By Angela Hatcher, Senior Staff Writer

On Feb. 6, 2016, students crowded into Hall Auditorium. A long table dominated the left wall of the foyer, clad in a silky, golden tablecloth. Student members of Miami University’s Chinese American Cultural Association worked behind the table, handing out raffle tickets for prizes that included a one-way plane ticket from China to the United States and a check for $1,000.

Students eagerly crowded around the table, greeting their friends and chattering excitedly.

Along the right side of the foyer was a lavish red carpet. Students posed for pictures in their stylish outfits while a photographer snapped away on his camera. There were banners hanging around the photo area covered in traditional Chinese calligraphy.

Everyone in the hall was teeming with energy and excitement.

Spring Festival had officially begun at Miami University.

Spring Festival, more commonly known to westerners as Chinese New Year, celebrates the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. This year marks the Year of the Monkey.

This year, Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 8. The celebration begins Feb. 7 and lasts roughly 15 days. 

For the Chinese international students studying at Miami, Friday night was a reminder of home.

Rosie (Hailun) Zhang, a first-year, knows all too well how difficult it can be to be away from home.

Zhang hails from Guangzhou, a sprawling city in Southern China. Guangzhou is roughly 7,200 miles from Ohio.

“It’s really sweet,” Zhang said. “It makes me feel at home “The atmosphere and the celebration … I think it’s good.”

Zhang, like many of her fellow Chinese international students, came to America in pursuit of an independent, reputable education.

But being thousands of miles from home comes with its drawbacks

Zhang misses the food from home most.

“The food here … I’m not a fan of it,” Zhang said.

She also misses the culture, the atmosphere, her way of life and her friends.

Friday night, she was able to immerse herself back into the Chinese culture. For her, the music was the best part of the performance.

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra and the Confucius Institute Chinese Classical Music Ensemble worked in tandem to perform traditional Chinese music in the first act.

The Dayton Children’s Violin Ensemble was a particular hit, seeing as the children who walked onto stage held  instruments half the size of their tiny bodies.

The audience murmured “Aww’s” as the smallest of the group held her violin at attention and stared out into the crowd.

When Renee Jin Fisher performed her piece, the audience went nuts. “Horse Racing,” a popular classical Chinese song, was clearly the fan favorite of the night, with the applause reaching a thunderous roar.

“The ending of the song is very hard,” first-year Betty Liu said. “You have to make the erhu sound like a horse crying, and she did it perfectly.”

Singer Junshu Zheng and YouTube sensation Jason Chen wooed the ladies in the audience with renditions of “All of Me” by John Legend and “When I was your man” by Bruno Mars, respectively.

Students left Hall Auditorium just as excited as they were entering it. They took selfies with the performers and MCs and joked about not winning prizes. The majority headed Uptown to 45 East, where the celebration would continue with food, champagne and music.

A Taste of Tea

On Monday, Feb. 8, the official holiday of Spring Festival, students and faculty bustled around MacMillan Hall,  putting the final touches on their displays.

Red paper lanterns, white banners with red calligraphy and red drawings honoring the year of the monkey lined the walls.

Upon entering the large room at the top of the spiral staircase, students and faculty alike were met with an explosion of color and fragrance. Sets of fine China lined the tables, student musicians played music softly in the background, calligraphers worked on creating beautiful art and the smell of tea filled the air.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. students enjoyed a Chinese New Year celebration through the “Taste of Tea,” where each cup represented an “imaginary voyage.” Students from local high schools, Miami faculty members, international and domestic students alike crowded into the room eager for a lesson on the elegant culture of tea drinking in China.

Chen Zhao, director of the Confucius Institute, arrived in the room promptly at 8:30 a.m., ready to ensure everything was set up to perfection.

“When most people talk about Chinese culture they know about the red lanterns, the red decorations, the fireworks …” said Zhao. “But we use this opportunity to show people a different side of Chinese culture.”

The event featured of eight different kinds of traditional, Chinese tea.

Zhao, a Miami University alumnus and former professor in the Farmer School of Business, described the elegance of tea drinking culture in China as calming and stimulating for the mind. Tea was, and still is, always drank with music and calligraphy and art.

“The Chinese students know the tea already … the culture. They don’t have to come,” Zhao said. “They do this because they want to share. This is for the campus — for sharing with American people.”

Zhao grew up in China and, although she has been in the United States for 26 years, she still has a passion for teaching others about Chinese culture.

“These events, the culture … this is the perfect way to show the campus something new,” Zhao said. “It’s so special to me.”

A Taste of Sharing

First-year international student Betty Liu always has a smile on her face. Her large round glasses appeal to her unique, cutting-edge sense of fashion. She is kind, intelligent, beautiful and thousands of miles from home.

Hailing from Beijing, China, Liu always knew she wanted to study in another country for college. She loves to travel, share culture and experience new things.

Of course, even with Liu’s wanderlust and independent nature, it hasn’t been easy to be away from her family, her friends and her home.

“Facetime and texting helps,” Liu said. “But you don’t know what it’s like until you are miles away from home.”

But this weekend was special —  a reminder of Chinese culture and celebration. Her weekend was filled with the familiarity and beauty of celebrating Spring Festival.

At the concert on Friday night, Liu couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

“They were so incredible,” said Liu. “When I was a kid, I learned the Chinese traditional music. I felt like a kid again. I felt like I was home.”

When Renee Jin Fisher began playing Horse Racing on the erhu, Liu was ecstatic.

“It is such a popular song in China,” said Liu “Everybody knows ‘Horse Racing.’ It was beautiful.”

Liu admired how much preparation went into creating the concert. Everything from decorating the foyer to having the perfect acts to celebrate the New Year were spot on. The atmosphere and energy were just as enthusiastic as it is in China.

“It’s like Christmas in America, the biggest festival of the entire year. It is a big celebration for the people of China and a very important tradition,” Liu said.

As special as this weekend was for Liu, she shares the same mindset as Chen Zhao, director of the Confucius Institute. These celebrations weren’t just for her. They weren’t just for the Chinese International students.

They were for everyone. They were for sharing.

“It’s amazing to me, that we all live on the same Earth, but in such different places,” Liu said.

Liu pointed out some key differences about American and Chinese culture. The food, the celebrations, the art, the writing — it’s all particular to each country. It’s all unique.

That’s her favorite part about learning more about American culture while still retaining her love for Chinese culture.

“Spreading the Chinese culture is a part of my life,” said Liu “I want to show it and bring something new about it … I love my culture, and I want to teach other people all about it.”

Liu, in her free time, teaches some of her friends and fellow residents in Peabody Hall about Chinese culture and what life is like in China. She even taught them how to say ‘happy new year’ in Chinese.

“I once watched a documentary that talked about the super power of the US … the superpower is the diversity … the cultural diversity,” Liu said. “We need to represent the superpower on campus too.”

“We are speaking the same language, but we do not have the same experience,” said Liu “But we can share our experiences and our cultures. That’s what this celebration was all about — sharing.”