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Heart of the holidays

Updated: 2016-02-15 11:19
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

In China, Christmas is mostly for the urban youth, who have stripped it of its religious coating and secularized it to the point that it is an urbane celebration of romantic love. As a matter of fact, most Western holidays come with a built-in vogue or sophistication.

The real feud between East and West probably took place over a century ago, when China's door was forced open by Western powers and Chinese intellectuals advocated westernization as a means to beef up our nation's ability to compete. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar and Western measurements was both an acknowledgment of their influence and an effort to assimilate into the world order.

Nowadays, we see them as the international standards.

But had China been as powerful as the United States, naysayers of the metric system and other outside influences would have wielded more clout. For a full century, we have had two systems running in parallel.

When I was a kid, my grandmother would use traditional Chinese measurements and the lunar calendar. New Year's Day-Jan 1-was adamantly dismissed. The week leading up to the Chinese New Year, on the other hand, was so rich with rituals that I never managed to figure out which day was for what activities.

While nobody uses the Chinese time concept of shichen, equal to two hours, the Chinese unit for area mu is very much alive and not in danger of losing out to hectare.

When I write for an American readership, I often convert mu to hectares and then to acres, which would be unimaginably convoluted without a calculator. But it reminds me of the give and take of every system, calendar and measurement.

The first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), unified the then-disparate languages and measurements of smaller kingdoms. He did it with an iron fist, killing countless and brutalizing local cultures into submission.

The upside to his tyrannical rule is the convenience we enjoy today in terms of communicating within the vast territory. He could not wipe out all the dialects though-something only television and bullet trains are capable of.

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