2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Culture of Birthday Celebration for the Elders in the Ming-Qing Period

Chung-lin Ch’iu

Deapartment of History, Tamkang University

The topic subject under discussion in this article is a cultural phenomenon of birthday celebration for the elders in Ming-Qing period. This article is divided into three parts. The first part, which is devoted to the decrease in age limit of celebration and examples of the custom all around China, features the development of the culture. Then the second part, which covers the integration of terms, idioms, drawings, auspicious plays, and activities applied to the celebrations, probes into the content of the culture. The final part presents the consumer market involved in the celebrations. It discusses the possible scale of the market, and the increasing consumption of the activities in Ming and Qing, especially the tendency that banquets served luxurious dishes like sea cucumbers, edible nest of cliff swallows, and roast meat in the middle phase of the nineteenth century. This article, which is mainly on the prevailing custom of birthday celebrations for the elders, highlights their relationships between literati culture and material consumption to represent the cultural and economical complexion involved in certain celebrations.

Birthday celebrations were a part of literati culture in Ming-Qing period. Based on literati, the cultural formation of the activities presented a class nature. There were class conflicts between refined and popular tastes. The literati harbored strong resentment against commoners who pirated their cultural significance of birthday celebrations. On the other hand, these celebrations showed a competition of honor. As a result, the consumptions were daily increasing. Especially after the middle period of Qing Dynasty, under favor of the improvement of transportation and fused into world economic system, the entire empire was in a new wave of banquets consequent on the importation of a large quantity of marine products (e.g., sea cucumber and shark fin, etc.) from southeast coast to the inland. The new wave conveys a message that the empire’s commodity economy was attaining its further development. As for the phenomenon that some of the literati held their birthday celebrations under 40 years of age, it reflects the subversion for the literati against the popular culture of birthday celebrations. The Chinese has been paying much attention to the seniors’ birthdays since modern times. On the contrary, The Western emphasizes on the birthdays of their children. The sharp disagreement represents the wide divergence of birthday culture between the Chinese and the Western.


Key words: Ming-Qing, birthday, theatrical performance, banquets, culture of birthday , private life history, social history