I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day and not just because I couldn’t find anyone to share it with! I’ve always seen it as a fabricated ‘commercial’ celebration – more about making money than about lovers.
Living here in China, I should be able to escape such Western customs, right? Wrong! Valentine’s Day is big here in China, especially amongst the youngsters, who seem to soak up anything Western.
This is highlighted by a story on the People’s Daily Online titled Chinese fall hard for imported holiday of Val’s Day. A quote from the article:
Pictures of young couples in Mao suits, holding the little red book with quotations from the paramount leader and carefully keeping each other at arm’s length, were the stereotypical images of China as a land without romance.
Thirty years later, the stereotype is no more. Young Chinese spend lavishly on roses, chocolates and candlelight dinners with their sweethearts.
Signs of Valentine’s Day are everywhere here. My students asked me what I was buying my wife. There are signs in shop windows, roses for sale, etc. When we went shopping, we were given free roses with our purchases!
It’s interesting to see such enthusiasm for Western celebrations here. Christmas is another holiday that’s big here (although they do it a little differently), but that’s another story for another time.
With Valentine’s Day, what really caught my eye were several side stories.
Interestingly, Valentine’s Day used to be translated as Mistress Day!
until the 1980s, love was not a topic for open discussion among the Chinese, who translated "Valentine’s Day" into "Lover’s Day" or even "Mistress’ Day", with a mixed feeling of curiosity about this Western novelty and a disdain for public exposure of private life.
I think the article is saying this translation is due to disdain of Western ways. However, it goes on to briefly mention the rise of keeping mistresses in China, since the opening up of the economy and the increase in corruption.
I find that many Chinese people are quick to believe the worst about Westerners, especially about issues related to sex. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if infidelity was as bad, if not worse, in China than it is in the West. It’s just they don’t talk about it in China.
Businessmen are expected to go out drinking with their colleagues and potential business partners here. It’s part of doing business in China. They often end up in Karaoke’s parlors. I’m sure it’s mostly innocent, but it’s fairly well known that in some of these places there are young girls who make their living ‘entertaining’ such businessmen.
When it comes to actually keeping a mistress, ie giving them an apartment, paying them a salary etc, I think that’s probably much more common in China than in the West. Of course all of this is just speculation on my behalf. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has any evidence!
Speaking of evidence, it seems that the use of private detectives is also on the rise.
In several cities, private detectives (whose work remains illegal in China), are asked by desperate housewives to tail husbands who shopped and dined with mistresses over the holiday.
So there is also a dark side to Valentine’s Day in China.
Public Intimacy In China
The story also mentions that intimacy in public was a no-no in the past.
Thirty years ago, no Chinese couple would show the least intimacy in public and even holding hands was taboo.
China is a country undergoing rapid change in many respects and public intimacy is one them.
The Chinese are still very reserved compared to the West, but I’ve noticed a real change over the last six years. When I first arrived in China in 2002, you may have seen a few people holding hands, but that was all. Now, I see youngsters openly hugging and kissing in public.
I often wonder what the older folk, who grew up in the ‘keeping each other at arm’s length‘ days make of it all.
Renting A Valentine
To show how important Valentine’s Day has become to young people in China, here’s another story about a college student who advertised for a Valentine.
"A boy or girl student is wanted for Valentine’s Day: 20 yuan (about 2.67 U.S. dollars) per hour for a movie, two yuan (nearly 0.3 dollar) for a hug and five yuan (nearly 0.7 dollar) for a kiss."
The male student doesn’t seem to be fussy about whether his valentine is male or female. He just doesn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day alone.
I’m not quite sure they’ve got the right idea about Valentine’s Day! But then maybe it’s just because the Chinese sometimes see things differently. The story goes on to discuss the issue of renting girlfriends to take home to meet your parents.
Xia Xueluan, professor of sociology at Peking University said, "it’s understandable to rent a girlfriend to comfort parents. But it’s inappropriate to rent a lover for Valentine’s Day. It will only degrade social conduct."
Understandable to rent a girlfriend to comfort parents? In the West, that only happens in the movies. Like I said, sometimes the Chinese see things differently. Making parents happy is very important in China and there seems to be greater pressure by parents to find a nice person to marry. Still…
Anyway, I’ll leave you with a quote regarding a boy who did rent a girlfriend for Valentine’s Day:
"At first there was a little embarrassment. But an hour later we got familiar and everything went well," he said. They had dinner and went to watch a movie. "It felt much better than staying at home lonely," he said. But he wouldn’t say whether he got to kiss the girl before the night was over.
That’s all for this Valentines Day in China…