After saying he was cyberbullied for questioning the cultural custom of kowtowing to the elders during Lunar New Year, a Chinese blogger has called for police assistance.
Huang Zhijie runs an influential account on many sites called You You You Lu Ming (a line from an ancient poem that means approximately “the calling of the deer”).
On Saturday (Feb 20) he posted on WeChat that he had been physically threatened and his family had received numerous menacing phone calls after he described the ancient practice as “backwards”.
A cultural act of displaying respect by bending and prostrating oneself so that the forehead touches the ground is the ritual of kowtowing, which simply means ‘knock head’.It has been abandoned in most parts of China, but it is still widely practiced as a new year tradition in some rural areas, especially the eastern province of Shandong.Traditionally, by kowtowing to the village elders in the morning, the younger members of an extended tribe mark the first day of the new year.
The custom is often conducted several times by individual families, bowing first to the gods, then the male elders of the family and then the females.
Last week, Huang made his remarks as videos of the practice began circulating online, posting on WeChat and the Toutiao news site that doing it was a matter of personal preference for one’s parents, but “invisible social oppression” was to make people do it in groups in public.
Huang cautioned in several posts on WeChat and news site Toutiao in response to some famous videos of the rite as the Chinese national celebrated its new year last week that such tradition is “bringing history backwards.”
To do it privately to one’s parents is a personal choice, but doing it in groups in public is an “invisible social oppression”, he said.Huang said that he had not expected such a serious backlash over his comments and added that his family had received many threatening phone calls.
“I’m just saying what’s common sense in modern society, but they want to devour me for doing so,” he wrote.Supporters of the practice say instead of reinforcing hierarchies, it is a way to show love and respect during the holiday season.“Wouldn’t a new year without kowtowing be boring? We already banned firecrackers in urban areas. It was all those traditions that made new year celebrations lively, wasn’t it?,” wrote one Weibo user.
Yu Hai, professor of sociology at Fudan University, said the online spat was not a question of who was right or wrong, but it was “really worrying” when public opinion did not allow for different voices.
“We don’t judge the practice based on whether it’s new or old. As many rural people argue, it helps villagers get along with each other, to show respect to the elderly, and improve interaction among the community,” he said.
But for many city dwellers it’s something only done when they bend to others’ will, he said.“It’s a symbol of hierarchy and power. It’s against the basic principle of equality and self-respect in modern society – so they also have good reasons to oppose it,” he added.