July 1th is Canada Day, when Canada celebrates is 149th anniversary. For many immigrants who spend this national holiday in their adopted country, Canada Day celebrations seem strikingly different than how National Day is celebrated in China.
China’s National Holiday is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar. It is often celebrated with a large scale of military parade, with thousands of troops marching through Tiananmen Square and high tech weapons on display. It’s usually followed by a public parade joined by hundreds of thousands of civilians and collective dancing at Tiananmen Square at night.
I participated in one of these celebrations while I was a university student. In the afternoon of Oct. 1, 1984, hundreds of thousands of university students like me took part in a civilian parade walking through ChangAn Ave, waving a small flag and shouting slogans. “Long Live Motherland! Lets’ celebrate the great achievements made under the leader of Chinese Community Party! The Communist Party will lead us to rejuvenate China! “
“National Day is a symbol of China’s independence, reflecting how united we are as a country and a nation. It has showcased the great power and strength of the government and the party, and revealed the confidence and faith of the nation on the its leadership,” the loudspeaker shouted during the rehearsal.
The parade was followed by a choreographed collective dance at Tiananmen Square at night that took almost half a year for us to practise and rehearse. It cost tens of millions of dollars and tons of civilian resources. One of my school mates passed out during a rehearsal on a hot summer day, but despite incidents like this, calling it quit was not an option, because participation was mandatory. It was also a critical test of our political consciousness, and failing such a test can often doom one’s future instantly.
But these slogans and the government propaganda never really registered with us, and we hardly believed a word of it. The proclaimed achievements were seemingly invisible or non-existent back then, and all we could see was a country struggling in poverty and inequality.
Since then, China’s economy has grown rapidly and its National Day celebration has evolved into a much bigger and more powerful event. But the government has a political agenda behind these big celebrations – to spur nationalist fervour to distract growing concerns of social insecurity and dissatisfaction from citizens.
Decades after I immigrated to Canada, such national celebrations involving slogan shouting or oath-taking have been a distant past, becoming increasingly unfamiliar and strange. In my adopted country Canada, Canada Day celebration is often quiet and lacks atmosphere, and is nothing more than an extra day off.
Instead of buying into self-praise, media in Canada take Canada Day as an opportunity to confront issues and to argue how to make Canada a better country. Chinese National Day celebrations would surely turn off most Canadians or make them roll their eyes.
“The grandiose generalization of the greatness of the country never seems real or entirely true”, says the Globe editorial on Canada Day. “A permeant and healthy dissatisfaction with the way things are isn’t insecurity but confidence instead”.
I celebrated Canada Day as did many Canadians by sitting in my backyard, watching my favorite Netflix show and relaxed. I am grateful for what Canada has to offer – from freedom and quality of life, to vast resources and natural beauty. And as a Canadian, I am very proud and grateful.
But I am more grateful that I don’t have to wave a flag or to shout slogans to express a deep-seated gratitude.
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