Chinese New Year (CNY) is the most significant festival in the Chinese calendar, typically celebrated between the 21st January and February 20th determined by the lunisolar calendar. Despite taking place during the winter season, it is bizarrely known as ‘Spring Festival’ (春节 chūnjié /chwnn-jyeah/), given that the start of spring falls between 4th-18th February. Each year also celebrates the very old custom of the year of a new zodiac animal with numerous denotations.
During this time, people reflect on their priorities, such as re-establishing old ties and making amends, as well as giving their house a ‘spring clean’. Although it is a time for renewal, it is also a time to spend and show off to peers and loved ones. Akin to Christmas gift giving, exchanging gifts and buying new outfits to wear during the celebrations are all part and parcel of CNY. The most prominent gift is the ‘red envelope’ (yasui qian (压岁钱 /yaa-sway chyen/), meaning ‘suppressing ghosts money’. Inside the envelopes are varying amounts of money, depending on the recipient; the usual beneficiaries are parents and grandparents, children, employees and the younger generation without an income. It is the colour of the envelope rather than the actual money that holds the most significance, passing on wishes of good luck and a safe and peaceful year. It is therefore considered impolite to open it in front of the giver.
In China, most businesses close down for this winter holiday, whereby traditionally the majority of people will take a week off work, schools will close for a month and universities for slightly longer. Why? New Year signifies togetherness and being together with family. Therefore, most people will head home for the holidays, many travelling from overseas and the big cities back to their smaller hometowns in the countryside (the normal humming activity of such cities like Beijing subside, leaving empty streets for the duration of the celebrations). Big family dinners known as ‘reunion dinners’ hold great importance over this period, since they are believed to be the most significant meal of the year and a week of non-stop fireworks and firecrackers also play party to the festivities; they are believed to ward off evil spirits. This is followed by the Lantern Festival, which draws the celebrations to a close, held in the evening of the 15th day of the New Year, the first full moon in the Chinese calendar, highlighting the return of spring and characterising family reunion (although not all families can get together for this festival as it is not a public holiday).
However, whilst China is revelling in the joys of this magnificent festival, there are many who do not share this euphoria. All those who conduct business with and within China are impacted by the country’s ‘radio silence’. This means that international companies need to consider the implications this ‘shut down’ will have on their businesses, by ensuring that their timelines and deadlines are well ahead of schedule. The flow of business leading up to and several weeks after is completely disrupted by CNY, affecting the likes of supply chains, ordering, payment and business travel. It is therefore advisable to take precautions, e.g. shipping and logistic companies should ensure shipments are booked well in advance of the shipment date as ports are closed for several days or work at low capacity. Come rain or shine, if your products are made in China, shipped through China or are sold in China, your business will be impacted. Likewise, foreigners with businesses in China will also be affected, as many of their work forces will go home for the holidays and they will have to adopt the local customs such as the red envelope culture (detailed earlier) and give employees double pay as a bonus for Chinese New Year.
Moreover, if you’re looking to expand your business horizons to China during this time, think again. It would be utterly futile to try and enter into negotiations or even consider travel at this time, in amongst the millions of travellers eager to get home for CNY. You may not understand or like how CNY interrupts your business, but for China, it is a way of celebrating the end of a hard year of work, which means taking time out of work to relax with family, as well as wishing one another a prosperous and lucky coming year. You never know, you might be the new business with whom they join forces that year, which helps contribute to a prosperous year! N.B. Macau, Hong Kong, as well as several other countries such as Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Singapore also celebrate CNY.
So if you want to get ahead of the CNY game, make sure that you are prepared. By ensuring sure that your business has planned for these disruptions, you will stand out from the crowd. Happy New Year ‘Xīnnián kuàilè! (新年快乐) (pronounced sshin-nyen kwhy-luh)
(This year’s Chinese New Year commences 28th January, the ‘Year of the Rooster’)
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, January 2017