My favorite class here has been “Exploring Chinese Culture through Fieldwork.” It is a cultural anthropology class focused on Southern China and Hong Kong. The lectures have been very interesting, and have taught me a lot about the role of lineage organizations in local self-governance and advocacy, and as an important support structure for attaining more far-reaching political power through the imperial court examinations. I’ve also learned about the role of names in Chinese society, and the traditional role of women, as well as the way that women could exert their own power.
However, the most interesting part of the class has been the field trips. So far I have been on a field trip to see the Mid-Autumn Festival Fire Dragon dance in the Hokka community in Hong Kong, which we contrasted against a Hong Kong government sponsored Mid-Autumn Festival celebration in Victoria Park, the largest public park in Hong Kong. We were required not just to observe and take pictures, but also to interview a few people, and I was surprised at how nice people were to strangers coming up to them to ask about their feelings about the holiday. Everyone I interviewed even gave me a piece of a moon cake, a traditional food eaten during the Mid-Autumn festival, without me asking for one, though I suspect that that generosity may have also stemmed from the fact that moon cakes are not the most well-loved food, and everyone gets a huge amount of them as gifts during the festival.
A particularly funny article I read said that a survey showed that 69% of Hongkongers would prefer to not get moon cakes as gifts, but 68% of the same respondents like to give moon cakes as gifts. Anyway, the Fire Dragon dance was fascinating, both because of its historical roots as a festival to clear out bad spirits and disease, and also because of the massive amounts of tourists that were there, showing its modern significance to Hong Kong.
The Victoria Park celebration was also very cool, with lots of impressive lanterns and displays, showing traditional foods and stories of Hong Kong, as well as the ways the Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated in other countries.
Selfies are incredibly popular here in Hong Kong, complete with selfie sticks, and so there were a lot of people taking selfies next to the installations. Anyway, I’ll talk about the other field trip I took in the class, to some villages near Guangzhou in mainland China, in my next post.