It's time for a greener Lunar New Year: The China Post

Taiwanese buy candies for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 26, 2017.
Taiwanese buy candies for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Jan 27, the paper urges readers to take small steps to reduce pollution during Chinese New Year.

For Taiwan, the island nation that is arguably the melting pot of most Chinese cultures, Lunar New Year celebrations differ from those of other Chinese countries.

As a result of mass migration during the Chinese Civil War, Taiwan has syncretised many of the Lunar New Year traditions that are observed differently across mainland China, and has since made the holiday unique in its own ways.

Unlike Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese populations like Malaysia and Singapore, Taiwan has a longer holiday to celebrate the festival and no longer observes the loud traditional music that one would see in the Southeast Asian countries.

While revelers in those countries mark the holiday by playing loud New Year music accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments like the gong, Taiwan observes the festival like any other holiday, whereby we skip the songs and simply anticipate the holiday as it draws near.

And unlike our Southeast Asian counterparts who actively work to visit as many relatives as possible in a short amount of time and decorate their houses entirely in red to fit the traditionally required colour scheme, people in Taiwan more than often simply see the festival as a winter break and an opportunity for friends and family to gather for reunions and bond.

We are also different from Hong Kong, whose people still add shark fins in the New Year soup known as "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall." Most, though not all, of Taiwan has since abolished the consumption of shark fins as a result of environmental awareness.

But Taiwan could do even more to distinguish ourselves from our brethren in other nations, and that is to make our traditions greener for the sake of environmental progress.

While each and every Chinese nation has its own unique take on celebrating the Lunar New Year, one act is universally performed by every celebrant on the planet during the festival: pollution.

When it comes to celebrating the Lunar New Year, we will unavoidably commute sometime during the holiday, and in great masses. Although we do not pollute the air as severely as our mainland Chinese brothers do, with their long traffic jams that often paralyse traffic, our vehicles nonetheless create enough smoke in our cities that wearing masks to conduct family visits has become almost a necessity.

For a country as developed as Taiwan, we should rely more on our convenient public transportation, taking buses and trains to commute between cities instead of using personal vehicles to travel. Air pollution could be greatly decreased this way and travel time could also be shortened as there would be fewer cars on the streets.

For a country as developed as Taiwan, we should rely more on our convenient public transportation, taking buses and trains to commute between cities instead of using personal vehicles to travel. Air pollution could be greatly decreased this way and travel time could also be shortened as there would be fewer cars on the streets.

Though at times they can be breathtakingly beautiful, fireworks should also be used at a minimum. Not only do fireworks contribute to sound and air pollution, people generally lack the proper knowledge and means to dispose of the leftover cartridges after they are done setting them off. Seeing firework litter on the streets is a common sight once the holiday is over, and the government is left to deal with cleaning up the garbage.

Our nation could also adopt some awareness on gift packaging. We often lay out food in our houses during the Lunar New Year in anticipation of visiting families and friends as a way to show our hospitality. We also often give food in gift boxes when visiting our friends and family to show politeness.

While the tradition of being hospitable should be applauded, we go too far in making our gifts look extravagant, and this results in a large amount of unnecessary packaging and subsequent trash. It is all too common to open an elegant box of celebratory treats only to find the snacks themselves then individually wrapped in even more plastic.

Taiwan has made great progress towards being viewed as a developed county in Asia. As such, we should live up to the title and progress, first by acknowledging and addressing the shortcomings of our culture, and then fixing it by altering the practices to make them less harmful to the planet. Traditions were established by humankind, so who's to say that we cannot improve on them?

The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.