Monday, December 24, 2012

Students Selling Christmas Apples in Quanzhou, China

Tonight I met five college students at a popular shopping street in Quanzhou, Fujian province.

five female college students selling apples on Christmas Eve in Quanzhou, China

They were all selling apples in paper bags with various designs for about 10 yuan (US $1.60) each. Why? Because it was Christmas Eve.

One of the ways some Chinese celebrate Christmas Eve is to give apples to their friends. The explanation usually given is that the Chinese word for "apple", "píngguǒ (苹果)", sounds somewhat similar the word for "peace", "píng'ān (平安)", and "Christmas Eve", "píng'ānyè (平安夜)". The apple simply represents goodness, happiness, or safety, and like wearing a Santa hat, the Christmas eve tradition has no religious connotation for these students. The apple giving practice is an example of how a Western holiday has been "localized" in China.

As I spoke to one of the students, further evidence of the tradition appeared when a young woman who was selling clothing nearby received an apple as a gift from her friend.

two young woman and a Christmas Eve apple gift in Quanzhou, China

The students weren't just selling the apples to help others celebrate the holiday. They were all members of a business club at their university. Like many other students I have spoken to, they are concerned about gaining the "real world" experience they feel their school does not provide. The club helps to arrange such opportunities, even if it involves selling apples on the street and avoiding the local chengguan (城管), urban management officials whose responsibilities include cracking down on unlicensed street vendors. The occasionally appearing chengguan weren't perceived as a significant obstacle, but the students still found their job to be rather difficult. It didn't seem that many passersby needed a tastefully packaged 10 yuan apple. But at least the students had already sold 15 that night, including 7 to one woman alone.

In a later post, I will share a religious aspect to the Christmas holiday that I stumbled upon in Quanzhou. I didn't see any apples or chengguan involved, but there were plenty of police.

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