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A Comparison of Cultural Differences and Festivals in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Rows of red lanterns lined up from a Chinese temple pavilion.

Every state, nation, and region are considered as an individual market on its own. Why? For every community contained within, each has its own distinct identity, with their own set of values, practices, and lifestyles.

While many communities may seem identical with almost little to no differences between one another, it is the ability to distinguish, learn, and understand these differences in their tradition and culture that will make or break a brand's entry into any new market. It is in the most miniscule of differences that would decide if your entry will either appeal to, or fail in the eyes of your audience.

All businesses, brands, and companies would know this: it is never truly a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather, it is about honing each strategy to best fit the select market that they're looking to enter.

Therefore, today, we'll take a look at an excellent example of Chinese communities! The Chinese have found a home at almost every square inch on the globe, making up the significant ethnicity of many communities everywhere. We'll examine a variety of holidays celebrated across different pins on the map of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore so that you'll be able to visualise and understand how culture and tradition vary even in even the most ethnically identical communities.

Chinese New Year themed table layout of flowers, gold ingots, candied fruits, tea and a hand holding two auspicious red packets.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the single most important celebration in Chinese communities all around the world. It marks the beginning of a new year that's to come, with the hope of prosperity, luck, and an abundance of blessings. Universally, everything will be dressed in red—people, houses, decorations—and children will be showered with red packets (filled with money). Here are the differences during this celebration:

  • China: Chinese New Year is known by another name, 春节 (or Spring Festival), as it celebrates the first days of spring on the lunar calendar.

  • Hong Kong: Red packets are called lai see as the main local dialect spoken is Cantonese, and it carries the meaning of 'smooth sailing'.

  • Taiwan: During house visitations, it's customary to feast on everything that's been served. However, the fish should not be wholly finished as it's considered good luck to leave leftovers.

  • Singapore: The practice of Prosperity Toss, otherwise known as yu sheng or lou hei, is commonly practiced during reunion dinners and for the first 15 days of the lunar calendar, as everyone gathers around and tosses a colourful array of pickled vegetables from a large shared plate while shouting all sorts of auspicious wishes that usually have to do with wealth and health. Red packets (hong bao) is more commonly known as ang pow, which is red packets in Hokkien, the main Chinese dialect group in the garden city.

Two Asians praying at a temple: the female has her arms together, the male is holding onto a bunch of joss sticks for prayers.

Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival (or Zhong Yuan Festival) is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar to pay tribute to the departed. It is believed that the gates of Hell are open during the seventh lunar month, and ghosts are free to roam around the land of the living. A festive that focuses on filial piety, there is a list of traditions as well as taboos that one must perform and follow throughout not only the day itself, but throughout the entire seventh month.

  • China: As celebrations are less common here, locals focus on rituals such as prayers, making offerings, and floating lanterns on the river.

  • Hong Kong: The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the fourteenth day, rather than the fifteenth like all others since in Cantonese, four is the homophone for the word death.

  • Taiwan: Large-scaled celebrations will be held for all to enjoy across various townships and counties.

  • Singapore: Dinners will be held along with the auction of auspicious objects, as well as Chinese opera and getai—to keep the ghosts and ancestors entertained. There are things that are pantang (Malay for taboo) that people refrain from doing during this period.

Picture of mooncakes and other dried snacks and fruits traditionally eaten during Mid-Autumn Festival.

Mid-Autumn Festival

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, you'll often find city streets decorated with lanterns and families celebrating with a variety of vibrant and delectable mooncakes. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, when the moon is fullest and brightest in the sky. It is otherwise known as the Mooncake Festival.

  • China: Reunions are held over dinner, and they often feast on tang yuan which symbolises families being together.

  • Hong Kong: Large-scaled celebrations of parades, activities, and showcases of traditions such as kung fu demonstrations, folk music, and craft displays for all to enjoy.

  • Singapore: While the Mid-Autumn Festival is not a public holiday in Singapore, it is still a time of gifting and celebrations, and the main streets of Chinatown are decorated and lighted up during the festive period.

  • Taiwan: Locals make pomelo hats as they believe wearing the pomelo's peel as a hat is said to bring good fortune.

While we've only named a few, there are undoubtedly many more nuanced differences between the thousands of communities, traditions, and cultures out there. If anything, this highlights the importance of localising your communication as you work towards your entry into different global and international markets that you are unfamiliar with, that it's best to always employ natives that are able to help you truly grasp the cultures of your select markets.

In this case, it'd be best for you to work with a Chinese translator who is native to the country that you are communicating to. As we've explored above, there are clearly many key differences even just between the practices between the same ethnic communities in different locales, let alone what appeals to them. For every Chinese-speaking market, you'll need a dedicated translator who can accurately identify translation issues, if any, or curate translated content that'll resonate with your intended audience wholly.

If you are looking for your copy to be translated to the native local language of any market of your choice, reach out to us and we'll be more than glad to help you out!

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