Professor Dongfang Zhao and Sam Guo (standing) behind students from Prof. Zhao’s classes

Chinese New Year or “Spring Festival” is China’s most important festival and holiday. The next Chinese New Year falls on Friday, February 16, beginning the Year of the Dog.

On Wednesday, February 7, students from Professor Dongfang Zhao’s classes, Beginning Mandarin Chinese and Advanced Communication Skills in Mandarin Chinese, were interviewed by Sam Guo of The China Press, a news source based in the United States that serves the worldwide Chinese community. More than 75,000 copies of this daily newspaper are sold to Chinese Americans in New York City, Boston, and Washington, DC.

The students celebrated Chinese New Year in the festively decorated Center for Global Engagement and learned about the significance of this holiday. The Chinese zodiac cycle lasts 12 years, with each year named for an animal. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people will have personality traits consistent with the characteristics of the animal associated with the year in which they were born. As 2018 marks the Year of the Dog, people born in this year will be considered to be honest, faithful, and ready to serve others. During the interview, Prof. Zhao’s students pointed out that the Chinese calendar is based on lunar cycles and the tradition is that the New Year marks the beginning of spring.

The students also shared their motivation to study Mandarin Chinese. Rebecca Ramin, a freshman Nursing major, made many Chinese friends during her years at Tottenville High School and enjoys speaking with the parents of her friends in their native tongue. They help her to improve her pronunciation.

Adam Karas will be graduating CSI in June with a major in Econometrics and a minor in East Asian Studies. Adam pointed out that the challenge to learning the Mandarin language is not only correctly choosing and pronouncing the appropriate word, but also becoming adept at the penmanship required to create the Chinese characters, each one specific to a distinct word. Adam explained, “To be considered fluent in Mandarin Chinese, you must know how to speak and write 8,000 unique Chinese characters. This is only a small portion of the language as the entire Mandarin language contains over 130,000 characters.”

A student of Prof. Zhao’s advanced class, Lin Kang Sheng, is a native of China who moved to Suriname at the age of 15 and chose to attend CSI as part of the International Student program. Lin is a freshman studying Information Technology with the intention of pursuing a career in game technology. He enjoys the peaceful setting at the CSI campus and his new friends.

In addition, Prof. Zhao and her students explained some of the New Year’s traditions, which include a reunion dinner with family on the eve of the holiday, exchanging red envelopes as gifts, and hanging red decorations including lanterns, couplets, and red New Year pictures, which feature images of prosperity and images of dogs. Children receive red dog dolls. The red envelopes contain money, which is believed to bring good luck. Traditional performances for Chinese New Year’s Day include parades featuring dragon dances and lion dances.

Prof. Zhao underscored the importance of culture in learning Chinese. “While learning a language, it is important to learn the culture, especially for Chinese, there are a lot of cultural and historic elements involved in the characters’ creation.”