Happy New Year

O n Whitney Avenue between Grove and Trumbull this coming Saturday morning, a pair of lions will be on the loose, and unlike usual, feeding them is encouraged. Their favorite snack is hongbao—red envelopes filled with coins or bills, exchanged for good luck and well-being.

The occasion is Yale-China Association’s Lunarfest, an annual tradition marking the Chinese New Year, one of the world’s biggest holidays. Beneath fuzzy, glittering heads; bushy, moveable eyebrows and ears; and cloth/papier-mache bodies, pairs of trained dancers strut, jump and chomp to a cadence of drums and cymbals, surrounded by onlookers. The lions will make a special point of interacting with a stretch of Chinese businesses along Whitney, where cabbage—a symbol of great wealth in this context, however humble the cabbage may seem in others—is expected to be hung over doors, helping reassure proprietors that they’ll prosper in the year to come.

The invigorating ritual lasts from 10 a.m. to about 11:30 on Saturday, but Lunarfest, co-organized by Yale’s Council on East Asian Studies and the New Haven Museum, continues until 5 in the evening, with a whole spate of free activities picking up where the lions leave off.

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From noon to 3 inside Yale-China’s headquarters at 442 Temple, a special exhibition, Precious Driftwood, reveals stories and heirlooms from six local families with strong ties to China. Inside Henry R. Luce Hall (34 Hillhouse Avenue), local Chinese eateries Great Wall, Chao and Taste of China offer dumpling samples from 12 to 12:45; “cross-disciplinary visual artist” Parry Ling takes on tongyuen, a Chinese dessert, at 1; The Green Teahouse serves up tea and a demonstration at 2; and Chinese choreographer Yang Hao talks and demos modern dance moves at 3. Over at the New Haven Museum (114 Whitney Avenue), there’s ribbon dancing at noon; a beginner Chinese language lesson and, separately, a demonstration and explanation of martial art wushu at 1; crash courses in traditional Chinese musical instruments and fan dancing at 2; and ongoing crafting (e.g. calligraphy, lantern-making and paper-cutting) sessions anytime between noon and 4. Then all points converge on the NHM for a 5 p.m. finale performance by the EastRiver Ensemble, set to play “traditional music with flair.”

Whew. That’s a lot. Somewhere along the way, organizers surely hope we’ll all get to know the Yale-China Association a little better. At Y-C’s inception in 1901, when it had Christian underpinnings and was dubbed the Yale Foreign Missionary Society, China was in the middle of its self-ascribed “century of humiliation,” with imperialist powers near (like Japan) and far (like Britain) repeatedly steamrolling its interests. After long periods of convulsion and more or less strained relations with the west, now China’s a rising superpower whose political and economic interests are increasingly conjoined, for better or worse, with America’s.

Shedding its missionary intents after a couple of decades—relatively quickly as far as these things go—today the hyphen in “Yale-China Association” is increasingly operative, indicating a flow of people, culture and knowledge that’s meant to go both ways. For instance, Yale-China’s two-year immersive “Teaching Fellows” program, established in 1909, still sends Yale graduates to China to teach English and learn Chinese. But lately, since 1999, Y-C has also helped facilitate a program bringing a teacher from China to New Haven’s Foote School every fall, meanwhile organizing special enrichment opportunities for hundreds of local high school students—400, by its count—taking Mandarin Chinese classes.

That’s just a taste of one of Yale-China’s three major areas of focus: education, health and the arts. Health has been a central piece of the organization’s efforts since 1905, when Y-C founded a clinic in China that would later evolve into a highly respected medical school and hospital, teaching and dispensing Western medicine. Today, medical exchange students participate in training and residency programs, along with a host of other potential arrangements and opportunities, through the Association.

The arts as a focus seems relatively new, with the centerpiece, the 18-month “Yale-China Arts Fellowship,” having just accepted its first class of two this past fall. The fellowship entails spending six months in New Haven developing an art project to be unveiled at the next International Festival of Arts & Ideas, then taking the project to Hong Kong to be developed for another 10 months or so, then bringing the work back to the Elm City in its leveled-up, Hong Kong-ified form to show at the following year’s IFAI.

And of course, there’s the arts-heavy, time-condensed Lunarfest, now in its fourth year bringing a concentrated dose of Chinese culture to us lucky New Haveners. Why spend this Saturday morning lyin’ down, when you could lion down?

Yale-China Association
442 Temple St, New Haven (map)
(203) 432-0884 | [email protected]

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photograph provided courtesy of the Yale-China Association.

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By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

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