Mid-Autumn Festival and Confucius’s Birthday Celebrated at Open House

On October 5th, 2012 in the North Lecture hall at 1 Pace Plaza, a room bedecked with red paper lanterns and Chinese knots, with moon cakes on display for all to share, the Pace CI, along with Duowei News, held a combination open house, film screening, and panel discussion.  The event, attended by more than 80 people, was very much a celebration as it fell near the date of three important Chinese holidays: the Mid-Autumn festival on September 30th, the 2,563rd birthday of Confucius (also known as Teacher’s Day) on September 28th, and National Day on October 1st.  Along with disseminating Chinese culture the event was a chance for the Pace CI to introduce its programs for the upcoming year.  Besides the Directors of the CI expounding on what we offer, there was also a small exhibition on display to give people a taste of our programming.

Participants in the Open House learn Chinese Calligraphy

Participants in the Open House learn Chinese Calligraphy

After an opening reception with the traditional sweet moon cakes, tea sandwiches and other refreshments, host Yiling Wang gave a presentation to the community members in attendance on the meanings of the Mid-Autumn festival, its origin story, and customs of the holiday.  After her presentation there was a jeopardy style quiz for the audience with fabulous prizes!  Qiu Jue from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, followed her presentation with a hands-on calligraphy demonstration where participants learned how to write the character for “blessing.”

After these introductory activities the Director of the Confucius Institute, Dr. Weihua Niu, talked about the development of the Pace CI so far and the direction we are going in.  Dr. Nira Herrmann, Dean of Dyson College, followed this chain of thought by stating that she hopes that through the Pace CI and other cultural exchange between China and the United States, we can enhance our mutual understanding and friendship.  Xiaojun Wang, one of our Chinese teachers, finished the open house portion of the afternoon with a short Mandarin Chinese lesson that left everyone entertained and educated.

A vivid, lively, and interesting multimedia Chinese demonstration lesson

A vivid, lively, and interesting multimedia Chinese demonstration lesson

The main part of the event was the screening of the film “Confucius” and the ensuing panel discussion: “Confucius, A New Chinese Icon?”  Introducing the film was Xu Yongde, CEO of Duowei Times, whose parent company produced the film. The film itself was directed by the well-respected director Hu Mei and features the Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-fat in the title role.  Viewers of the film saw a flesh and blood representation of the Chinese sage as an introspective and self-sacrificing man trying his hardest to be an ideal person.

The panel discussion featured Dr. Ying Zhu, Professor of Cinema Studies and Chair of the Media Culture Department at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island, and an expert on Chinese media.  A recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, Dr. Ying Zhu has met the director Hu Mei a number of times in her research and has studied the re-emergence of Confucianism in certain parts of Chinese society, as an alternative to both Communism and Western Consumerism.  This shift in Chinese thought is especially fascinating considering the on-going scandal of Bo Xilai and other related corruption.  Dr. Zhu was joined by the two co-directors of the Center for East Asian Studies at Pace University, Dr. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee and Dr. Ronald Frank.

The three scholars in the panel discussion: (from right to left) Dr. Ronald Frank,  Dr. Ying Zhu and Dr. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee

The three scholars in the panel discussion: (from right to left) Dr. Ronald Frank, Dr. Ying Zhu and Dr. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee

Dr. Lee explored the meaning of Confucius by most Chinese today, which, based on his observations at Confucian temples around China, is more of as a member of the pantheon of various religious figures, rather than as a moral compass.  Dr. Frank brought his attention back to the movie and talked about how the film was successful in presenting a representation of Confucius that has been looked up to throughout the ages, despite not exactly being factually accurate (an impossibility, considering how little we know of his life).

The feast of Chinese culture we held, complete with a beautiful film, lively discussion, and active participation from the audience was both entertaining and thought-provoking and we hope just the beginning in a year full of stimulating events.


On October 5th,…


Celebrating the Year of the Dragon

Many local leaders attended the festivities

On Sunday February 5th, as one of the lions made his entrance to the rhythm of a drum, as part of the Confucius Institute’s Lunar New Year Celebration, one of the children in attendance exclaimed: “Wow that’s so cool!” This sentiment was shared by many in the audience as the two lions (in actuality, members of the Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club) danced to the beat, ate cabbages and oranges, and even shared a kiss!

The fierce looking lions were actually quite friendly

This year, the Lunar New Year Celebration was held in the Eddie Layton Student Union at Pace University’s New York City campus.  Co-sponsoring this marvelous event, along with the Confucius Institute, were New York City Council members Margaret China and Peter Koo, in cooperation with Pace’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) and the New York Chinese Opera Society (NYCOS).  The event was a huge success, attended by more than 300 people along with about 50 VIPs, including Pace University President Stephen Friedman, University Provost Harriet Feldman, Pace’s Dyson College of Arts and Sciences Dean Nira Herrmann, ten City Council Members, and Chinatown community leaders.  Prior to the performances, many of the VIPs had a chance to speak about what the Chinese New Year means to them, and said a few words of Mandarin, with more or less success.

From the Peking Opera, "The Jade Necklace"

Other performances at the event included traditional dances by the New York Gee How Oak Tin Association’s Women’s Committee, Tai Chi Chuan by Master Sitan Chen and Lynne Lin, and a Peking Opera excerpt “The Jade Bracelet” by NYCOS.  In addition to these show stoppers, members of the CSSA shared their talents, singing Chinese pop songs, performing “cross-talk”    (a type of stand-up comedy), and dancing to the hip-hop tune “Mr. Big.”  Representing the diversity of Lunar New Year celebrants, the Traditional Dancing Team from the Korean Community Service in Flushing, Queens danced to the K-pop tune “Nobody.”

In addition to the performances, attendees also enjoyed delicacies such as fried dumplings, the always popular roast pork buns, and fortune cookies, got their fortunes told, and tried to solve riddles – printed on paper that hung from the walls.

Audience members were pleasantly surprised by the talents of the CSSA students who performed

In their opening and closing remarks, Confucius Institute Directors Weihua Niu and Mina Zhu emphasized how the Lunar New Year is a great opportunity to rejoice in the cultural diversity of New York City, blending old and new traditions to truly create a celebration shared by all.  This year, the year of the Water Dragon, is an especially auspicious year, as it happens only every 60 years, and in the sentiments shared in the traditional New Year’s greeting of “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” we wish one and all great happiness and prosperity!

Written By Noelle Valentine and Ansel Lurio.  Noelle Valentine is a Program Assistant and Ansel Lurio is Program Coordinator at the Confucius Institute. 

Inauguration of Chinese Corner

One of the best ways to learn a language is to have informal conversations with experienced or native speakers.  In China it is traditional to have “English Corners” where students meet in the park to have conversations in the English language.  Inspired by these “English Corners” we at the Confucius Institute decided we wanted to do something similar for Mandarin, the official language of China. 

We held the first session of our “Chinese Corner” on Thursday, April 14 from 12:20-1:20 PM at the Confucius Institute Conference Room.  About half of those who attended are presently studying Chinese as a foreign language, while the other half were native Chinese speakers.  To make the environment more conducive to informal conversation, tea and traditional Chinese snacks were served.  Yan Zhang, graduate assistant at the Confucius Institute and organizer of the “Chinese Corner,” gave out slips of paper with Chinese words on them to the native speakers and slips of paper with English equivalents on them to the other participants.  Conversational partners were set up by the native speakers being paired with the non-native speakers who had the same word.  The topic of the conversation was based on the word that was paired.  Topics discussed ranged from Chinese cuisine to history to traditional festivals.  Since Chinese language is a major part of Chinese culture, there were also a few cultural activities as well.  There was a quiz on Chinese geography, literature, and history as well as a demonstration of the games on our state-of-the-art touch screen computers. 

The first session of our “Chinese Corner” was a great success, and we will continue to hold the event every Thursday.  If you are interested in improving your oral Chinese, please feel free to stop by.  Students at all levels of experience are welcome to attend.  We are located on the 4th Floor of 41 Park Row, New York, NY 10038.  We hope to see you there!

Celebrating Joyously to Welcome the Year of the Rabbit

Since the Lunar New Year began  on February 3, Chinatown and other East Asian neighborhoods in New York City have been joyously welcoming the Year of the Rabbit with firecrackers, lion dances, parades, and feasts featuring all sorts of lucky foods.  On Sunday February 13, from 3-6 PM, the Confucius Institute co-hosted a 2011 Lunar New Year Celebration with City Council Member Margaret Chin at Pace University’s Multipurpose Room and the Schimmel Center for the Arts. 

From Left to Right: Front Row – Dr. Weihua Niu, Jack Eng (President, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association), unidentified, Dr. Stephen Friedman, Dr. Harriet Feldman, Dr. Nira Herrmann. Middle Row – Peter Koo, Margaret Chin, Sara M. Gonzalez. Back Row – Daniel Dromm, Vincent J. Gentile

At the reception guests enjoyed the pungent flavors of dumplings supplied by Fried Dumpling Restaurant while the Tea Society of America offered traditionally brewed Chinese tea of a complexity that common tea bags could not match.  Calligraphers were also on hand to demonstrate their craft, painting guests’ names in Chinese on colorful strips of paper.  Many dignitaries spoke at the event, praising its expansion since it began as a small ceremony at City Hall a number of years ago, including Pace President Dr. Stephen Friedman and Interim-Provost Harriet Feldman, Dyson College Dean Nira Herrmann, Confucius Institute Director Dr. Weihua Niu, and City Council members Margaret Chin, Jumaane Williams, Peter Koo, Daniel Dromm, Sara Gonzalez, and Vincent Gentile.   

Students from P.S. 105 charmed the audience with their bunny dance.

Jing Tan, a Mandarin teacher, Aiwei Lin, a martial arts instructor, and Yan Zhang, a Pace student and translator for the Confucius Institute, emceed the performance, making jokes and observations in three languages – Mandarin, Cantonese and English.  Highlights of their appearances included speaking in pidgin English and Chinese and making fun of the word “fat” in “Gung hay fat choy,” which means “May you become prosperous” in Cantonese.  The program began with a lion dance, performed by the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club, designed to scare away evil spirits.  This was followed by 2nd graders from P.S. 105 in Brooklyn, dressed up as bunnies and carrots as cute as can be, doing a bunny dance to a big band soundtrack.   

The Monkey King, as naughty as can be.

Less cute, but just as talented, were students from Emma Lazarus High School, who danced to Chinese hip hop, astonishing the audience with their breathtaking moves.  The highlight of the afternoon was the opera and music performances by Chinese Theatre Works, a professional troupe from Queens.  Classical Chinese music selections included “Deep in the Evening,” “Fisherman’s Song at Sunset,” and “Fighting the Typhoon.”  “Fighting the Typhoon,” a guzheng (Chinese zither) piece, was particularly memorable in its mimicking the rain and thunder of a powerful typhoon.  The theatre works also performed the Kun Opera excerpt, “Monkey King Steals the Heavenly Peaches”, and the “Dance of Zhong Quei,” a Peking Opera excerpt.  “Monkey King” is always an audience favorite, and the monkey king’s antics, including throwing peaches on the floor and drinking straight from a teapot, made everyone laugh. 

Leaving the Schimmel Theatre after the performance, despite the cold February air outside, the audience still felt warm from the talent they had seen on stage.  Everyone who attended the celebration had a great time and we hope that this is just the beginning of a fruitful relationship with the New York City Council.

Written by Ansel Lurio.  Ansel Lurio is Program Coordinator at the Confucius Institute.  

Ansel Lurio

Chinese Opera Performances Wow

From Friday December 17 to Sunday December 19 the New York Chinese Opera Society presented their fourth annual Winter Cultural Exchange Festival, performing a number of Peking-style operas, including the world premiere of the original opera, “The Story of Ruth” at the Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University.

For those of you are unaware of Peking Opera, it is a form of theatre that goes back at least 300 years.  The types of characters include “young men,” “old men,” “young women,” “old women,” and “clowns”.  The “young men” and “young women” parts are sung in a very high pitch while the older characters sing in lower voices.  “Clowns” are there for comic relief.  Singers are accompanied by a number of mostly stringed and plucked instruments.  Between arias there are gong and drum interludes.  Many of the operatic stories come from traditional Chinese sources, but “The Story of Ruth” is taken from the Bible.  The scenery is sparse but the costumes can often be quite elaborate, especially for the main characters.   One thing that should be remembered when watching Chinese opera: it is quite stylized and is not supposed to be realistic.  Dolls often stand in for babies and ropes for horses.  Much of the action is also pantomimed.  Peking opera is a unique form of art that is eye-opening for Western audiences.

On Friday night, NYCOS performed three short operas: “House of Hu,” “The Narrow Escape,” and “Farewell My Concubine.”  I was able to watch the first two operas.  “House of Hu” is a martial arts showcase about a female warrior, Hu San Niang, played by the fierce Yingchun Li, who is determined to defeat a band of outlaws that are attacking the neighboring Zhu Family Estate (Her father’s estate is the House of Hu).  At the beginning of the opera we are sympathetic to the outlaws, as Hu San spends a great deal of time telling the audience about great she is and how the outlaws have no chance against her.  At first she rallies against the outlaws, and captures their commander, Wang Ying.  However, her hubris soon catches up with her and she is defeated by the outlaws’ second-in-command, Lin Chong.  In the end she is forced to marry Wang Ying and joins the outlaws in their fight against the evil emperor.  This piece truly showed the showmanship of NYCOS, with the acrobatics of the performers, and the dazzling array of costumes.

A fight scene from "House of Hu"

“The Narrow Escape” is a much more somber piece.  After his family has been murdered by the King of Chu, General Wu Yuan escapes capture but is stuck in hiding in the Zhao Guan Pass.  He is given shelter by the hermit Sir Tong.  Wei He, who plays the General, truly makes the audience understand his plight, with a number of tear-jerking arias about how he cannot escape to avenge the death of his parents.  However, in a bit of irony, his anxiety causes his beard to turn white.  With the help of Tong’s friend Huang Pu Na, he is able to sneak through the pass with his new disguise.

On Saturday afternoon, the opera performance was preceded by an award ceremony for the winners of the 1st Annual New York Chinese Opera Essay Contest.  Open to Pace University students writing about Chinese culture and History, first prize went to Ben Oliveri, a senior at Dyson, for his essay, “Educational Reform in Hong Kong, China:  Social and Political Implications.”  Second prize went to Amanda Wong, a freshman at Lubin, for her personal essay about her family’s odyssey during WW II, and how the family emigrated from China to Nicaragua and finally to the United States.  The contest was co-sponsored by the Confucius Institute and the Center for East Asian Studies at Pace.

The opera on Saturday was the “Story of Ruth,” an operatic take on the Biblical story.  The “Story of Ruth” has been previewed to audiences a number of times, but this was its official world premiere.   NYCOS put in a great deal of hard work to bring this work to fruition, with original music, arias, costumes, scenery, makeup, etc.  The opera opens with the peasants of Bethlehem dancing, singing, and doing acrobatics in celebration of the barley harvest.  The next scene opens on Naomi bemoaning her fate as a lonely widow, as she returns from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem.  Not only her husband has died, but her two sons have died as well.  She is truly a portrait of pity.  However, even though she told her daughter-in-law Ruth not to come with her, suddenly Ruth appears and refuses to leave her mother-in-law’s side.  This was highly unusual in Biblical times, as a widow was to go to her native land when her husband died – Ruth in Moab and Naomi in Bethlehem.  A marvelous display of pantomime by the two actresses, Charlene Tong (Ruth) and Qiuwei Zhang (Naomi), brings the two over mountains and stream until they get to Bethlehem.  Ruth and Naomi arrive at the height of the barley harvest, and since they have no money, Ruth has to glean the barley left in the fields.  Boaz, a close relative of Ruth, owns the fields and is good to her, allowing her share and more of the leftover barley.  This is quite important as one of the biblical commandments is to leave some of your crop over for gleaners as a form of charity.  Eventually Boaz and Ruth fall in love and ask the elders of Bethlehem for their blessing.  However, a male relative who is even more closely related to Ruth also wants to marry her.  Played with a mischievous lechery by Kuixi Han in a clown role, Tusi is a bit of a playboy, running after women and doing little work.  He attacks Ruth when he first meets her and she has to be saved by Boaz.  Ruth does not want to marry Tusi at all, even though she is obliged to since he is her closest male relative.  Who she will marry is up to the village elders.  Because of Boaz’s charitable and chivalrous behavior, and because Tusi refuses to take care of Naomi as well if he marries, even though Tusi should receive her hand in marriage, he is passed over by the village elders as not being worthy to marry her.  “The Story of Ruth” is truly an instance of how rights are built on responsibility, a message that still reverberates in the modern world.

Boaz admonishing Tusi after he attacks Ruth

The festival closed on Sunday afternoon with a performance of the opera “The Fourth Son’s Filial Visit.”  Before the action begins we learn that fifteen years ago Yang Yanhui (Silang), along with his father and six brothers, on behalf of the Song Dynasty, carried out a military campaign to expel the Liao. The Song Dynasty army lost, and Silang was captured, not knowing what happened to the rest of his family.  He eventually changes his identity and becomes a prince of Liao, married to Princess Iron Mirror.  When the action begins his brother, General Yang Yanzho, is leading an army against the Liao, with his mother in charge of provisions.  Silang knows that they are right around the corner but doesn’t want to reveal his true identity and knows it is dangerous to visit them.  The princess sees that Silang is quite upset but doesn’t understand why.  She keeps on guessing until she finally gets it right.  It is quite humorous when Silang makes the observation that the princess is a good mind reader.  In a disguise Silang crosses the border with a golden permit stolen by the Princess from the Empress.  It is a tearful reunion when Silang greets his brother and mother, but his mother at least tells him that she can rest easy now, knowing that he is still alive.  Upon return Silang is captured by Uncle Di and Uncle Da, the two clowns, who recognize him in his disguise.  He has to reveal his true identity to the Liao Empress, and she decides to execute him as a spy.  The Empress is shown as quite stubborn, and he is only saved when the princess makes her baby son cry, and her compassion for her grandson makes her realize her mistake.

The "Fourth Son" (center) visiting his mother and older brother

The performances of the 2010 Winter Cultural Exchange Festival were truly memorable and we hope NYCOS continues to stage their operas at Pace in the coming years.

Written by Ansel Lurio.  Photos by Yan Zhang.  Ansel Lurio is Program Coordinator at the Confucius Institute.  Yan Zhang does translation work for the Institute.

Ansel Lurio


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