China Daily has a nice article on attempts to import the American/Canadian holiday Thanksgiving into China. Some foreign holidays fit well with Chinese culture, like Father’s Day. Christmas of course is starting to become a world holiday in part because it celebrates the modern religion of consumption and in part because people in China know exactly what Christmas looks like, since all the decorations come from China. Maybe the Chinese should have Christmas in August, and then when kids get bored with their new toys by September they can return them and they can be re-sold in the West.
Thanksgiving would seem to be a harder sell, and in fact those suggesting the holiday emphasize the need to thank parents and family as good training in filial piety. American Thanksgiving is supposedly a chance to thank God for the harvest, and God is not a big figure for Chinese officialdom. In fact, however, Thanksgiving is really a family holiday, where the only real celebration is getting together with family and eating a home cooked meal. Not surprisingly, this only became a big American holiday in the 20th century, when seeing family and eating food you had actually cooked were becoming more and more rare. The family re-unification aspect of the holiday might make it something the more mobile contemporary Chinese would like, although of course they already have Spring Festival for that.1 Thanksgiving is also the most anti-commercial of American holidays, and that might also be popular in China today.
The real challenge of course is the food. Some of those interviewed by China Daily are worried that a new holiday would not have “Chinese Characteristics” and would be “blindly following Western concepts” How to make a Chinese Thanksgiving feast? Lots of Americans complain that it is impossible to cook a turkey well.2 Should the Chinese version replace the turkey? With what? What would be the iconic Chinese festive dish that would be accepted among all regions and ethnic groups? Or should the masters of Chinese cuisine take up the challenge and make some sort of Chinese turkey that would taste good and have the all important Chinese characteristics? Recipe suggestions welcomed in comments.
Via China Beat
How odd, I was just blogging about the difficulties of importing this holiday to my native Shanxi. In my opinion, we Chinese will never accept a holiday based around a huge chunk of meat. Most Chinese who have had turkey have had this reaction: 难吃死了！
Just from a carnivorous standpoint, duck isn’t that different from turkey, especially for those of us for whom the skin and dark meat is more than half the fun. Now that American cooks have started getting fancy with turkeys (I turned on NPR for a few minutes yesterday and heard a discussion concerning the best way to coat the turkey with bacon during roasting, and whether the soaked cheesecloth was necessary) the iconic dish is starting to morph anyway, and appears in traditional form really only in pictures. Sweet potatoes, of course, have been in China for centuries. And who needs green bean casserole, anyway? I’m sure the Chinese can come up with some kind of similarly awful comfort food.
I had Thanksgiving with a Chinese family who ordered a turkey from Carrefour, and had a similar reaction: the turkey is dry and not good, and a duck would have been so much better. Unfortunately, their daughter, by attending high school and college in America, had insisted on a Turkey, so her parents begrudgingly made the traditional Thanksgiving feast…but also made Kungpao Shrimp.
While I don’t see the Chinese accepting a holiday based around turkey, which they don’t like, I could certainly see a holiday based around food and family being accepted into China. In fact, if it is put in that context, I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on faster. If I were a businessman, I would start marketing this. If KFC can sell shrimp rolls and barbecue beef, I don’t see why Thanksgiving can’t be about a family eating duck.