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Happy “Double Nine”!

Celebrate Chongyang Festival in style and learn how China gained a Senior Citizens' Day


It is well known that the Chinese have respect for their elders, and today is another occasion to show it. We are now celebrating the Chongyang Festival (重阳节, Chóng Yáng Jié) because today’s date  falls on the ninth of September in the lunar calendar. Also called the Double Ninth Festival, it is perhaps one of the most ancient holidays in China—first celebrated over 2,000 years ago in the Warring States Period (475B.C.-221B.C.). The name Chongyang refers to the concurring of two Yang, as “nine” is traditionally believed to be a number of yang (according to the ancient divination text “Book of Changes” (易经, Yì Jīng) in which 1,3,5,7,9 are numbers of Yang while 2,4,6,8,0 are numbers of Yin.

A number of activities came to be associated with Chongyang Festival, the most important of which is to worship family ancestors. In our modern times however, the festival is not so much about burning incense for ancestors’ spirits but making it a special day for the living seniors. This year in June, in order to protect the benefits of the elderly and raise awareness about their well being, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress declared Chongyang Festival national Senior Citizens’ Day (老年节, Lǎonián Jié) in a legislation draft.

Related modern day rituals have also been developed, such as community get-togethers for senior citizens. Just last week, over 1,200 seniors from seven communities of Guilin City in Guangxi Province participated in a “Chongyang sports meeting” which consisted of old games, such as hunt-the-thimble (丢手绢, diū shǒujuàn) and hoop bowling (滚铁环, gǔn tiě huán). Communities also held celebrations for the elderly over the age of 90, honoring them as shouxing (寿星), gods of longevity.

The rise of Senior’s Day seems to coincide with the aging trend. China is now on a fast track to becoming an aging society. According to a report by the Beijing Morning News, the National Working Committee on Ageing released data on the 18th this month, suggesting that the next 20 years will the be a fast-growing period for the elderly population. By 2013, the total number of citizens above the age of 60 will hit 200 million, exceeding the total population of countries such as Brazil, Russia and Japan. The number is expected to double by 2033, which will make a total elderly population of 487 million. By the middle of this century, senior citizens will count for 34.8% of the entire population in China. Social policy challenges arise as the country strives to cope with the situation, especially in terms of the retirement and pension system. The impact of the Single Child Policy also has become apparent—in the next 10 years, there will be considerably less people between the ages of 20 and 40 to form the dynamic nation’s workforce.

People of all ages continue to celebrate Chongyang Festival by hiking and climbing mountains, eating Chongyang cakes (重阳糕, Chóngyáng gāo), drinking chrysanthemum wine (菊花酒, júhuā jiǔ) and pinning dogwood sprigs (茱萸, zhūyú) to their clothes. But in 20 years, you may see more and bigger Senior Citizens’ Day celebrations around China during this time of the year, as more people join their advanced ranks.

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