Halloween More Trick Than Treat, Say Chinese Parents

2016-10-28 10:05:18

As snapshots of tiny ghosts, ghouls, pumpkins, and princesses flood social media hubs Weibo and WeChat in preparation for Halloween on Monday, some Chinese parents are not so enamored with the Western import.

“It’s meaningless,” Lang Yan, whose 6-year-old son attends kindergarten in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. “It’s a group of kids wearing something scary and asking for candy.”

Despite her objections, Lang said she typically spends a week preparing a costume so her son can participate in Halloween festivities. “He is OK being a scary-but-cute character, such as a Batman witch,” Lang said, adding that he has been frightened in the past by his peers’ more graphic costumes — like a mask with a bleeding tooth.

Shanghai mother Elva Shu followed the online trend, posting photos of her son’s fourth-grade Halloween party on Friday morning, despite her reservations about the tradition. “The kids in the international schools are crazy about Halloween,” Shu told Sixth Tone. “There were some horrifying costumes that I didn’t dare post online.”

This year, Shu said the teachers even turned off the lights and told ghost stories in the classroom. “I think my son was scared,” she said. “Even I think it’s scary.”

Meanwhile, media outlets reported further backlash this week, with parents citing the fear factor, waste of time and expenses, and lack of connection to Western traditions as motivation for their anti-Halloween sentiments.

“What’s the point of this holiday, since it wastes money and scares the kids?” asked a mother surnamed Wang, whose son attends kindergarten in Haikou, in China’s southern island province of Hainan. Wang told party-owned tabloid Global Times on Thursday that her concerns were sparked by a message from her son’s teacher requiring parents to buy Halloween props and costumes for their children.

A Beijing mother surnamed Lin told state news agency China News Service on Friday that she doesn’t understand why teachers at her daughter’s kindergarten are so eager to celebrate Western holidays like Halloween and Christmas, which have nothing to do with her. She said she feels pressured to come up with a costume for her daughter every year, even though she doesn’t have much time between work and other responsibilities. “I have to, because other kids will have costumes prepared,” she said.

While parents in both articles complained about the Western holiday, Shanghai education authorities recently reinforced government limitations on international curricula. China’s minister of education advocated for a similar ban on university textbooks that promote Western values in 2015. 

The trend reaches beyond school walls, with Beijing metro riders barred from wearing Halloween costumes in 2014 ahead of that year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, and metro officials in Chengdu — capital of southwest China's Sichuan province — warning commuters against donning ghoulish getups this year. State newspaper China Daily is even running a poll to determine readers’ views on a Halloween costume subway ban; as of Friday afternoon, just under 50 percent supported a potential prohibition.  

The annual Oct. 31 spookfest has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival, but the holiday has since evolved into a secular, family-friendly celebration especially popular in the U.S. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $8.4 billion on Halloween candy and costumes this year, up almost 22 percent from last year. 

And while Halloween celebrations have become ubiquitous in China’s metropolitan centers, it’s not a booming industry yet. Although local knowledge of Halloween traditions has grown in past years, Mary, owner of Shanghai costume shop Holiday House, told Sixth Tone that few Chinese people spend money on it, and most of her customers are foreigners. “If Chinese people come, they usually buy small things: a pirate patch, a cowboy hat,” she said. “They won’t buy whole-body costumes.”

Mary said that as a business owner who profits off of trick-or-treaters’ spooky spending, she’s naturally in favor of Halloween; what’s more, she added, “It’s a holiday that makes kids happy.”

Additional reporting by Fan Yiying.

(Header image: Children dressed in Halloween costumes play with their parents at a kindergarten in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2013. VCG)