Shanghai New Year 2011

My wife and I returned last week from staying in Shanghai for two weeks during Chinese New Year. It is also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival even if in early February it seems much too early for that.

This is the second time we stayed in Shanghai during Chinese New Year.  The last time was a couple of years ago.  I noticed some changes in the festival and the social environment since then.

The economy seems to be of some concern there.  Not a looming crisis, but shadows on the wall at least.  The cost of housing – typically condos – in Shanghai and other major cities in China has risen out of sight for most people, so much so that popular movies even comment on the problem.  This is compounded by the one-child policy which led to a preponderance of boys.  Girls of marriageable age now apparently expect that their prospective husband comes with home ownership or… next!

Year of the Rabbit

Inflation in general, especially for mid-level items and up, has risen steeply.  The prices of many goods are no lower and sometimes higher than the same kind of item in Greater Vancouver where we live.   In fact, we heard back in Canada that tourists from China come to Vancouver and buy linens, for example, made in China that are cheaper here and then ship them home…

Part of the reason is apparently the rapid increase in middle-men in China, of all descriptions, from legitimate distributors to corrupt officials, all with their hands out for a piece of the action; the action which so far has made so many Chinese rich.

Food however remains relatively inexpensive.

Typical Shanghai view in the morning.

You know there may be a problem when Chinese government officials make a point of promising in their New Year’s messages that inflation and the economy will be kept under control in the coming year.

The New Year’s celebration itself has changed too.  There is the wildly noisy and bright fireworks displays of New Year’s Eve until long into the early hours of course. That isn’t different from our last visit and adds to the celebratory atmosphere all around of  relatives and friends bearing gifts, banquets, TV specials and other activities during the New Year’s season.

A Shanghai face...

On the fifth day of the Chinese New Year is where I notice a big change from two years ago.  This is the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth or prosperity, of money basically.

In the intervening days from New Year’s itself, the ongoing sound of fireworks had abated to almost nothing.  But on the fifth night all hell broke loose.

Every entrepreneur and would-be entrepreneur in this city of almost 20 million people famed for their business acumen and apparently afraid of losing it paid up to thousands of dollars for the necessary fireworks to propitiate the God of Mammon.  And they were all exploded on the fifth night for hours and hours.


New Year's fireworks reflected on neighbouring buildings

The fireworks weren’t like little firecrackers we might hear locally on Halloween.  No, these are the artillery, the cruise missiles and the bunker busters of modern firework technology all set off in what seemed like a manic cacophony.  As the night wore on, I realized that this was the sound of fear and superstition.

I personally feel that it’s bad luck to be superstitious but people of many cultures can be so.  It’s a human trait which I think comes with associating behaviours or things with random beneficial or harmful events.  It’s very like Skinner’s experiments in behavioural psychology with pigeons.


Taking in the fireworks on New Year's Eve

But the Chinese, as a culture, seem especially prone to it, even the most educated and scientific.  And perhaps especially the business class.

On this night, we tried to go to bed.  But the onslaught was unrelenting.  I watched pale light coming into the darkened bedroom from city lights flicker and tremble with the shake-up in the skies.

Burning incense on New Year's Day at Shanghai's Jade Buddha Temple.

There were roaring, blasting, explosive, percussive cracks; rapid artillery-like barrages; pelting, whining, moaning, zooming eruptions; rocketing, detonating, blaring slams of noise; whistling and thundering gusts of bombardment which mixed and whirled and crashed their noise along the sky.

After hours, this all finally started to dwindle, then revive to almost former levels, then slacken again until, after a few long cycles of this there was finally relative silence.  You could hear now the milder accompaniment of a city full of car alarms going off from all the vibration.

As you can probably tell, I spent a lot of my time unable to sleep trying to come up with the appropriate descriptors….

People still live in this gentrified area in the midst of boutiques

So we had a memorable time in Shanghai, more it turns out for the enjoyable times spent with family and friends and touring about the city.  Got some interesting photos too.


Explore posts in the same categories: China, Culture, Photography

2 Comments on “Shanghai New Year 2011”

  1. MDW Says:

    Great post, fencer. I like learning about other cultures from something other than the TV – insights from real people that have a connection.

    Love the photos too. You don’t take the typical travel shots that are static and posed. They illustrate your experience very nicely.


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Good to hear from you…

    Your new blog is a pleasure to visit.


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