Shanghai's unique Halloween celebration a sign of cultural tolerance

Yang Jian
Shanghai's Halloween carnival, a unique blend of Western traditions and Chinese creativity, has become a break from routine attire, reflecting the city's openness and tolerance.
Yang Jian

The recent Halloween celebration in Shanghai, with its unique blend of Western traditions and Chinese creativity, offered a glimpse into the evolving cultural landscape of a vibrant city.

It demonstrates how cultural exchanges can be a two-way street, enriching our lives by embracing elements from other cultures without compromising our own identity.

Last night, several downtown streets around the Found158, a nightlife destination in Huangpu District, were awash with people dressed like singers such as Na Ying and Faye Wong, as well as characters from films and TV shows such as "Wolf Warrior," "The Legend of Zhen Huan" and Internet sensation Li Jiaqi. Revered figures like Buddhism Goddess Guanyin, the God of Fortune; Monk Jigong; and popular animation characters like Batman, Ultraman and Wolverine also made an appearance.

While some may express concern about the younger generation embracing Western holidays, the general sentiment among the public appeared to be quite tolerant. A recent online survey found that a majority of participants viewed Halloween cosplays in Shanghai as just an interesting and enjoyable event.

They agreed it was not a battle of Western and Chinese cultures, but rather an opportunity for young people to have fun, express themselves and release pent-up emotions.

Shanghai's unique Halloween celebration a sign of cultural tolerance

A man cosplays the main character in the classic Hong Kong movie Chinese Ghost Story.

Chinese festivals traditionally revolve around the values of family reunions and festive feasting. In contrast, many modern commercial festivals, such as the approaching 11/11 Single's Day shopping frenzy, have been carefully crafted to drive consumer spending.

As a result, there is an absence of festivals in China solely dedicated to the simple pleasures of having fun, gathering with friends and family, and celebrating through joyful and lighthearted partying.

Halloween has filled the void. It serves as a platform for young people to momentarily break free from the rigors of everyday life and embrace the extraordinary.

Shanghai's young generation has demonstrated an appreciation for both traditional Chinese culture and contemporary trends.

Many of the cosplays at Shanghai's Halloween celebration reflected their everyday life. For example, one person held up a sign that said "Party B" while his makeup portrayed his daily exhaustion. Another person in ordinary clothes posed with a sign that read, "It has been challenging to play various roles. It is okay to just be myself on Halloween."

This blend of the old and the new showcases a cultural confidence that goes beyond mere imitation.

Shanghai's unique Halloween celebration a sign of cultural tolerance

A man with an exhaustion makeup and a paper saying "I'm Party B" became an online sensation.

However, there are valid concerns related to safety and noise during such celebrations, though any tragedy can be prevented with effective urban management.

On October 29 last year, during a Halloween party in Seoul's Itaewon District, a tragic stampede occurred, resulting in 159 fatalities, primarily young revelers.

On Tuesday night, among the costumed Halloween partygoers, some were police officers and security staff dressed in uniform, there to ensure order and security.

They watched over the festivities, intervening only when absolutely necessary, usually with those whose costumes crossed the line of decency. A police officer even joked with the crowds by saying "I'm not a cosplayer" and posed with the partygoers.

Authorities later closed the nearest Metro exits and released timely notices to avoid too massive a gathering and ensure a safe celebration.

Shanghai's response to the challenges posed by the Halloween events reflects the wisdom of its urban managers. A blanket ban is not the answer for a city whose spirit of openness has been nurtured for nearly two centuries.

It is a manifestation of what French historian Marie-Claire Bergère referred to as "modernity," defined as a constant spirit of innovation and progressiveness. Such openness and adaptability to global customs have been part of Shanghai's DNA for decades.

Shanghai's unique Halloween celebration a sign of cultural tolerance

A local family cosplays Super Mario for the Halloween celebration on Julu Road.

As long as these events can be managed effectively and safely, they contribute to a more optimistic and confident collective mood in a society that needs room for tolerance and resilience.

The Chinese society, on the whole, tends to be serious and disciplined. While this has its advantages, there are drawbacks as well. It seems that Chinese people aren't accustomed to pure enjoyment, leisure and activities aimed at fun and pleasure.

Everything appears to serve a specific purpose, leading to a sense of guilt when indulging in legitimate enjoyment. As a result, life can become somewhat dull, and it suppresses our creative vitality.

So, it's quite rare to see young people having so much fun and being so carefree. In the current global circumstances, we need such kind of "positive energy."

It's also a reminder that cultural confidence doesn't mean rigidly adhering to one's own traditions, but embracing diversity and the joy that cultural exchanges can bring.

One example is this year's Spring Festival in London that saw over 700,000 people gathering at Trafalgar Square, with both Chinese and foreigners celebrating together, performing dragon and lion dances, and creating a lively atmosphere.

It proves that novelty and cultural exchanges can be sources of mutual understanding and joy and it has nothing to do with worshipping foreign cultures.

(Wang Qingchu also contributed to the story.)

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