Chinese Officials, Nominally Broke, Try Taking Over Valentine’s Day

August 25, 2010 3:34 am Last Updated: August 26, 2010 10:05 am

Chinese Communist Party officials from Yunxi County have hit upon an idea to end the longstanding quarrel about where China's Valentine's Day originated: by building an extravagant theme park.

Apart from the questionable claim to China's Valentine heritage, citizens are asking questions about how the theme park would be funded, and who exactly it would benefit, since Yunxi County is officially poverty-stricken and was recently devastated, financially and otherwise, by floods.

China has its own version of Valentine’s Day, called the “Seventh Evening,” (or Double Seventh, or Qixi Festival) and its history goes back over a thousand years. The place of origin of the festival, however, has always been in dispute. The officials from Yunxi County now plan to spend over US$20 million to claim it as their own.

Chinese Valentine’s Day, like the Western one, is about love. But its origin and date are different. Chinese Valentine's Day originates from an ancient myth, and is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. That’s why the festival is also called the “Seventh Evening.”

According to legends, the seventh daughter of Great Jade Emperor of Heaven secretly came down to the human world where she fell in love and married a cowherd. But when the Lady Queen Mother of Heaven found out, she disapproved and separated the two by the Milky Way. However she granted that they could meet once a year, on the day of 7th day of 7th lunar month. Chinese astronomy refers to the star Vega as the “Seventh Daughter,” and the star Altair as the “Cowherd,” and these two stars get very close on the 7th day of 7th month on their annual migration through the sky.

Several locations in China claim to be the origin of this legend, including Lushan in central China's Henan Province, Heshun in the northern Shanxi Province, and Yiyuan in eastern Shandong Province.

By building the expensive theme park, the Yunxi officials hope to outclass the competition and make China's Valetine's Day celebrations their own. Socially active citizens began questioning how the impoverished Yunxi County could afford such an extravagant trifle.

On Aug. 16 officials of Yunxi Town held a grand opening ceremony in the town’s stadium to announce and celebrate plans for a “Seventh Evening” theme park development project to attract tourists that includes over 25 urban construction projects, new roads, a square with giant statues, several bridges, two cultural and scenic gardens, and more.

So far, local officials have not yet said how they will come up with the 1.4 billion yuan needed to pay for the project, and the town seems in no position to afford this lavish public expenditure.

In 2009, Yunxi County’s total financial revenues were a mere 100 million yuan, giving it the official status of a “national poverty county.” In addition, in July, the county experienced the worst flood in half a century, causing 510 million yuan in economic losses across the county this year. County government data show that 18 villages and towns are suffering from flood damage, with 270,000 people affected.

At least one local Yunxi resident, Chen Yonggang, wondered how the local government would pay for the Chinese Valentine’s Day claim to fame project.

Chen has published several articles on the Internet critical of the project’s cost. He wanted to know if the flood rescue efforts were still continuing, and questioned if the “Seventh Evening” project’s Grand Opening could have been simplified to save money.

The vice-minister of Yunxi County Committee Propaganda Department, Zhong Jianhua, explained to the local Dongguan Times, “As far as I know, the cost of the Opening is below 2 million yuan (approximately US$294,507), and the returns we expect are much greater than the 2 million we are paying out now.”

Chen responded on his blog, “The county officer told me that the cost [of the Opening] was around 5 million RMB, and entirely funded by the government.”

Chen admitted that the “Seventh Evening” construction project would bring “brightness and beauty” to the town, but it will only benefit the urban dweller and do nothing for those country folks whose living standards are vastly different. The project is more intended as a showcase of political achievement than about improving people’s livelihoods, Chen said.

Chen also asked why cultural traditions are so relentlessly commercialized in China, and compared the “cultural vandalism” with “the havoc created with the environment.”

Read the original Chinese article