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Chinese department hosts Lunar New Year celebration

| Monday, February 13, 2023

Students and faculty gathered in the Coleman Morse Lounge on Saturday to celebrate Lunar New Year with performances, food and cheerful company. The event was organized by the Chinese language program and department of East Asian languages and cultures. 

The celebration’s 12 performances were put on by students studying Chinese, and the acts included singing, dancing, piano, violin and a traditional Lion Dance. Cheyenne Huddleston, one of the vocal soloists, reflected on the show’s preparation process.

“For that dance we took like 15 minutes at the end of each class and just kind of got together and fumbled around a bit, but we got there eventually,” Huddleston said.

The participating students agreed on their love for the Chinese department. Kathryn Sherman, one of the event’s hosts, echoed feelings of gratitude for the dedicated professors and engaging classes. 

“I love the Chinese department — they’re amazing. The class sizes are super small, especially when you get to the upper levels. So there’s a lot of opportunity for one-on-one practice and the professors are so willing to help you outside of class,” Sherman said. “I’ve never had a professor that has as much time to dedicate to me as the Chinese professors do.”

Sherman also explained the background for the Lunar New Year celebration. 

“Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so it’s about 15 days long. And there’s a story that goes along with it of Nian, which was this beast that was coming and attacking Chinese villages,” Sherman said. “A lot of the traditions that come from Chinese New Year are connected to how they drove that monster away. So like lighting off the fireworks and the color red were all things that were said to scare him away. That’s kind of where the holiday originated.”

Yongping Zhu, professor of East Asian languages and cultures, helped coordinate the event. He explained that the Lunar New Year celebration is just one example of how the department has been striving to integrate cultural learning in addition to language acquisition. 

Kelsey Quint | The Observer
Students dressed up and performed the traditional Lion Dance for a Lunar New Year celebration.

“You know, language and culture are inseparable — they must be combined together. If you know the language, you must know the culture,” Zhu said. “At the end of class, we take about five or 10 minutes to sing a song, and the Chinese students love it.” 

From a global standpoint, Zhu hopes that the department’s efforts to foster cultural understanding will help students act as forces for collaboration between the two largest economies in the world. 

“China is the second biggest unit for business in the world. America, of course, is first. We hope these countries can work together and work well. At this moment, we just hope our students are awake and trying to understand these challenges,” Zhu said.

In an effort to continue these goals, students and faculty have been working to establish a new Chinese Language and Culture Club. Kathryn Sherman will serve as club president and treasury once the group has received official recognition from the University. Sherman said the main goals of the club are to develop a community for students of all Chinese-speaking capabilities. 

“We want it to just be a safe space for students who are interested in learning Chinese and those who are currently learning Chinese to kind of practice their abilities and get some exposure to conversational skills. So, it will be all peer led and we’re going to be doing biweekly language dinners where people can practice their Chinese or if you don’t know any Chinese, then we’ll teach you some words,” Sherman said. “It’s just for fun and to experience a new language and also learn a little bit about the culture.”

Sherman said that prospective members can expect a variety of cultural activities, including celebrations for the Chinese holidays, kung fu lessons and a Chinese spelling bee.

Sherman encouraged anyone who is interested to get involved with the Chinese department, whether it be through class, the club or attending an open event like the Lunar New Year celebration.

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