So Starts the Spring

The Tower of Reading


On 2 February 2024, China’s state media proclaimed that ‘the whole nation is suffused with an atmosphere of uplifting optimism’ 整個國家都洋溢著樂觀向上的氛圍. As the economy struggled and the stock market roiled as a major real estate developer went into liquidation, the positive sentiments of the propagandists were widely mocked online.

[Note: For a parody, see 風慢慢,整個魯鎮都洋溢著樂觀向上的氛圍,2024年2月5日.]

It turned out that the effusive evaluation of the state of the nation had been made by one Renate Koppe, the International Secretary of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party (DKP) who, as a result, was the most famous German in China for a day. Then, following weeks of speculation about the health of Xi Jinping, the tumefied head of China’s party-state-army, the man himself appeared in Tianjin, the neighbouring city of Beijing. He paid a visit to a market in the city on 1 February and spread good will. It was a PR exercise that was part of the Spring Festival holiday season that had begun on 26 January to mark the upcoming Year of the Dragon.

Standing outside a Tianjin steamed dumpling shop, Xi reminisced about how much he enjoyed eating this signature Tianjin foodstuff — known as Goubuli Dumplings 狗不理包子 — when he passed through the city as a Red Guard in 1966. He was one of the tens of millions of young people inspired by Mao to visit the devastation of the Cultural Revolution on every corner of the nation.

[Note: see 習近平到天津考察突重提文革 分析:暗喻上山下鄉艱苦終守得雲開, RFA,2024年2月2日.]

‘Emperor Dumpling’ 包帝 is one of the numerous monikers used by Chinese people both on- and off-line, in- and outside China to refer to Xi Jinping. Originating from a meal he had at a Qingfeng Steamed Dumpling shop in Beijing, the expression has gained widespread currency.


According to the traditional solar calendar, the 4th of February marks the Beginning of Spring 立春, lì chūn in Standard Chinese (or laap6 ceon1 in Cantonese, lập xuân in Vietnamese, りっしゅん isshun in Japanese and 입춘 ipchun in Korean). The First Day of the First Lunar Month 正月初一 is celebrated as the start of the lunar year, but traditionally the Beginning of Spring is the start of the agricultural year. In 1941, it was gazetted as Farmer’s Day 農民節 by the Republic of China and it is still an unofficial holiday in Taiwan.

In 2024, China Heritage marks the day with Ning Xi 寧曦, creator of The Fragrance of Literature 致遠書香, a multimedia site devoted to the study and appreciation of Chinese literature, in particular poetry (below she quotes poems by Yuan Zhen, Su Shi and Han Yu). We are including Ning Xi in The Tower of Reading, as well as in The Other China section of China Heritage.

My thanks to Jianying Zha for sharing Wang Chao’s calligraphy.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage,
4 February 2024



Other Festivals & Anniversaries in China Heritage:

from New Sinology Jottings

Calligraphy by Wang Chao (王超, 1963-)


The Beginning of Spring 立春

Ning Xi 寧曦


‘Branches of the peach erupt in flower as ducks feel the first hint of warm spring currents’, lines from Su Shi 蘇軾 in the hand of Liu Ju 劉炬


Source: 2月4日立春:顏與梅花俱自新,《科技日報》,2024年2月4日