Community comes together for Chinese New Year

Junior Risa Suzuki shows attendees how to write traditional Chinese characters on parchment during the Chinese New Year celebration.// Photo by Christopher Perez/The Guilfordian

Red decorations lined the walls of the Leak Room of Duke Hall for Guilford’s Chinese New Year celebration.

“Red in Chinese is (a) really lucky color,” said sophomore Xinxin Zhou, who taught attendees how to make dumplings and performed poetry during the event. “It can bring you lots of good luck, so Chinese people really like this color.”

On Feb. 17, Guilford community members celebrated Chinese New Year officially for the first time in several years. A crowd of over 100 attended the event to taste traditional Chinese dishes and see performances from students, faculty and staff.

“Chinese New Year, I think, is equivalent to maybe Thanksgiving or even Christmas,” said Visiting Instructor for Justice and Policy Studies and event organizer Ziwei Qi. “(It’s) really the time for family (to) get together, really appreciate what you have rather than just always looking for something we don’t have.”

Chinese New Year is an annual, 10-day celebration that has been observed for more than a thousand years. The event marks the beginning of a new year based on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, which has 12 animal zodiac symbols, each representing a year.

“This year is the year of dog,” said Qi. “The year of dog is representing honesty, loyalty and auspicious.

“Dog is such a friendly symbol to a lot of cultures.”

Several event attendees were born in the year of the dog.

“This is my year, I’ll be turning 36 this year,” said Interim Director of Study Abroad Daniel Diaz, who helped plan for the event.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Eric Mortensen, who presented on Tibetan New Year’s traditions during the event, was also born in the year of the dog. Mortensen credits the event’s success to Qi.

“I think it’s worth really holding up the incredible energy that (Ziwei Qi) has to make this happen,” said Mortensen. “She has tremendous positive energy and was very insightful about designing tonight in a way that would be engaging for the whole community.

“Nights like tonight are really a reminder of some of the things that are best about Guilford.”

One of Mortensen’s favorite performances of the evening was a poem read by seven students and faculty members in different Chinese dialects.

Associate Professor of History Zhihong Chen, who participated in the poem reading and helped to organize the event, believes that the poem showcased China’s diversity.

“(I hope they) get some kind of idea about the diversity within China,” said Chen. “The diversity of ethnic groups and dialects, languages, different traditions.”

The event also featured presentations on the ancient Chinese philosopher Mengzi from Associate Professor of Philosophy Vance Ricks and on the traditions of the Hui people from Chen. In addition, several students participated in an exhibition of Chinese clothing and a performance of “Mo Li Hua,” or “Jasmine Flower,” a Chinese folk song.

“I’m from Japan and I’m a little bit familiar with Chinese culture because we share many things,” said exchange student Risa Suzuki. Suzuki performed “Mo Li Hua” during the event. “I learned how to pronounce Chinese (for this song).”

Aside from featuring traditional Chinese songs and clothes, the event also included several traditional Chinese New Year dishes, including dumplings and Kung Pao chicken.

“I really love Chinese food, I think because we are really close,” said Japanese exchange student Mei Fujie. “The taste is kind of familiar.”

The event brought a sense of familiarity and comfort to Chinese students as well.

“If I’m back home I would stay with my family and eat food and celebrate, but I’m studying abroad now so I feel lonely and I miss home,” said Zhou. “Joining this event kind of feel like, ‘Oh, it’s real Chinese New Year.’

“I think this event is not only for Chinese people to celebrate their festival, but for other people like foreigners to know Chinese New Year, to know Chinese culture.”

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Barbara Lawrence also commented on the event’s importance.

“These are the type of events that we’re supposed to have all the time,” said Lawrence. “This is all about diversity and who Guilford really is.”

Chen expressed similar sentiments.

“It’s very important, certainly for diversity,” said Chen. “It really first and foremost means so much for the small number of Chinese faculty, students.

“This is part of our tradition, so it means a lot to be able to celebrate it here.”

Chen hopes that Guilford will provide more support in the future.

“I think our Chinese program needs support,” said Chen. “Currently we don’t have Chinese language program. Even though I teach Asian history and there are some other faculty who also teach Asian classes, we need more attention, more support.”

Attendees emphasized the importance of paying attention to other cultures.

“It’s good to learn about different cultures because you interact with different kinds of people and if they’re learning about ours, we should learn about theirs,” said sophomore and criminal justice major Jennifer Shoe.

The event concluded with a walk from the Leak Room to Founders Hall, where attendees learned Tai Chi in the West Bauman Gallery.

“In the traditional Chinese saying, after the dinner if you walk 1,000 steps, you will live up to 1,000 years,” said Qi. “So we are trying to mobilize people walking to the West Gallery.”

Following the large turnout of this event, Chen hopes for more Chinese cultural events.

“I think we are all encouraged to see this big turnout,” said Chen. “When I first came here the year of 2008-2009, we also celebrated the Moon Festival which is in the early fall, so maybe that’s a next target.”