Happy Holidays and...Bon Appétit!
Greetings from Yuxuan at The East is Read
How fascinating that as our little globe makes its annual orbit around the sun, a host of diverse nations, each with their own traditions and beliefs, should find a common cause for celebration in the very depth of winter. This holds true, at least, in areas where the winters are cold and long enough to lend significance to the celebration of the year's longest night.
The Romans, in their time, marked this occasion with "dies solis invicti nati" (birthday of the Invincible Sun), a merry chaos as if to balance the bitter cold with festivities. The Goths termed it Yule. Interestingly, Christmas originated as a way to assimilate these ancient, pagan customs. Not dissimilar in spirit is the Hanukkah, where the lighting of candles symbolizes a hope that endures in the human heart. In the Far East, the Chinese, being quite unimaginative in naming, celebrated "the winter solstice", and fend off the encroaching darkness with steaming dumplings and sweet delicacies.
It seems, in every culture, there is a recognition, whether conscious or instinctive, of the profound transition taking place in the natural world. As the longest night unfolds, people worldwide ignite lights, seek warmth, and indulge in festivities, their hearts buoyed by the hopeful prospect that the sun will start rising just a trifle earlier from now on. It is so characteristic of human follies and idiosyncrasies. Yet, doesn't it also hint at a deeper, shared humanity?
At this juncture of the year, where everyone leaps up for hope and quirks and follies are merrily forgiven, allow me to be so bold as to say: doesn't the name of our newsletter, The East is Read, first proposed by a korean American journalist friend of Zichen, become the very encapsulation of the holiday spirit? As if mirroring this universal pause for celebration, it speaks the herald of dawn and the pulsating expectation for longer sunlight.
Of course, it would be an act of glaring omission if I do not acknowledge that the name of our newsletter, The East is Read, is also steeped in the tapestry of 20th-century Chinese politics and culture, a period marked by tumultuous change and fervent ideology. Here's my attempt at a very loose translation of the initial verses of the song "The East is Red":
The East is red, a sight so bold, The sun ascends, its rays unfold. Nocturnal land where he was born, rose with mirth in rosy morn.
Thus, the name of our newsletter, "The East is Read", carries with it the weight of history and the vibrancy of a country ever in flux. It is a name that sets the world's tongues a-wagging with a mixture of awe, wonder, and, let's confess, a pinch of apprehension.
From the ancient realm of dragons and emperors, of silks and teas, to the fiery politics of an era marked by seclusion and tumult, and to the economic juggernaut that is modern China – here we find a political landscape as complex and enigmatic as the most intricate of legends.
But within this vast expanse, for those of us who call it home, is it not true that we, like any offworld observers, often find ourselves in a thoughtful, almost amused contemplation of our homeland, "China, what art thou? Art thou a nation, a republic, a civilization, or a legend woven into the fabric of time?" Especially at the winter solstice, a time that resounds with the promise of change and a deep stirring within the soul, these reflections take on a deeper hue.
At The East is Read, we have been dedicated to locating, translating, summarizing, contextualizing, and annotating Chinese leaders' speeches, China's policy documents, and discussions on China largely from within China. Our aim is to illuminate the burgeoning darkness that have cast a novel contour upon this ancient land, navigating its complexities for inquisitive scholars around the globe as well as for ourselves.
China, a topic as expansive and enigmatic as the land itself, presents a riddle wrapped in a mystery, served with a side of spring rolls. So, with a hearty "bon appétit" and "happy holidays" for the festive season, let us embark upon another year's journey into this grand enigma, with hearts open and minds eager for understanding.
Also check out CCG's greetings
and some of my favorite reads from The East is Read this year. Please tuck in!