How technology is transforming Chinese New Year
THE celebration of the Chinese New Year (CNY) is a tradition almost as old as China itself. The origin of the festival can be traced back to about 3500 years ago, where people would wear red, eat dumplings, and exchange monetary gifts to ward off evil spirits.
Though these traditions largely remain the same, even this ancient celebration is not immune to the digital transformation that is taking-over almost every industry today.
The rise of technology is impacting many features of the CNY, including gift-giving, travel, food, and relationships.
When CNY celebrations begin on Friday, millions of red envelopes filled with cash are expected to change hands among families, friends, and colleagues.
In China, the red envelope, known as hongbao, is given to others as a symbol of energy, happiness, and good luck. People send these wishing receivers another safe and peaceful year.
But in more recent years, with the proliferation of smartphones, there has been a new spin on this tradition.
WeChat, the social networking and messaging app from Chinese Internet giant, Tencent Holdings, have launched a feature that allows users to digitally send envelopes to loved ones.
Givers must first link their bank accounts to the app, then they can send specified amounts of money to their WeChat contacts along with personalized messages. They can even put a fun twist on it and put the cash up for grabs in chat rooms full of friends.
Receivers can then transfer the funds into their own bank accounts.
Food is an inseparable part of CNY celebrations. The New Year’s Eve dinner, or reunion dinner, is an extremely important occasion for the Chinese. Spring rolls, dumplings, noodles, and steamed fish are among the delicious dishes enjoyed by family and friends.
And now, the New Year’s feast can be booked through a food delivery app, meaning less time in the kitchen and more time spent with loved ones.
With a click of a button, users can add items to their basket and have them delivered the next day.
A vestige of old China that is still present today is the pressure on young people to find a suitable husband or wife before turning 30. This pressure is particularly immense for women, who are expected to focus on marriage over their careers.
For those wanting to get their parents off their backs, there are various websites and apps available which offer the opportunity to rent-a-partner for a day.
Though these apps are available all year round, CNY seems to cause an influx of users.
“Over 1,000 users on our platform have signed up as dates for hire for the New Year break,” Cao Tiantian, founder of date-for-hire app Hire Me Plz, told Reuters.
Users flock to these apps to find partners willing to pretend to be besotted in front of family in exchange for large sums of money – usually around US$145 per day.
Every year, millions of Chinese cram into trains to make the journey home to their loved ones. This crowded and often unpleasant experience is rapidly being transformed by China’s push towards a world of high-speed rail.
The development of bullet trains, with a top speed of 250kmph, is cutting travel time by 75 percent compared to regular trains.
Sun Zhang, a railway expert at Tongi University in Shanghai, told the South China Morning Post,
“These lines provide ample capacity during peak travel periods such as the Lunar New Year and in other times can stimulate growth in tourism and other businesses in the service sector in western China.”
As well as cutting down journey time, technology is being used to ease other aspects of travel such as ticket buying and payment.
With a massive crowd of population all wanting to travel, it can be tough to get your hands on tickets. An app called Goatie Guanjia automatically monitors and ‘grabs’ tickets when they become available, saving you the trouble of waiting around.
Last but not the least, facial recognition software provided by Baidu Inc is being tested as a means of verification for passengers to board their flights, with the aim of making the process more efficient.
Alas, CNY, like the country, is headed towards a trasnformation led by technology.