Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Can Christians "Yam Seng"?

In this special Kairos interview, Kam Weng goes head-to-head with Fong Yang (yes, he just started to blog)on "why he thinks Chinese Christians should not discard many aspects of their culture. He also suggests ways in which some of these festivals can be redeemed and celebrated."

NKW: Another cultural practice is the Chinese yam-seng at weddings. Do you think this
is an acceptable Chinese practice?

WFY: In Cantonese, yam-seng means “drink to victory.” In China, the army generals would normally drink with their soldiers the night before the battle to boost their morale. But in Malaysia and Singapore, the term has been adopted in the context of wedding celebrations. It reflects the Chinese community’s desire for success in marriage, which is a good thing. What I deplore is the drunkenness that sometimes accompanies such occasions. Most Christian couples continue the practice of yam-seng to please their parents. I don’t think Chinese Christians should replace yam-seng with “blessing”—that would be too westernized. Rather, we should affirm the Chinese aspiration for a successful marriage by the means of the traditional yam-seng. The original Chinese practice is to have three toasts: one for the married couple, one for the couple’s parents, and one for the guests.

Chinese Christians can adopt this practice by offering one toast to the couple for a happy marriage, another to the couple’s parents to honour them, and the third to the community whom the couple will need to rely on for help and support to ensure a successful marriage.

I advocate Chinese Christian couples to serve soft drinks and wine during the
wedding celebrations. I should point out that the Messianic Banquet will include wine (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 26:29). But wine must be served in moderation. We don’t want non-Christians to accuse us of getting drunk and being no different from them. Instead of going from table to table to yam-seng, I encourage the newly married couple to get to know their guests—some of whom are distant relatives or friends of the family.

NKW: Anything else?

WFY: One other major festival is the Dumpling Festival, which is sometimes called the
Patriotic Poet Festival. The first time the festival was celebrated was in 287 B.C. Since then, it has been celebrated annually on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

According to legend, Chu-yuan was a loyal minister of the Kingdom of Chu. He, however, became entangled in court intrigues and due to his refusal to compromise his integrity, was banished from the imperial court. Chu-yuan then committed suicide in the river. To prevent the fishes from eating his body, the fishermen threw dumplings into the river.

The main theme of this festival is integrity, which the Bible also talks about. The
festival has a special message for politicians since Chu-yuan was an honest and loyal public servant who loved the nation. The legend also encourages the rest of us to be good citizens. Such festivals are worth celebrating.

But we need to think further how we can meaningfully celebrate this and the other
Chinese festivals. We don’t always have to look at foreign models. Within our own cultures, we already have many elements we can connect with. To be a Chinese Christian, we don’t have to throw off all our different cultural expressions and put on a ‘western garment’ instead.

Read the entire interview here


Johnny Ong said...

have been to many christian chinese weddings. some, the couple took control of the dinner as they paid for it. some, their non christian parents paid for it and when such occasion happens, hard liquor flowed freely. to the parents, its a time of celebration, an announcement proudly made to their frens/relatives and hard liquor is a must.

Stephen Tan said...

At 1st when it said that WFY was going head to head with NKW I thought they were gonna debate a matter they disagreed on. That would have been a spectacle! Anyways, good to know that Rev Wong has entered the blogosphere.

Hedonese said...

That wud be something now, won't it Stephen? :) Better than WWE RAW

Hows life in Aust? Thanks for dropping by, met ur bro in Spore last weekend. He's so humorous :D

David said...

the point of doing or not doing certain things as a christian is not whether the practice is western or eastern or OUR culture but whether we know the origin of the practice and its implication. it should be quite obvious that toasting is not a unique tradition of the chinese; westerners do toast albeit saying 'cheers'. the International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'" although we cannot be sure if that is the origin, we can still abstain from unscriptural practices to keep ourself free from spiritual defilement. John 4:24 says 'God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.'

Hedonese said...

Giving angpows is not found in Scripture as well, and one may well argue that it has some dodgy origins. But the same goes for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter celebrations... the gospel is powerful enuff to transform and appropriate these celebrations with spiritual and scriptural meaning :)

Our theology of creation needs to be at least as strong as our theology of the fall