Halloween celebrations in Asia an invasion of foreign culture? Ong Ye Kung weighs in at forum

Halloween celebrations in Asia an invasion of foreign culture? Ong Ye Kung weighs in at forum

BEIJING – Are recent exuberant Halloween celebrations by young Chinese in Shanghai an invasion of Western values or a sign of cultural confidence and openness in the cosmopolitan city?

Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that for Singapore, more room can be given for such expression meant for entertainment, but added that each society will have to strike its own balance between personal freedom and the collective good.

He weighed in on the debate at a youth forum in Beijing on Nov 21 organised by Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao, which reported on the controversy earlier in November.

During Halloween, some young people in Shanghai reportedly dressed as characters from popular Chinese dramas like Empresses In The Palace, others drew dark circles under their eyes to parody exhausted employees or wore white hazmat suits in a spoof of Covid-19 lockdown enforcers.

A Zaobao report on Nov 2 said the “grand parade in Shanghai is not so much an invasion of Western culture, as a collective venting of emotions after three years” of pandemic restrictions, noting that the celebrations were particularly well-attended this year.

Mr Ong noted that the festival has its roots in ancient Celtic culture, but took on American characteristics when it was celebrated there with the use of pumpkins and the practice of “trick-or-treating”.

“We have our Asian style of Halloween, and this is part of what our youth do for recreation. For Singapore, I believe we can give more room for expression,” he said in response to a question from a Chinese student from the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

The student said young people see the Halloween celebrations just as a way of having fun.

Mr Ong added: “Every society has its own balance. So in the midst of major changes, we have to continuously find a suitable balance. Differences (in views) are a natural and necessary part of the process.”

How young people can embrace the world while remaining culturally rooted was among the main themes of discussion at the 5th Singapore-China Forum, a one-day event that drew about 300 attendees from the business sector, universities and government agencies from both countries.

Mr Ong had, earlier in a keynote speech, used the Halloween example to make a point about the need for young people to hold on to their cultural identity amid a globalised world.

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