Does China Make Ramadan Any Less Real?

Ramadan Lamps. Photo by Al Tompkins at


It’s a paradox of our time that even as intangible traditions, religious ritual, and ethnic identification become more vivid– as statements of resistance to global cultural homogenization– the material objects with which those identities are expressed can be made almost anywhere in the world.    

Does that fact make the counter-identities part of globalization?  Or is globalization an unwitting facilitator of ever more rigid national and ethnic identities?    

Thanks to Nigel Hetherington in Cairo for pointing out the following news story:  

from BBC News 20 August 2010   

Egypt’s lantern-makers threatened by imports from China

By Yolande Knell  

Brightly-coloured lanterns are strung across Egyptian streets and lighting up homes and offices as part of celebrations for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  

The lantern – or fanoos – is an enduring symbol of the festivities and dates back more than 800 years.  


But in recent years, cheap, plastic lanterns and lantern-themed toys imported from China have become more popular with Egyptian children.  

Most run on batteries. Some move or light up and play tinny musical tunes.  

“Everything is from China,” says Um Duwai, who sells the modern lanterns. She grins as she points out this year’s best-sellers.  

“There is one shaped like a mosque with lights and these ones which look like Hassan Shehata [the Egyptian football coach] and [the football player] Abu Treika. He is most popular.”  

“Our bride doll is also beautiful,” she adds. “And we have Inspector Columbo from the TV. We were asking for it this year. Every year the Chinese make something new.”  


While the Chinese goods are fun, they have many critics who fear they could lead to the demise of a long-cherished, local tradition.  

“The traditional lanterns are threatened by Chinese lanterns,” says journalist Ahmed el-Dereiny who has studied the history.  

*   *   * 

For complete story, with the energetic reaction of local Cairene lantern makers, click here.


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