An ever-changing Spring Festival tradition

Updated 2017-01-26 10:23:15 China Daily
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Farmers look at clothes at a market in Zaozhuang city's Shanting district, in East China's Shandong province, before the Spring Festival.Li Zongxian / For China Daily

Farmers look at clothes at a market in Zaozhuang city's Shanting district, in East China's Shandong province, before the Spring Festival.Li Zongxian / For China Daily

As she admired her tableware collection, Gao Shumei picked up one of the bowls and traced her fingers over the Chinese character fu, meaning good fortune, which was printed upon it.

"I buy new bowls and chopsticks every year for Chinese New Year. It is said that new tableware will bring bliss and longevity to the family," said the 75-year-old.

Gao lives in a remote village on the Loess Plateau in Gansu province. This year her granddaughter bought the family's new tableware online. It was chosen and ordered in minutes, but it has not always been so easy.

Just three decades ago, bartering was a much more common practice, Gao said.

In the late 1970s, when few Chinese traveled extensively, villagers had to wait for traveling vendors, who would hawk their goods from village to village and often walk for miles in between.

Each salesman would make their own sound, usually using a bell or a whistle, to alert the village to what they were selling.

"I still get excited when I hear a rattle drum. I catch myself, even now, glancing at the window expecting to see the peddler arriving," Gao recalled.

One year, she swapped a bag of grain grown on her family lot for a pair of blue-striped porcelain bowls. These bowls, however, were not meant for the annual reunion dinner.

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A country market for Spring Festival purchases in Dalian, Liaoning province throngs with customers.Liu Debin / For China Daily

A country market for Spring Festival purchases in Dalian, Liaoning province throngs with customers.Liu Debin / For China Daily

"We used them on the ancestral shrine," Gao said.

During the Spring Festival, Chinese traditionally pay their respects to their ancestors and pray for a prosperous year ahead. The practice continues in some parts of China, even to this day.

"The blue-and-white bowls would be filled with a rich, meaty noodle dish, and left on the shrine as an offering," said Gao, adding that the family could only afford one such hearty meal per year.

As China's policy of reform and opening-up began, so did three decades of rapid growth. Per capita net income of rural households, such as Gao's, shot up to more than 11,000 yuan (,600) in 2015, from 130 yuan in 1978.

When Gao's son got married in the 1990s, his wife, Wang Shenglan, took over the responsibility of getting new tableware for the annual family dinner and bought new bowls and chopsticks at the county fair.

"She didn't have to wait for the peddler, but she did have to trek several miles to the county seat and the market," Gao said.

This annual shopping trip had to be planned ahead of time, and Wang would often make her new year purchases a month before the festival. "If it was a sunny day I would ride to the market on a tricycle," she said. The first year she bought six of everything, remarking: "Six is an auspicious number, you know."

This year, Gao's granddaughter Liu Lijuan took charge. The set she bought for her grandmother had been made in Fujian, a costal province thousands of miles away, but it only took a few days to be delivered.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the whole family will sit down together and tuck into the seafood that Liu also ordered online.

"Compared with the old days, it's like celebrating Spring Festival every day," Gao said.

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