Our celebration of the Chinese New Year on February 7, 2013, included dance, shadow puppets, piano, and a host of student presentations. Fifteen students from China are among a record number of international students at Morgan Park Academy this year.
Yuxi on Piano
Shadow Puppets, by Danny Li
More than 2,000 years ago, a favorite concubine of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty died of illness. The emperor missed her so much that he lost his desire to reign. One day, a minister happened to see children playing with dolls where the shadows on the floor were vivid.
Inspired by this scene, the smart minister hatched an idea. He made a cotton puppet of the concubine and painted it. As night fell, he invited the emperor to watch a rear-illuminated puppet show behind a curtain. The emperor was delighted and became a shadow puppet fan from then on. This story recorded in the official history book is believed to be the origin of shadow puppetry.
Shadow puppets were first made of paper sculpture, and later from the hides of donkeys or oxen. That’s why their Chinese name is pi yang, which means shadows of the hides. Shadow puppetry was very popular during the Tang and Song Dynasties in many parts of China.
Shadow puppetry was also related to politics. In Beijing, for example, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, this folk art was so popular that there were eight generously paid puppeteers in one prince’s mansion. When the Manchu rulers spread their rule to various parts of China, they brought the puppet show with them to make up for the fact that they could not appreciate local entertainment due to language barriers. From 1796 to 1800, the government forbade the public showing of puppet shows to prevent the spreading of peasant uprising at the time. It was not until 1821 that shadow puppet shows gained some momentum.
Today, shadow puppetry shows face extinction like other traditional art forms such as Nuo Drama.
Chinese Zodiac, by Po Gao
The Chinese zodiac has a long and ancient history. It is almost two centuries old. Chinese zodiac has 12 kinds of animals: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig.
There is an old story about the Chinese zodiac. Long, long ago, a god wanted to choose 12 animals to take turns on duty to protect China. He conducted a race and the first 12 to arrive won the chance to be guardians. Many animals ran the race and they played many tricks to get ahead of one another. These 12 animals won, and somehow the mouse came in first. So these 12 animals are the winners. Some old clans used them as totems.
Last year was the dragon year; the dragon is the most special one of the 12 animals, because no one has ever seen a dragon. China has many kinds of dragons, some protect the sea, some protect the sky, and some dragons can be a person and keep an eye on the society. We even call the king’s clothes the dragon clothes.
And every year has a zodiac. For example, the snake year is 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977. So if you are born in these years then your zodiac is the same as this year's zodiac, we called that in Chinese Ben Ming Nian. So next Ben Ming Nian is 12 years later, and you will get good luck that year and every 12 years.
This year is the snake year. Some people think the snake is the dragon's relative, some people think they are old enemies, and in old China, the snake is the sign of the royal family. So these two animals are very sacred in ancient China.
Festival Foods, by Jessica Qian
Chinese New Year foods are very important to Chinese people. All family members come together to eat at this time. Chinese New Year foods are not only delicious, but it is traditional to eat certain foods over this festival. Chinese dumplings, fish, and nian gao are usually seen as delicious and eaten at this time.
In Chinese, the word for “fish” sounds like “save more.” Chinese people always like “save more” money at the end of year because they think if they save more, they can make more in the next year.
In Chinese, nian gao sounds like “getting higher year by year.” In Chinese people’s minds, the higher you are, the more prosperous your business is.
However, the most popular food is dumpling. Next, we will introduce dumplings clearly to you.
Chinese Dumplings, by Tao Fan
Jiaozi, the traditional Chinese dumpling, is one of the major foods eaten during the Spring Festival and year-round in Northern China. It can consist of many different fillings inside its thinly rolled piece of dough, so you can choose beef, pork, shrimp, or other meat and whatever vegetables you want to make your unique dumplings. And it’s also interesting to taste three types of dumplings cooked in different ways: boiled, steamed, and pan-fried. And if you missed today's dumplings, we are preparing to serve dumplings in the cafeteria, please come and join us.
Now, let’s talk more about the Chinese dumplings. The history of the jiao zi dumplings dates back to the Northern Song Dynasty. During this time, merchants in Chengdu distributed one of the earliest known kinds of paper money. The currency was called jiao zi. With the high circulation of the currency, the local government of Chengdu established the earliest administrative and savings bank known as the Office of Jiao zi. The word jiao zi then began to be used as a general term for money. And in ancient China, jiao zi dumplings looked like shoe shaped gold and silver ingots known as yuan bao which was used as another currency before the use of jiao zi paper money. So eating dumplings during the New Year is a metaphor for eating money; when people eat jiao zi dumplings during the New Year celebration, they hope that it will bring prosperity and good luck for the forthcoming year. It's really a romantic thing to eat dumplings for good luck, isn't it?
Charity Trip, by Jimmy Tu
UZ is a fund that was created by students, and it gets a lot of support from the companies in many different areas in China. There are several programs organized by this fund each year. The main one goes into poor areas in China to educate the primary school students there. Volunteers who go there are given 3 days training to learn how to teach classes. Also, after school groups of 4 people will have a visit to the poorest students’ homes, and give them each 200 RMB, which means 36 dollars, to make sure that their children are able to go to school for the next year. That money comes from fundraising, which is organized by UZ.
Anybody can join them, so I have decided to go there this coming summer as a teacher for two weeks. Last year, one of my friends invited me to join this program with him. He said that this program is to help the students in the poorest areas in China. When I heard that, I felt interested in it because we can be the teachers of these students, but also I felt extremely sorry for the children.
My friend described them to me. He told me these students are so poor that they have to raise a family at the same age of studying. So a lot of them decide to get a job rather than study, but if they do so they might get some temporary stability for their family but they also destroy their future because they don't even know anything about the outside world and will stay poor like their dad's generation.
We don't want this to happen and are working hard to try to change their life. It is hard for them and hard for us to change their fate. Helping them keep studying while they walk through several dangerous sand mountains. They cannot pay for electricity so they have to finish their homework by the moonlight or by candlelight. They really need knowledge to change their lives.
I'm willing to help them and I'm going there this summer to help them. And I need your help! I have some brasley made by these kids to represent their thanks and wishes for us. I'd like to sell them to you for a small donation tomorrow in the dining hall. The money will all go towards helping the poorest students there.
History of the Chinese Spring Festival, by Vincent Wu and Lester Gao
Let’s talk about some history of Chinese Spring Festival.
Our ancestors have celebrated this festival for 4,000 years. Now, Lester and I would like to share with everyone something about the origin of the spring festival and how it is still celebrated today.
On one day around 2,000 BC, Emperor Shun ascended the throne. Then he went to worshiping heaven and earth with his subordinates. Hence, people regard this day as the first day of the year. And gradually, that period of time of year became the spring festival that we know today.
Before the spring festival, we go out and buy some special purchase and on the night before our new year, we won’t go to sleep because the whole family will come together and watch a spring festival to lead on special for the whole night.
You might wonder “Why don’t Chinese people go to bed for the whole night?” That’s because there is a scary legend that was very popular at that time.
According to Chinese mythology, a Nian is a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains. Once each spring, on or around Chinese New Year, it comes out of hiding to attack people, and prefers children, Weaknesses of the Nian include sensitivity to loud noises, and a fear of the color red. The Chinese Lion dance is known to have originated from the legend of the Nian.
In the beginning of the story, the monster Nian attacked the villagers. After the attack, the villagers discussed how to make the Nian leave them in peace. Then, they have ideas – they used the firecracker to make a big noise to threaten the Nian and wore the red clothes to make Nian stay away from them. According to this same myth, the Nian has not appeared in the village again. The Nian was still believed to exist .So the Chinese people continue to set off the firecrackers and wear the red clothes .As the time went by , these activities become the part of the spring festival’s customs.
In thousands of years of Chinese history, there are some customs about the spring festival that never change. For example, people will clean their house to welcome the forthcoming spring festival. They believe they can destroy the old and establish the new wishes through this way. So every family is filled with joy as they get together and wash away the troubles of the previous year.
It seems everything we mentioned is pretty far from our lifestyle nowadays. Yes, we have lots of new stuff coming out during 4,000 years of history. Red envelopes are another changeless custom of the spring festival. When people visit their relatives, the elders will prepare gift money for the younger generation. According to an ancient Chinese legend, the kids who received red envelopes can spend a year in peace. There is a folk legend that the kids can use the gift money to bribe the monster which called 年 to get peace. In reality, the kids often use the money to get candy, fireworks, or something they can enjoy in the festival.
Fireworks, by Damon Sun
Firecrackers are a very important thing in China, especially for Spring Festival. We use it to celebrate our holidays. And our history of firework has been for about 2,000 years.
Actually, at the beginning we were very afraid of something like ghosts or monsters, because they are surely evil. So we expelled them by setting the fireworks. But in modern day, we started to celebrate a wedding or a holy holiday by using the fireworks.
Besides, for going to see the fireworks, you do not need to go to a certain place, you can see them everywhere during the Spring Festival in the morning or at night. Now I want show you guys some videos about fireworks.
There is an ancient tale from long, long ago about a monster named "year," which is very fierce and cruel and I found some pictures of it.
Paper Cutting, by Edward Xu
First of all, if I mention paper cut, maybe the first thing come up your mind is a finger cut by a piece of paper. But what I'm trying to introduce is a traditional Chinese New Year's decoration.
Chinese Paper Cutting or Jianzhi (剪纸) is the first type of paper-cutting design, since paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. The art form later spread to other parts of the world, with different regions adopting their own cultural styles. Because the cutouts are also used to decorate doors and windows, they are sometimes referred to chuāng huā (窗花), meaning “window flower.”
Usually we buy a lot of paper cut before the Spring Festival, and their color should be red, because we believe that red can bring us luck. Also, the symbol of the paper cut sometime means “good luck,” and we put it upside down, because in Chinese, the pronunciation of “upside down” is as same as “come.” So that means luck is coming.
During the Spring Festival, we usually write the lucky sentences on the Chinese Banner and put them on the both sides of the doors, and also on top of it. They are like the poems, like songs. We believe that the banners on the door will bring us good luck. We usually buy the banners from people who make them on the side of the street, or if we have really good handwriting, we can make them by ourselves.
The Chinese Banner is very important to our lives. We can see them everywhere in the street, on the side of the doors, inside our houses. They are the symbols of luck. We believe they can make our lives better.
Chinese Lanterns, by Cindy Zhang
The lantern festival is an important part of the Spring Festival and marks the official end of the long holiday. The lantern festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. This is the first full moon of the new year, symbolizing unity and perfection.
Several days before the lantern festival, people begin to make lanterns. Now, many people just buy them. Lanterns are made in the shape of different animals, vegetables, fruits, and many other things. While making lanterns, people usually write riddles on lanterns.
On the eve of the lantern festival, all the lanterns are hung up. On the lantern festival people go outside to have a look at the lanterns and guess the riddles on the lanterns. Also you can see some wonderful folk performances, dragon dance, loom dance and so on. They are parts of traditional activities of the lantern festival.
Beijing Opera, by Frank Zhang
In China, we have lots of special things, and we have lots of important cultural heritage. I am from Beijing, the capital of China. In my hometown, we have the most famous traditional event: Beijing Opera!
In 1790, Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong began the first opera group which grew into the Beijing Opera. There are 4main roles in Beijing Opera: The Sheng, which is the lead male role. The Dan, which is any female role. The Jing, which is a role for a strong male character. The Jing always has a painted face. The last is the Chou, which is the clown role. The belief is that the clown’s combination of laughter and ugliness can drive away evil spirits.
And, when we have the show, we need masks to coat our faces, and different masks have different colors. Red, white, blue, black, gold, and silver are the most common. The masks can show the personal character, the characteristic, whether they are the good or evil, and help us judge the beauty and ugliness. Red means brave and upright. White means duplicity. Blue means just so-so, normal. Black means evil. Gold and silver usually are very magical.
That is all. Are you interested in Beijing Opera? Thank you.