Curator of Education reflects on global Lunar New Year celebrations

Guest Blogger: Amelia Chapman, Curator of Education, USC Pacific Asia Museum

This entry is written as I wrap up a 10-day visit to China, as an invited participant in a conference on the celebration and preservation of Chinese New Year around the world.

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At the woodcarver

The gathering was organized by the—this is a mouthful—International Training Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region, under the auspices of UNESCO.  The workshop brought together Chinese academics, representatives from 16 countries, Ministry of Culture officials and those responsible for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of host region, Guangdong Province.

“Intangible Cultural Heritage” refers to oral traditions, performing arts, festivals, traditional knowledge of nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship.  Chinese New Year (or, Spring Festival) of course incorporates all these elements.

In addition to learning about folk traditions, regional differences in celebration, the ins and out of how the xia calendar incorporates both lunar and solar movement, the international participants also presented on the preservation of traditional festivals in their countries, and their own experiences in hosting Chinese New Year events.

We visited the workshops of master artisans carrying on traditional arts: lantern making, embroidery, wood carving, ceramics, straw art, red clay pots; we enjoyed performances of opera, tea ceremony, and an aerobatic regionally specialized lion dance performed atop elevated tiny platforms.

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The lantern maker’s shop

The international conversations were particularly interesting. Coming from Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Australia, Mauritius, Chile, France, Costa Rica, Benin, Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, Nigeria, Finland, and of course the U.S., the participants represented a range of NGOs and government bodies. I was the only representative from a museum. 

The presentation on our Lunar New Year Festival was extremely well received, particularly by those trying to grow their small celebrations into larger, more inclusive events.  The diversity of our region was also of note.

While the Chinese immigrant population of some of the countries was quite small, all participants had recognized the importance of exposing their entire population to the arts and culture of China—and of making their country an increasingly welcoming place to future immigrants or tourists from China. Similarly, the Chinese governmental officials made it clear that they see the importance of the New Year to their citizens and have embraced its ability to strengthen their society and build goodwill around the world.

It was an honor to be selected to represent our country, and to share our Lunar New Year celebration with colleagues around the world.  The connections developed at this workshop will continue to further strengthen our event, and allow for new collaborations.

See you January 18th at the—now world famous—USC Pacific Asia Museum Lunar New Year Festival!

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YANG Zhi, Director General, International Training Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO, with Amelia Chapman. 

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