Christmas in China: celebrations and controversies

Zhuhai, a city in south China, bordering Macau, is ready for Christmas. Shops, malls and restaurants are decked up and large Christmas trees greet visitors at hotel lobbies. Late one warm night last week, the city’s Bar Street was bustling with music and the loud chatter of people eating and drinking under trees decorated with pretty Chinese lights and lanterns.

The night before at Zhongshan, another city in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the sights were similar with Christmas and New Year’s gaiety marking the roads and restaurants all around.

Beijing too is ready, and after two-days of snow last week, it seems particularly prepared for a potentially white Christmas.

December 25 is not a holiday in China. Government offices, schools are closed but walking down the Wangfujing street with its glittering malls and designer shops, Christmas seems to be as much as part of modern Chinese culture as anywhere else.

China is also the hub of manufacturing ornaments and decorations related to Christmas. Much of these are manufactured in the eastern Chinese city of Yiwu, located from 300 km from Shanghai.

“In the city with less than a million population, there are 750 companies specialized in making or selling Christmas decorations. But with rising labor costs and the weak European currency, what is it like for these Chinese companies doing business with foreigners this year?” China Daily reported recently.

The article added that most foreign buyers place their Christmas orders in the summer or early fall, so by this time of the year, majority of the Christmas products are well on their way from Chinese factories to wholesalers all over the world.

“Competition is fierce this year. There were 400 some companies doing Christmas products in 2010. It increased to 500 some in 2011 and now there are around 750 companies. So everyone on an average gets a smaller slice of the total pie,” Chen Jinlin, secretary general of Yiwu Christmas Products Association, told China Daily.

Brazil is now Yiwu’s number one Christmas export destination, accounting for more than 12% of the total export. Export to Russia has been increasing dramatically, up over 300% compare with last year. Domestic consumption is also increasing. “Last year 10% of our sales are from local consumption, this year it accounts for 20% of our sales,” Wang Jinjing, owner of Xinyuan Christmas, said.

Intriguingly amid all this celebration of the spirit and manufacturing of Christmas goods, there’s another angle to the festival in China – Beijing doesn’t recognise the Vatican and has its own Catholic church.

China and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taipei, capital of Taiwan.

According to AFP, about 5.7 million Chinese belong to the state-run Catholic Church, as per official figures. Independent estimates say 12 million Chinese Catholics worship in unauthorised churches and are loyal to the pope.

Most recently, the two clashed over the stripping of a bishop appointed by the Vatican of his post.

The Vatican slammed China’s state-run Catholic Church late November for stripping a bishop of his title, insisting the move “has no legal value whatsoever” and the prelate will remain in his post.

Chinese Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai in July, with Pope Benedict XVI’s approval. He was stripped of his title by the state-backed Church after announcing his split from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) during the ceremony.

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