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Annual China Night promotes diversity, new cultural perspectives

| Monday, February 19, 2018

Saint Mary’s hosted its 10th annual China Night on Saturday, which featured crafts, games and 14 performances spotlighting Chinese dance, songs, instruments and poetry. The event also showcased a 10-year reflection and a historical Chinese fashion show.

Every year, China Night celebrates Chinese New Year. This year is the Year of the Dog, an animal that symbolizes loyalty, honesty and working hard in Chinese culture.

Yidi Wu, Chinese Culture Club’s co-advisor and a first-year professor at Saint Mary’s, teaches Chinese as well as East Asian and world history. She said China Night entertains as well as educates.

“It’s great that they’ve been doing it for the past 10 years because the Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday every year in China,” she said. “Chinese students are the biggest number of international students on campus, so we feel like we should celebrate it and, at the same time, introduce Chinese culture to other people on campus. It’s a good learning opportunity as well as a celebration.”

Chinese Culture Club president and director of China Night Yijie Ren said Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and sharing it with the community is imperative in order to encourage diversity within the community.

“The Chinese New Year is the most important event. It’s like our Christmas,” she said. “We want to share it with the whole community and for people to see different cultures and diversity. Chinese students are the largest group of international students at Saint Mary’s College, so I think it is very important to show others the diversity at Saint Mary’s, too.”

China Night began when, by chance, associate director of International Education Alice Yang met an American man named Jeff who spoke Mandarin Chinese and had visited China so often he had friends there.

“Later that year, Jeff introduced me to Dr. Susan Kiang, a Chinese-American artist, who has lived in town for more than 60 years,” Yang said. “It is amazing that she also worked at Saint Mary’s but in the 1960s. She told me that she taught educational psychology at Saint Mary’s for a few years and that her original Chinese name was Hongnong Yang. The first art exhibition at Saint Mary’s Moreau Art Gallery was her Chinese paintings.”

Yang said this meeting inspired her and many others to organize the first China Night event in 2008.

“The event was organized by the then-called SMC/ND Chinese Students’ Association,” she said. “Our conversation crossed over 50 years of history and produced China Night at Saint Mary’s today. I was thrilled that we could continue the international education history on campus via the event.”

The international students at Saint Mary’s take China Night very seriously and try to engage everyone, Wu said.

“They try to make it very formal by inviting President Cervelli to be there, as well as our provost and deans,” she said. “The fun thing is, we try to involve as many community members as possible, especially children, because at China Night, we give red pocket money.”

Red pocket money, or red envelopes, are given out at Chinese New Year in order to further good luck and ward off evil. Wu said red pocket money was given to each child or student who attended China Night.

“We give out the red pocket money to both children and students, because that’s a ritual in China,” she said. “Usually, it’s the parents or grandparents that give it to their children.”

Ren said many children attend China Night to learn about their own culture, as well as the culture of others. Some of the children in attendance performed on stage as part of the East Meets West Dance Company in South Bend.  

“Majority of the kids in attendance are first generation or born in America, so their parents are immigrants from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong,” she said. “For them, you can see they are learning their about own culture.”

Ren said she encourages parents to bring their children to culturally enlightening events so that they can participate in cultural diffusion.

“The administration, staff and faculty bring their children to China Night because they want their children to see a diverse cultural perspective and because this may be something they’ve never seen before,” she said. “I believe China Night is a good opportunity for children to learn and gain new perspectives about the other half of the world.”

Ren said events like China Night are significant because they are opportunities to teach Americans about a big part of our world.

“Chinese immigrants, or Chinese international students, are very largely spread out in the United States and also, in China, we have 5,000 years of history,” she said, “It’s pretty important for a Western country to learn from very different Asian backgrounds.”

Wu said China is becoming more prevalent in the media every day, so it is important for Americans to be aware of its culture and languages.

Yang said events like China Night allow students to prepare to become global citizens.

“We live in a global society with interrelated economies and it’s important to learn about and appreciate each other’s culture,” she said. “Now more than 350,000 Chinese international students are studying in the United States. China Night is a great opportunity for our students to learn Chinese culture, language and history. It is one of our events and efforts for campus internationalization and for preparing our students to be global citizens. Cultural understanding will definitely contribute to world peace.”

China Night is presented in English in order to accommodate a vast number of members from the South Bend community, Wu said.

“China Night involves people both on campus and off campus, so it’s a good connecting event that involves a lot of people from a lot of different places,” she said. “We want to introduce Chinese culture to other people, that’s why we want China Night to be in both Chinese and English.”

Ren said by hosting China Night each year, Saint Mary’s is encouraging inclusion and diversity.

“We want to bring others into our culture and promote diversity here, so China Night gives the local people and our students a different cultural perspective and allows them to think about how international students impact the school,” Ren said. 

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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