Monthly Archives: November 2012

Mid-Autumn Festival Fireworks Extravaganza

How do Chinese people celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day? There are gatherings with family to exchange small gifts, eat moon cakes, recite poetry and admire the full moon. And of course any festival calls for pyrotechnics.

For 1000 years after the Chinese invented gun powder, they used it only for making firecrackers and fireworks. Ever since ancient times, shooting off firecrackers and fireworks has been associated with festive occasions. Traditionally, Chinese people believed that the sound of firecrackers drove away ghosts and evil spirits (bad luck) and invited good luck and material wealth.

People still set off firecrackers in front of their homes or places of business. Sophisticated city dwellers do so because it’s a fun and noisy way to celebrate special events: birth of a child, a marriage, an anniversary, being accepted into college, getting a promotion at work or a new job, opening a new business, opening the doors for business for the first time after Spring Festival holiday. People who recently arrived in Shanghai from less developed parts of China may still harbor the ancient superstition. Every day we hear the sound of long string of firecrackers going off in our neighborhood. If there ever were any ghosts or evil spirits lurking here, they’ve long since scattered to quieter parts of Shanghai.

Mid-Autumn Festival, New Year’s Eve (December 31) and Spring Festival are special occasions that call for professional fireworks shows. We knew that there had to be a fireworks show somewhere in Shanghai. A quick internet search turned up the 12th Annual International Fireworks Exhibition at Century Park. We rode the subway a few stops from our neighborhood and joined a huge throng of people gathered under a magnificent full moon to take in the show.

The September 30 show was the first of a three-night “Music Fireworks Display” exhibition. A jury selected six fireworks show companies from around the world to compete. This year’s competitors were companies based in Belgium, Canada, China, Italy, Poland and Spain. All six shows were assembled in China using Chinese-made fireworks.

The September 30 show featured two 30-minute exhibitions: A Tour of the Aurora Borealis, presented by Apogee Fireworks Company, Montreal, Canada (later announced winner of the competition’s Silver Medal) and a Mid-Autumn Festival-related myth, Chang’e Flies to the Moon, presented by a Chinese company. Huge numbers of pyrotechnic devices comprised each of the two shows. Sophisticated software controlled ignition of the complex array of pyrotechnic devices and synchronized the visual effects with a recorded soundtrack into an awesome barrage of color and sound. Even though the sound system was powerful, explosions often drowned out the music.

Mid-Autumn Festival & National Day

September 30, was Mid-Autumn Festival in China. The festival is harvest-related and reaches back 3,000 years into the mists of Chinese history. Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the Chinese lunar calendar’s eighth month. (The full moon occurs on the 15th day of each lunar month.) On the solar calendar, the festival date varies from year to year and can fall between early September and early October.

In 2006 the Government of the People’s Republic of China listed Mid-Autumn Festival as an “intangible cultural heritage”. Since 2008 it has been a Chinese public holiday. Along with Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Winter Solstice, Mid-Autumn Festival is one of China’s most important festivals. (Winter Solstice Festival is connected with the yin/yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. Families gather to acknowledge the shortest day of the year, after which positive energy flows in as daylight hours become longer.)

October 1 was National Day commemorating October 1, 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). With establishment of the PRC, China ended wide-spread civil war which escalated throughout the 1800s before the official fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. Chaotic times before establishment of the PRC are still fresh in the country’s collective memory and October 1, 1949, marks the return to a unified country.

This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day combined to create a long holiday. All across China from Sunday, September 30, through Sunday, October 7, schools, businesses and government offices were closed. Since one of the five days would have been a workday, the central government moved the working day to the previous Saturday, when all schools, businesses, and government offices were exceptionally open. (When they don’t have to go to work or school, many people like to shop, so retail shops rarely close.) Chinese people call a nationwide long holiday such as this a “Golden Week”.

During Golden Week many people return to their hometowns to reunite with family. Many people also travel to other parts of China or to foreign countries. Shops, restaurants and all forms of tourist facilities remain open. Shanghai Tourism Administration reported that the city handled more than 7.91 million incoming tourists. All forms of transportation were jammed: 1.39 vehicles came into Shanghai through expressway toll stations, 1.63 million vehicles left; 550,000 people passed through immigration at Shanghai’s two international airports. All forms of transportation are packed.

One of the government’s objectives in establishing Mid-Autumn Festival as a public holiday was to increase consumption. Shanghai Tourism Administration estimated that this year’s incoming tourists’ spent 7 billion Yuan (US$1.1 billion). People returning to their hometowns also contribute to increased consumption. They return home bearing armloads of gifts for parents and relatives. Check out this link to picture the crush of people at popular tourist sites:

Tom and I enjoyed the stretch of fine days during Golden Week to take a break from work and explore Shanghai and the nearby ancient city of Suzhou.