David H. Murdock Research Institute

NCRC Scientists Open A Window To Chinese Culture

January 03, 2012

Chinese New Year

Scientists at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis formed the Cabarrus Chinese American Association and are hosting a Chinese New Year celebration on January 14, 2012 to raise money for their Chinese Language and Art School.

In American culture, January is usually a quiet month to recover from the revelry of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. January 2012 will not be a quiet month. January 23 is the Chinese New Year that welcomes the year of the dragon.

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, will be celebrated by billions of people globally. In the United States, some of the largest celebrations are held annually in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Comparable to Western holidays, the Chinese New Year reunites family and friends through the celebration of centuries-old traditions.

In Cabarrus County, the Cabarrus Chinese American Association (CCAA), which was founded by scientists at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, will host their first Chinese New Year festival on Saturday, January 14 from 1 pm to 6 pm at Cox Mill High School, 1355 Cox Mill Road in Concord. The event will feature traditional Chinese music, dancing, food, decorations and games. Proceeds benefit the CCAA’s Chinese Language and Art School.

Chinese New Year Festival

“The Chinese New Year- it is kind of like Christmas,” said Maggie Li, one of three teachers at the CCAA’s school. “It is about celebration, family reunions and joy of the holiday. In China, we have three days off for a national holiday. In old times, it was 15 days. Now it is shortened to three days to one week. People visit family and friends (and) do the dragon or lion dance. For little kids, they have the little red envelope which has money inside, just like Christmas presents for kids. It’s a lot of fun.”

The CCAA New Year Festival features performers from the Raleigh area like the NC-RTP Chinese Singers Club, the Ruby Slippers Chinese Dance Club and the NC Chinese Music Instrument Ensemble as well as Charlotte-area performers from Chinese Phoenix Arts and the Pacific Arts Troupe. Cox Mill High School students will add some American-style singing. All performers are donating their time to the event. Chinese restaurants and stores in the area will also offer traditional Chinese crafts and food for sale. The event will include traditional decorations and games for children and families to enjoy.

“We’re bringing a lot of elements of the Chinese New Year here,” Li said. “Most of the decorations are lanterns and paper-cut cards on the windows like Christmas decorations here. Chinese music is very elegant, and we bring that to the New Year party. Chinese puzzles- you solve the puzzle and there’s a prize. It is a way to show people how we celebrate Chinese New Year and show how we celebrate our Chinese culture here. We open a window to our culture.”

Cabarrus Chinese American Association

The CCAA grew from a Chinese New Year lunch held by the Chinese professionals working at the NCRC. In 2010 only eight scientists attended the luncheon. In 2011, over 30 attended the Chinese New Year lunch, but Xinguo “Mike” Wang, PhD, group leader of genomic sciences for the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), estimates that there are at least 60 Chinese professionals working on campus as part of the university and company laboratories who are actively engaged in research to advance the science of human health, nutrition and agriculture. At the 2011 lunch, the CCAA was born along with the goal of establishing a Chinese language and art school.

“We have several goals to work with,” Wang said. “We are trying to broadly serve the whole community not just Chinese-American families. Some American families join. We’re open. We do not have boundaries.”

Scientists at the NCRC work together on a committee to guide the growth of the CCAA. The committee includes Wang, NC Central University Assistant Professor TinChung Leung, PhD, Associate Professor Xiaohe Yang, PhD, and Lab Technician Xia Cao; UNC Greensboro graduate student Xueqing “Heather” Zhao and Research Scientist Yunping Qiu, PhD; and NC A&T University Associate Professor Shengmin Sang, PhD.

In September 2011, the CCAA successfully opened the Chinese Language and Art School. “We bring our culture to people here and the next generation,” said Li. “We want them to carry our culture and the language. We want them to speak Chinese at least at home. We know more and more people have a need to learn another language and that a lot of schools have Chinese programs. We want to bring that benefit to people here.”

The school is held on Saturdays from 1 pm to 4 pm at Cox Mill Elementary School in Concord. The first semester 16 students, including two non-Chinese, took classes to learn the Chinese language. The language classes are taught bilingually in two tracks, one for those who know some Chinese and those who are just learning. Language classes are followed by activities like traditional Chinese dance taught by a UNC Charlotte student who is from China. Beginning in January, drawing and international chess will be added.

“In the school we have three teachers” Li said. “We are passionate about what we are doing. We are very creative. We bring materials to class to stimulate students’ interest. They’ve really benefitted from this. They can speak and write. Young kids cannot hold the pencils very well so they cannot write, but they can learn to speak. For non-Chinese who never spoke Chinese before they attend our school. They enjoyed Chinese class and started to bring friends to our Chinese School.”

Currently the tuition is used to pay school rent, and the teachers are not yet being paid. The hope is that the Chinese New Year Celebration will help them cover expenses and allow them to grow their school to serve Cabarrus County and north Charlotte where there is not another Chinese school available. The nearest school is the Chinese Academy in south Charlotte, a two hour, round trip for some families.

“It’s my vision that once we grow to a certain point, say 100 students, we are self running,” Wang said. “We’re trying to work with the Cabarrus school system so in two to three years they can recognize our program. Long-term with our association’s leadership, we’ll build a Chinese school in this region.”

For more information about the Cabarrus Chinese American Association and the Chinese New Year Festival, visit www.cabarruschinese.org.

Remembering Chinese New Year Traditions

The Chinese New Year is a centuries old holiday with traditions that include family reunions, fireworks and gifts for kids. Although the basic traditions are the same across China, each region has some of its own ways of celebrating.

TinChung Leung with NC Central University on the NCRC is originally from Hong Kong. In the southern part of China, he explained, Chinese New Year eve starts with a feast. “We eat duck, chicken and fish and then people will go out to a big flower market. It’s good luck to decorate the home with flowers. The next day we eat only vegetables. People come and visit their friends and give pocket money to their kids. They go to the temple and then they have some fish for the family. The fifteenth day of the New Year is a special day- the Lantern Festival. We hang up all these lanterns and have puzzles hanging down on each lantern. You go and see if you can guess the answer.”

Another tradition in southern China is to give tangerines as a symbol of good luck. In northern China, dumplings are a traditional Chinese New Year eve meal believed to bring good luck.

“We have to have dumplings after 12 o’clock,” said Xueqing “Heather” Zhao, a UNC Greensboro graduate student at the NCRC, who is from Beijing. “We normally go to have fireworks after midnight and then come back home to have dumplings together with the whole family.”

Xinguo “Mike” Wang, PhD, group leader of genomic sciences for the DHMRI, who is from central China, grew up with the tradition of fireworks around six on the eve of the Chinese New Year and then a dinner of dumplings. “The New Year started out with everyone waking up early in the morning and having breakfast before five am, and then friends and neighbors greet each other,” he said.

CCAA school teacher Maggie Li remembered a tradition in her hometown in the Yunnan province close to Tibet. “When I was a little kid, the tradition was to get up early to get the water from the well. In Chinese, well water sounds like salary. The first barrel of water out of the well (symbolizes) the biggest salary of the year. We eat dumplings because they are shaped like a gold ingot . The one who ate the dumpling with the salt in it had to do the dishes. There were a lot of dishes. No one wanted to do that. We eat fish on Chinese New Year Eve because it sounds like extra in Chinese and everyone would like to have something extra.”

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