Chinese students mark new year studying at Southeast

Monday, January 30, 2006

Traditionally the Chinese spend New Year's day with family members.

But for about 20 Southeast Missouri State University students from China, their New Year celebrations were spent at the China Palace restaurant in Cape Girardeau on Sunday.

This was the first year Xia Liwei spent his New Year's away from his family. Liwei, 20, is from the southern part of China and is attending his second semester at Southeast.

"In China, no matter what part a person is in, he always goes home to be with his family on New Year's," Liwei said. "All my family, including the aunts, uncles and cousins, go to my grandmother's house."

The Chinese New Year follows the cycles of the moon, China Palace owner Johnny Cai explained. "It doesn't always start on the same date and the celebration doesn't last just one day either. Last year the New Year started on Feb. 8."

Spring Festival

The celebration, also known as the Spring Festival, continues for 15 days and will end with the Lantern Festival on Feb. 12.

"In China, the celebrating is much bigger than in New York City for the American New Year," Cai said.

It is tradition in China to shoot off firecrackers to scare off evil spirits and attract the god of wealth to people's doorsteps.

Not much is different between how Americans and Chinese celebrate the New Year, except for certain traditions, Liwei said.

"We do have the three, two, one -- Happy New Year," said He Qinke, who is from a southern region in China. "The Chinese also eat dumplings and the family is together."

Qinke explains that the Chinese eat dumplings because it symbolizes wealth -- the shape of the dumpling resembles money.

There are other traditions the Chinese follow on New Year's.

"If you use money on the first day of the new year, that means you will waste money the entire year," Qinke said. Washing your hair on New Year's will wash away good luck for the year.

Gene and Vanessa Williamson of Jackson were celebrating the new year at China Palace on Sunday. Gene, who is from Cape Girardeau and Vanessa, who is from Hong Kong, have spent the past four years together celebrating both the American and Chinese New Year's.

Two holidays in one

"It's more their independence day and new year celebration combined into one day," Gene Williamson said. "Whereas we celebrate both holidays on a different day."

This is the year of the dog on the Chinese zodiac calendar. The calendar consists of a 12-year cycle, with a different year being named for a different animal. Many Chinese believe the year of a person's birth is the primary factor for determining that person's personality and compatibility traits as well as physical and mental attributes.

"The Asian culture has always fascinated me," Gene Williamson said. "I was born in the year of the pig and Vanessa is a tiger."

Are those two animal traits compatible with one another?

"No, I don't think they are," Vanessa Williamson said.

University president Kenneth Dobbins, as well as other members of the Southeast faculty, were celebrating with the Chinese students.

"I hope this is a year that we will continue to grow and understand each other's different cultures," Dobbins said.

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