By Songfa Lui
New Year celebrations may be over for many, but for the Chinese and much of the Asian Community who use the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year has yet to come. From year to year it varies from between mid January to mid February; this year it is on the 18th of February.
Chinese New Year celebrations are well known for their loud fire crackers and abundance of delicious food. The festivities, which go for a whole 15 days, bring together families and friends as they celebrate their culture and traditions, wherever they are in the world. Traditionally, many Chinese would wear new clothes to symbolize a new beginning, and enjoy dumplings together – a common sight on the New Year’s Eve dinner table.
The Chinese New Year festival dates back to the time of the first Emperor in China. It was a celebration of survival from a mythical beast called ‘nian’ (year), that would raid villages at the end of each year. Many people died in battles against this beast. Over time, villagers discovered that it feared two things: one was the colour bright red, and the other, very loud noises. This led to the tradition of fire crackers and bright red colours at Chinese New Year celebrations.
2007 is the Year of Pig, the last of a twelve year cycle. It is said that people born in the Year of Pig are more likely to be diplomatic, humble, honest and trustworthy. It is also a good year to get married, as the Year of Pig can mean a year of domestic harmony and happiness.
China’s New Renaissance
From one perspective, the upcoming show Chinese New Year Spectacular is representative of China’s New Renaissance, a growing trend in the past few years – a new attempt to restore traditional Chinese culture and values that were destroyed in mainland China during the Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution in the mid 1960’s to 70’s. This destruction also influenced overseas Chinese communities.
In mainland China over the past few years there has been a growing number of new private schools, especially set up to teach classic Chinese works and traditional culture and values. The growing new trend of traditional type private schools is in many ways counter to the contemporary trend of modernization.
While the Chinese New Year is a happy and joyous time and there is surely much to talk about in terms of China’s phenomenal economic growth and the Chinese people’s great achievements, that China now harbors an increasingly alarming gap between the wealthy and the poor should not be forgotten. Many experts have commented that the unfair distribution of wealth from economic development due to corruption and abuse of power is becoming a serious threat to stability for the Chinese society. The currently ruling Chinese Communist Party has not been able to deal with these problems for various reasons.
Each year, thousands and thousands of petitioners appeal to Chinese governmental authorities for justice. But they are often forced to return to their homes without any change. Many went on for petitioning for years. In 2005 there were some 3700 mass protests or riots involving more than 3 million unsatisfied citizens. The number is likely to be much higher in 2006. It has been commented that many westerners are invited to see the shiny surface of economic growth in contemporary China, at the expense of the increasing calls for freedom, justice and humanity.
Everyday in Canberra Falun Gong practitioners protest silently outside the Chinese Embassy. They have been doing this since 1999, when the tragic persecution of Falun Gong was first initiated in mainland China. The persistence of these individuals touches the hearts of many Canberrans and they do not look like they are going away any time soon.
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are going to put China under the international microscope. While the games may bring China fiscal fortunes, China may be ‘encouraged’ to comply with the principles of the Games, being democracy, fairness, justice, and freedoms of speech and belief.
Chinese in Canberra
It is not known to the author who the first Chinese settler in Canberra was. However, by the 1950’s there was already a small Chinese community, mainly involved in farming. By late 1970’s there were more than one hundred Chinese living in the capital. The 80’s saw a growing number of Chinese students studying here, initially as Master’s and Ph.D students, and then later as English-language students as well.
When the Chinese Communist Party’s army tanks crushed the pro-democracy movement in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, there were from 2000 to 3000 Chinese, including students, in Canberra. By 1997 the Chinese population here was about 4000. Since then we have seen a significant increase of Chinese living and working in Canberra. Today it is estimated that there are some 10 000 Chinese in Canberra.
Unlike the early Chinese settlers who often ran family-based restaurants, many Chinese here now work in the government, at universities, or at either public or private research and professional institutions. One rapid growth area is in IT, with many Chinese-run computer stores and consultancy personnel. Traditional Chinese medicine is now also more readily accessible, with the opening of a traditional Chinese medicine centre in Woden and Belconnen four years ago.
Because of Canberra’s unique environment, in the past seven years a rapidly growing number of school students came from China to study here. The first Chinese school student came in 1999. Now there are more than 300, with more to come. “Many Chinese students are excellent,” says Sandra Woolacott of ACT Education Department.
According to Tourism Australia, over 280 000 Chinese visited Australia in 2005, among which more than 20 000 came to Canberra.
Canberra’s “China Town”
Dickson’s Woolley Street is considered by many as Canberra’s China Town, which includes an array of restaurants, not only Chinese. But the first Chinese Restaurant, Happy’s Chinese Restaurant, was opened in Garema Place in the city in 1955. Dickson’s first Chinese Restaurant, Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant, did not open until 1967, and closed in 1985.
Dickson’s Chinese businesses didn’t really kick off until the early 1980’s, when Ruby Chinese Restaurant, New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, and a herb store and computer store opened in the same decade. A Dickson Arcade is currently being renovated to include three new restaurants (Italian, Indian and Chinese), as well as a traditional Chinese massage centre.
Canberra Youth Association
A new Canberra Youth Association is being established by a number of enthusiasts who are willing to devote their time and energy to help young people grow in a healthy way by learning something positive and valuable, and also to explore the world. Although started by a number of Chinese and Australians interested in Chinese, the association is open to all youth in Canberra. The first classes on offer are for Chinese martial arts and cookery. It may soon expand to travel and other areas.
Chinese New Year Spectacular
An authentic celebration of the Chinese New Year in Canberra this year is available to everyone, thanks to the Asian Culture Association’s (ACA) hosting the Chinese New Year Spectacular at the Canberra Theatre in March. The Spectacular is produced and presented by the New York based Chinese language television network New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV).
At shopping centres and markets over the past few weeks it has been hard to miss a group of heavenly-looking Chinese ladies and angelic girls in their bright, colourful traditional Chinese costumes. They are ACA volunteers, busy promoting the Spectacular, which has come to Canberra for the first time.
Since the show first started in New York four years ago, the Spectacular has been a tremendous success. In 2007 the NTDTV team is touring the world from January to March for 75 shows in 29 cities, including 10 shows in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
From the 3rd to mid January the Spectacular toured four Canadian cities for ten sold-out shows, dazzling an audience of nearly 19,000. “Usually we hear about song and dance multiculturalism, but it’s usually not very deep and very profound,” said distinguished Canadian author, poet, and professor Cyril Dabydeer after watching the show in Ottawa. “But tonight it was the most extraordinary cultural show I’ve ever seen and experienced.”
The show was rated top 7th in the US in February 2006 by Billboard magazine. The Spectacular has become a popular new tradition for the Chinese New Year celebration overseas. It includes graceful dances, exquisite and soulful music, as well as wonderful staging and costumes. These incredible performances showcase 5000 years of Chinese culture, of the Divine Land, for a spectacular and unforgettable feast of music, dance and entertainment.
“We have a magnificent show. When you see the pictures, they catch your eyes. When you listen to the music, it stays in your ears. When you watch the show, it touches your heart.” says, Dr Songfa Liu, vice-president of Asian Culture Association (ACA).
Due to popular demand, there will be an extra show on Tuesday 20th of March in addition to a night show and a matinee for schools on the 21st of March. See advertisement sponsored by The Word.