Chinese ring in the new year, 4701

Hayley Odom

Two dancers cloaked under a lion’s head and a sheath of blue silk and sequins weaved around tables and bystanders Wednesday night to summon the year of the monkey.

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year.

But last night, about 400 University officials, professors and students gathered at Coffman Union’s Great Hall to watch this traditional lion’s dance ring in the new year and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the University’s China Center.

The sold-out event featured traditional dances and a Chinese percussion ensemble, and highlighted U.S.-China trade relations.

“It is tradition that everyone should be together to celebrate the future and talk about the past,” said Hong Yang, China Center director. “It’s similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S.”

The keynote speaker, former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, focused on increasing trade relations between the two nations.

He said trade will be a crucial bridge between the United States and China. “People who have economic ties to others usually make better neighbors,” he said.

He also said trade would be essential to create more jobs in the United States. Grams serves on the China Center Advisory Council and is an honorary member of the center.

The formal event, which began at 4 p.m. and ended at 8:30 p.m., included traditional Chinese appetizers of sweet and sour chicken puffs and five-spiced chicken salad wrapped in wontons. The main course featured a buffet that included everything from fried rice to sizzling shrimp and stir-fry vegetables.

“I’m looking forward to great food. Sometimes it’s tough to get good Chinese food in the Twin Cities,” said Jinnhua Su, a third-year law student who attended the event to celebrate the New Year with other members of the Chinese community. “Being here is also a way to be reminded of my culture.”

One of the most important cultural aspects of the evening focused on the symbolism and significance of the lion dance, which is a traditional component that brings in the Chinese New Year.

Another traditional Chinese dance concluded the evening.

The event was also the perfect time to celebrate the past work and future goals of the center.

“The University, faculty and students have benefited tremendously from the relationships this program has built,” said Christine Maziar, University executive vice president and provost, speaking on behalf of the University and University President Bob Bruininks. “This center has grown to become a huge asset for this area.”

Maziar also said the University boasts more Chinese alumni than any other campus in North America.

Many new initiatives are in place to increase the ties between the center, the surrounding community and China. These initiatives include a business colloquium, a U.S.-China emerging issue forum, a directory of U.S.-China related companies and organizations and a career connections program.

The China Center, which began in 1979, directs exchanges between the University and the People’s Republic of China and focuses on research, teaching and outreach. Seminars and programs on Chinese culture, politics, trade and development are also sponsored by the Center.