By Erin Cooper
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the wind was frigid, but inside, a drum was sounding, summoning students downstairs to the Decker Social Space. There, red lanterns were strung from the ceiling and the walls were adorned with red and gold streamers. Red tablecloths were sprinkled with gold stars and red banners hung behind the stage, emblazoned with Chinese characters wishing everyone well in the new year.
It was time for the College’s Chinese New Year celebration, hosted by the Chinese Students Association (CSA).
The Year of the Monkey had arrived. Drawn by the promise of free food and a wide range of cultural performances, the hall was soon filled with people and hardly a spare seat could be found.
Junior biology major and co-president of CSA, Zachary Lo, was the night’s master of ceremonies. The entertainment began with the crowd chanting “Happy New Year” in Chinese to coax a pair of colorful lions into the room. The lions, Lo said, “scare away demons, ghosts and giants, so if you have any problems with those, we’ve got your back.” The creatures, each consisting of two costumed dancers, wound their way through the tables to the sound of drums.
Freshman computer science major Julie Huang demonstrated her martial arts skills, dressed in bright red — a lucky color in Chinese tradition. Huang turned flips, executed kicks and swung her staff in homage to the monkey king.
Dressed in vivid pink, CSA’s dance group, the DragonFlies, twirled yellow and green parasols for their umbrella dance. They had been looking forward to this.
“It’s a great turnout tonight,” freshman biology major and DragonFlies member Rose Maisner said. “So I’m excited to see how people will react to the new dance.”
During intermission, students eagerly crowded to sample the wealth of Chinese food available. Plates were heaped high with dumplings, shrimp and lo mein. Freshman finance major Kevin Luu served food to the audience members and was quick to name his favorite dish of the night — Char Siu.
“It’s a type of barbecued pork marinated in red sauce,” he said, pointing out a tray brimming with it. As for his favorite part of the evening, he didn’t hesitate to answer, “It’s the performances, all of the performances.”
Those performances continued with the Chinese yo-yo tricks of Alex Hsieh, a fifth-year elementary education and iSTEM dual major. He made his yo-yo hover in midair and then made it fly.
“Happy New Year” was chanted again to summon the dragon for the final event. Held aloft and manipulated by 10 dancers, the dragon coils circled cleverly around the room. The Chinese believe the dragon, like the lion, wards off evil spirits and instead, brings luck for the new year.
At the end of the event, everyone was welcomed to take part in a huge group photo with the two lions and one very long dragon.
“Chinese New Year is all about family,” Lo said. “Right now, you are all our family.”
There was also a Wishing Tree on the stage. CSA invited students to write out their wishes and hang them on the tree. “You’re sending your wish up to heaven so your wish can come true for the whole year,” Lo said.
This is the third year that CSA has brought the Chinese New Year celebration to campus. “It brings an awareness of Chinese culture,” Lo said. “Literally the biggest thing that happens in China, and most people don’t know. I want them to know that… there’s other things going on around the world — that this is how Chinese people party.”
The Chinese New Year is celebrated for fifteen days. This year, it began on Monday, Feb. 8. The last day is the Lantern Festival, which will fall on Monday, Feb. 22.
Celia Liu, a professor of Chinese at the College, was enthusiastic about the crowd, which represented a diverse mix of students. Liu said she wants the college community to be aware that all students are welcome to CSA, no matter their heritage. It is a goal of the club to involve students of different backgrounds, in the spirit of cross-cultural exchange.
“This kind of energy is what we need,” Liu said. “And the TCNJ dragon and lion are so full of spirit. I just like to see students enjoy and share the culture. It’s everybody. That’s what our world needs, right?”