Chinese New Year is the New Cool

Feb 02, 2011
*Special to asia!

Red is the new black, lo hei is the new high, and oranges are the only fruit. Welcome an age-old celebration that’s becoming funkier by the year.

In fact, looked in a certain way, Chinese New Year is probably best enjoyed by non-Chinese people. The Chinese do not expect non-Chinese persons to give hong bao, but they will present red packets to almost anyone who visits their home. Singles, too, aren’t supposed to give hong bao. If you can accept the extreme parochialism behind such sentiments, you stand to make yourself a tidy pile of money. Enter houses that have Chinese people in them. Just as Christmas is the time for children, the Lunar New Year is the time for non-Chinese, non-married people.

Just as Christmas is the time for children, the Lunar New Year is the time for non-Chinese, non-married people.


China is now (quite) cool

The world seems increasingly polarised between people who view the ascent of China with excitement, and those with suspicion. What’s undisputed is that the incredible resurgence of the Middle Kingdom has brought much of its history, traditions and practices to the fore. You cannot ignore Chinese New Year because you cannot ignore China. Seven hundred million people rushing home for the festival – and that’s in China alone – is something to be reckoned with. It’s one of the biggest tribal stampedes the world gets to see, every year.

Given this context, it would be interesting to see how Chinese New Year evolves in the coming years. Will it continue, as it seems to have with the Chinese diaspora, to evolve toward the practice of a series of age-old and happy customs, emptied of their original paranoid context? Will it become ever more slick and commercial yet culturally neutral, like Christmas? Will there be more families who view it as a great occasion to get their nails done?

Perhaps it would be better if it were so.


Clarissa would like to wish everyone a very happy Chinese New Year. Especially her long-suffering relatives. Who can take a joke.

clarissa tanClarissa is a journalist who focuses on travel and the arts. As a desperately hopeful author, she writes short stories and is working on a novel. Clarissa won the Spectator’s final Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

Contact Clarissa