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Chinese New Year: A Renewal of Life

February 12, 2021

Happy Lunar New Year!  The Chinese New Year celebration begins today, typically occurring between January and the end of February for 15 days. Welcome to the Year of the Ox! UNC faculty member of Chinese & Asian Studies, Dr. Michelle Low, encourages us to embrace the symbolism of the Ox, which is hard work, steadfastness, perseverance, and reliability. Moreover, Dr. Low uses resilience to connect what this past year has meant and urges us to reward ourselves (however that may be) for what we have endured this past year.

In Chinese tradition, the origin of the Lunar New Year is derived from many beliefs. One of the most imaginative is the legend of Nian, a beast believed to arise just before the end of each lunar year and believed to devour livestock, crops, and villagers. The villagers discovered that the creature was afraid of the color red, loud noises, and bright lights. Therefore, red lanterns and scrolls hang from homes along with the use of candles or fireworks to protect from Nian every year.

Due to migration across the world, Lunar New Year has taken on many traditions for Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For example, some may clean their homes to get rid of bad spirits while others may eat certain foods such as yuan xiao. Parents and elders gift children with red envelopes called hóng bāos in Mandarin or lai see in Cantonese, which offers the hope of luck and prosperity in the new year. These traditions underscore collectivist values of connecting with family and community to find better fortunes for the new year.

Take Action:

  1. Join students and staff from the Asian Pacific American Student Services (APASS) at the following events:

    On Friday, February 19, at 4:00 pm, Zoom demonstration on the cultural significance of red envelopes. Each participant will receive education, materials, and instructions for creating your own red envelope. Please register here to join.

    On Saturday, February 20, at 1:00 pm, APASS will host a virtual short film screening, followed by Q&A. The short film series includes the following:
    • "Mother Tongue" a short film by Eris Qian, is about a second-generation Chinese American woman named Lisa Lin. Lisa connects with her roots when faced with her mother's loss of the English language due to Alzheimer's. Lisa must navigate how to communicate with their mother as their common language is stripped away by her mother's Alzheimer's.
    • "The Lions of Chinatown" a short film by Law Chen explores the story of a young woman's journey who is training to fill the position of the lion's head for a notorious lion dance crew in New Year City, a traditionally male-dominated position.
    • Disney Pixar's "Bao" is about a Chinese mother whose grown son leaves her home, and she experiences an empty nest. She encounters a second chance as motherhood when her handmade dumpling comes to life. Her dumpling then begins to grow up fast, and she is faced with understanding not everything can stay small and cute forever.

      For the film screening, please register here. Links with access to the films will be emailed upon registration.

  2. Explore Chinese art, history, and culture in the classroom through Teaching China with the Smithsonian.
  3. Be mindful of how to pronounce names that may not come naturally to you. Links embedded in this section serve as tools you can use to address people by their accurate name pronunciation and thereby promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion for all.
  4. For those who celebrate the New Year, wish them well and good health. Our colleagues from the Office of Global Engagement sent well wishes and messages to CIE partners and colleagues overseas in addition to faculty and students who celebrate the Lunar New Year.
  5. Join the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their virtual Lunar Year Celebration.

As I close this celebratory message about Lunar New Year, I call your attention to the increasing anti-Asian American sentiment. Bias and discrimination are escalating and have risen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please take a moment to read or listen to a personal essay by Vince Dang, junior UNC Musical Theatre student. Vince voices their views on the lack of dialogue related to Asian American bias and how this dialogue-void has impacted them.

We look forward to a few weeks of educational events, celebration, and reflection. For additional education and personal development related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, please find other sources located under DDEI Education and Resources on the Equity & Inclusion site and UNC Libraries under DEI & Antiracism Resources.