Celebrations steeped in culture

According to the Chinese calendar, 2014 celebrates the year of the horse. Illustration by John Quick.
According to the Chinese calendar, 2014 celebrates the year of the horse. Illustration by John Quick.

The Chinese culture opens a door to a world of legends and gives individuals an opportunity for another chance at change. The Chinese New Year celebration that kicks off Jan. 31 offers participants that opportunity while reflecting on past accomplishments.

The New Year is one of the longest celebrations in the Chinese culture. According to Jiajia Ru, Confucius Institute faculty member, the months in a Chinese year are based on a lunar calendar, which dictates that each month begins on the darkest day. She also said New Year’s festivities in China traditionally begin on the first day of the month and continue until the 15th day, when the moon is the brightest.

A version of the legend of the Chinese New Year can be found at http://chinesenewyearfestival.org. A long time ago in the mountains of China lived a terrible demon creature by the name of Nian. On the first day of every year, Nian would wake, go to the villages and terrorize them. He would eat all the grain and livestock. Even children were known to disappear when the creature was around.

The villagers lived in fear and would board up their houses at night to protect their families. One year, right before Nian was to make his appearance, an old man visited the village. He asked the villagers, “Why do you fear this creature such? You are many and he is but one. Surely he could not swallow all of you.”

But the villagers were still skeptical and locked up their houses. That night, Nian did not come. The old man had ridden him until dawn and Nian went back to his cave hungry. This went on for several nights until the old man revealed, “I cannot protect you forever.”

The old man ended up being a god and had to return to his duties elsewhere. The villagers were terrified that Nian would return once the old man left.

The old man then informed them, “The beast is easily scared. He does not like the color red. He fears loud noises and strange creatures. So tonight, spread red across the village. Hang red signs on every door. Make loud noises with drums, music and fireworks, and give your children face masks and lanterns to protect them.”

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The villagers did as the old man instructed and Nian never returned again.

There are several events on campus that all can participate in to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  The Confucius Institute jumpstarted New Year’s celebrations Friday by inviting Professor Wei Li — Confucius Institute director in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada — to demonstrate how to make crafted puppets and figurines that resemble porcelain.

Chinese New Year begins Jan. 31. This year is the year of the horse.

“There are a lot of meaning in our culture. It’s really a time for the family to get together,” Chinese faculty member Feng Chen said.

There are other events on campus celebrating the Chinese New Year. Information can be found on the Confucius Institute website. Events on campus to check out include:

Sa Chen Piano Concert
Wednesday, Jan. 29 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. 
Fine Arts Building, Recital Hall

The UAA Department of Music and Confucius Institute will present pianist Sa Chen in concert. Sa Chen’s accomplishments include being called “one of the brightest performers of her generation” by Classic FM, and delighting audiences worldwide for almost two decades. Tickets are available now at http://uaatix.com or by calling 907-786-4849.

Early Confucianism Dialogue with Yup’ik and Inupiaq Cultures
Thursday, Jan. 30 from 5-7 p.m.
UAA Campus Bookstore

At this event, Kristin Helweg Hanson, Phyllis Fast and UAA presenters Josephine Hishon and Brittany Burns examine and contrast Chinese and Alaska Native classical and traditional world views.