Lavish Excess in the Face of Death? (Siya’s augmenter’s post)

Ding Village hadn’t celebrated like this in years. The villagers couldn’t remember the last time they had seen a ceremony so exciting and lavish. There were tiny firecrackers that exploded with a pop, and great strings of them that popped and crackled for minutes on end. There were fireworks that exploded with a bang or a boom, and rockets that whizzed up into the air, sending down showers of sparks. It was a display to light up the sky and dazzle the senses. The noise of fireworks mingled with the babble of voices; smoke and charred bits of red paper floated through the air. 

At two key moments in the plot of Dream of Ding Village, we find that the community resorts to the strange phenomenon of celebration and gatherings as a means to alleviate the suffering of the AIDS epidemic: first, at the outset of the outbreak at Ma Xianglin’s concert, where nearly 300 people gathered despite the fever taking over the village; and second, during the narrator’s “wedding” (refer to quote above). In the first instance, the concert seems to serve as a happy distraction from a potentially threatening disease, whereas in the second, it is a display of lavish excess and a momentary respite from the widespread death that has ravaged the village. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, this raised several questions: what coping mechanisms do people gravitate towards when mortality is in question? Why are gatherings and celebrations continued in the face of crisis?

During COVID-19, underground parties have become increasingly commonplace. As this article highlights, millennials in metropolitan cities have been using secret WhatsApp groups to organise parties during this time, completely flouting social distancing norms. While the celebrations in Dream of Ding Village were strange enough already, the phenomenon becomes even more bizarre in the COVID context, as this is a virus that spreads through droplets, making each gathering potentially life threatening. This begs the question: why is it worth it? Why do people continue to seek opportunities to “celebrate” during crises even when the costs far outweigh the benefits? 

Psychologists recommend that despite COVID, children’s birthday parties (even virtually) are essential, as celebrations make children and adults feel like they are part of a community, and break the monotony of life during the pandemic. The psychological benefits of celebration during a crisis seem to make sense, however, I am still left with the question of why there is such an emphasis on excess and lavish grandeur in these celebrations. We observe a similar phenomenon in Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague, illustrating the historical use of sensory pleasures as a way to numb the pain of loss during crisis. 


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  1. Hi Siya, Thanks for this great post, I enjoyed reading it! I also agree that some (safe) celebration is needed even during the plague/COVID to break from the monotony of life – the midnight “surprise zoom calls” to celebrate birthdays are always fun. Coming to the question that you raise about the excesses in celebrations during the plague, such as underground parties during COVID or the grand feasts like the one we saw in A Feast During the Plague, I think that their existence is rooted in the anxiety brought by the plague/COVID. These party goers well recognize the danger they are putting their and others’ life into. However, they also know that with the plague changing things everyday so fast (for example- restrictions, rules, and their enforcement), while they could celebrate today, the situation tomorrow might look completely different (remember the anxiety about travel restrictions we had when coming to back campus 🙂 . Thus, it becomes an all or nothing game, where one tries to let themselves free and enjoy all excess they can, knowing that they might have none of it in the future. Hence, party goers might attend unsafe underground parties, knowing that with more enforcement on COVID restrictions, this could also be taken away later. And so, our good old Mr. Walsingham revels during the feast like its his last day on the earth, not knowing if he will get the chance to let it out again.

  2. I love this post and lemme just say that these underground parties kind of remind me of speakeasies during the prohibition.

  3. Also during a time where we yearn for normalcy and human contact (i.e. rn) people probably keep parties to feel like everything is still okay. We need celebrations to remember that life is not over. Life goes on, but it is vital to take in mind the new precautions. We have to be able to find new and creative ways to celebrate life coz even though the world isn’t doing that great, small things still need to be celebrated, graduations, birthdays, that A+. We have to find ways to continue life with enthusiasm. Now obviously parties that break the social distancing protocols are absolutely wrong and shouldn’t be endorsed for obvious reasons. But I see where they may be coming from. And to get rid of some of that frustration, we can take COVID-19 as an opportunity to slow down and celebrate the small everyday things in simple manors. (I like making ramen and watching movies as a small celebration of getting through the week)

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