguan. Therefore, no Christmas this year.”

While some of the humor needs context—there are digs at China’s notorious bystander effect and much-despised urban-management officials, chengguan—the larger meaning is clear. Ironic jokes about Santa’s routine being disrupted with uniquely Chinese characteristics are a sure sign that, yes, they do know it’s Christmas time in communist China.

From the Guardian: Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.

And a reminder of my previous posts on Christmas in China: 

The Great Manchurian Scarf Incident — an account of attempting to celebrate Christmas in small Manchurian (northeast China) town.

Some Thoughts on “Ping An Ye” (Silent Night)  — on discovering that the Chinese word for Christmas Eve is “The Silent Night”

The Silent Night — more stories of Christmas Eve in China

Santa on a Scooter — What’s not to love about that?

And finally, a few links to article by Chinese Christians about Christmas in China, from Chinese Church Voices

Preparing for Christmas — a Chinese pastor asks his congregation to make the proper preparations.

Villagers of the Chinese Christmas Village Don’t Know What Christmas Is — a Christian blogger responds to news reports about Yiwu, the town where most of the world’s Christmas decorations are made.

Merry Christmas!!!

(photo: Christmas program at Gangwashi Protestant Church in Beijing, 2006)

A Ten-Year Visa!

This afternoon the good folks at FEDEX delivered a small package to my house, and it wasn’t even a Christmas present. In fact, it was something better — my passport, with a brand-spanking-new TEN-YEAR, MULTIPLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA to China.

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I first got wind of this new visa from a report in the Wall Street Journal back on November 11, 2014. It came during President Obama’s trip to China:

President Barack Obama unveiled the new visa arrangements in a speech to business executives in Beijing. According to both governments, the length of tourist and business visas would be extended for each country’s citizens to 10 years from the current one-year limit. Student visas would be extended from one year to five years.

I must admit that my first reaction was skepticism; it just sounded too good to be true. But since I have a trip to China planned for the end of January, and the visa in my passport was set to expire the day BEFORE my departure, I figured I was going to find out.

In the three decades that I lived in China, I saw numerous iterations of visa requirements. When I first went as a teacher in 1984, we only got work visas for one semester at a time. I guess the thought of having a foreigner in the country for a year at a time was just too overwhelming. And, for extra fun (and red tape) we had to get exit visas in order to leave the country. The government gave us permission to be there, but they also granted (hopefully) permission to leave. This was especially harrowing if there was a family or medical emergency that required a swift departure from the country. I can remember more than one late night call to the local police asking for permission for a colleague or a teammate to leave the country. These ended sometime in the 1990’s.

Tourist visas have never had a validity of more than one year, and only in the past 5 or 6 years have multiple-entry visas become standard issue.

And now, suddenly, it’s ten years!

As I do my happy dance, I am also chuckling at the turn of events — I lived in China for nearly 3 decades on 1 year visas. Now that I no longer live in China, I have a 10 year visa!

Now, some of you may be thinking, “hey, how do I get one of those?”

Well, the easy answer is….just apply. It seems that the 10 year tourist visa is now the standard issue visa.

One thing I discovered in the process is that even though US residents are instructed to apply at the Chinese consulate that serves their region, the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC can issue visas to applicants from anywhere.

I used the Washington-based passport/visa service called Allied Passport, and I’d definitely recommend them. I called in advance to ask if these visas were real and they told me they were. I sent my passport off, and had it back within a week.

Here is the Q&A about this visa on their site:

Do I qualify for a China 10 year visa?
Answer: You must hold a USA passport and apply as a tourist or business person. Your passport must not expire within 12 months and you must have at least two blank visa pages. If you do receive a 10 year visa it will allow for you to stay in China for up to 60 days per visit.

There isn’t a 10 year visa option on the application form, how should I apply?
Answer: In section 2.2, please mark “other”. The Chinese Visa Office in Washington issues validity at their discretion. Obtaining a ten year visa is likely, but is not guaranteed. If you qualify for this visa they will automatically issue you a ten year visa no matter which box you check.

I want a 10 year China visa but don’t have a trip planned. I see an itinerary is required, what is this about?
Answer: The Chinese Embassy still requires a flight itinerary with your application. However, the itinerary does not have to be a confirmed or purchased ticket. What you can do is go online and hold a flight reservation, or simply go on a booking website such as Expedia or an airline’s website and make a tenative flight itinerary. The printout must include:

A) The applicant’s first and last name.
B) Specific dates and the Chinese cities you’ll be flying in and out of.

As of now the dates of your itinerary must be within 90 days of your initial depature and you cannot be in China for for than 60 days at a time.

In my case, I was able to submit an airline ticket and a hotel reservation. The company told me that it was better to have a hotel reservation as opposed to a letter of invitation from a friend. Their rationale was that an invitation letter to visit a friend might incline them to issue a different kind of visa. I just made a hotel booking through Booking.com (one that can be cancelled, of course).

Be sure to check TOURISM in Section 2.1, even if you are going to visit someone.

Finally, what if your passport expires within the then years of the visa validity? Here is the note that was stapled into my passport:

visanote

In other words, the visa does not expire with the passport!

 

Escaping the Cities

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the Chinese government sent millions of city dwellers “down to the countryside,” many of them students and intellectuals. The purpose was ostensibly to have them learn about hard work and revolutionary fervor from the peasants. It was also a way to get them out of the cities so they wouldn’t (continue to) cause trouble. When the policies began to change in the 1980’s, many of these “sent down youth” were rehabilitated and allowed to return to the cities.

In the 1990’s, as China’s economy was taking off, it was the peasants themselves who began moving to the cities. They were needed as the labor force to build the urban metropolises that we see today. This urbanization has seen a caused demographic shift. In 1984, the year I went to China, 80% of the population lived in the countryside, and 20% lived in the cities. By 2011 the ratio was 50/50.

To be sure, China’s cities offer jobs and opportunities that don’t exist in the countryside. But as the cities grow (Beijing is now 20+ million), many urbanites are beginning to lose interest in the busy-ness of life, not to mention the traffic and pollution. Their response is to get away from it all and voluntarily go “down to the countryside.”

China File recently posted a short film, titled “Down to the Countryside,” about an urban family that made this choice: Here’s the description:

The world has heard much of late about the scale and scope of China’s mass migration from the poor rural countryside to its booming cities. Some think the number of these migrant workers will soon reach some 400 million souls. They have created massive new urban megaplexes like Chongqing, which now has a population of close to 30 million.

But such precipitous, rapid, and massive urbanization inevitably causes reactions. And in this beautifully shot short film by Leah Thompson and Sun Yunfan, we are introduced to one urban “back-to-the-lander,” Ou Ning, who for all the understandable reasons has moved his family from Beijing to the countryside in the storied Huizhou region of Anhui Province. The film is a lovely evocation of how urban malaise has led one city intellectual to forsake the increasingly polluted, expensive, hectic, and crowded capital in search of a quieter, cleaner, and more sylvan setting for his family.

Whether he will prove a harbinger of things to come in China is as yet uncertain. But what does seem beyond question is that as China’s enormous and environmentally hazardous cities grow ever larger and more polluted, Ou Ning’s pioneering escape will become a tempting model for many others to follow. —Orville Schell

Here is the film. (note: if you receive this post by email, click here to view the film.)

Related Post:

Where Have All the Villages Gone? 

 

Beijing Time-lapse

I just ran across this amazing time-lapse video of Beijing, and it is making me seriously homesick. I think I can recognize and have been to every spot in the film. And I of course have to remind myself that the sky doesn’t look like that every day!

If you haven’t been to Beijing, maybe this will make you want to go. If you have, perhaps it will make you miss it as well. And if you do live there now, consider yourself blessed!

(note: if you receive this post by email and cannot view the video, please click here.)

Related Posts:

“Live the Language” – a Great Beijing Video

Teeny Tiny Beijing

Beijing, Like You’ve Never Seen it Before

 

Happy Constitution Day! Don’t Mention the Constitution!

China just celebrated a brand new holiday: Constitution Day (December 4). The government has put forth this holiday as a way to signal it’s commitment to “rule of law,” something that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been promoting with much gusto as of late.

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Image source: Xinhua

Here’s what the Global Times had to say about the holiday:

“Constitution Day, which falls on December 4, was set up by the country’s top legislature on November 1 this year after the initiative was proposed in a key meeting of the CPC in October on comprehensively advancing the rule of law.

It is the first time in CPC history that an entire plenary session was devoted to address the rule of law as the ruling party’s policy.”

It then went on to say that nationwide activities were held to promote the Constitiution.

However, discussing the Constitution online was apparently NOT one of those activities. In fact, according the site Fei chang Dao, Baidu banned users from establishing discussion forums related to the Constitution.

In other words, “Happy Constitution Day! Don’t mention the Constitution!”

For some reason all I could think of was the classic Fawlty Towers episode where Basil Fawlty, in a failed attempt not to offend his German guests, reminds people “not to mention the war.”

In case you’re intersested, you can read the Chinese Constitution here.