Dumplings, the Spring Festival Gala, and the Chinese New Year: An Interview with Chenfang Yang

Chenfang Yang, Electronic Resources and Technology Librarian, is from Jinan China—the capitol of Shandong province in northeast China. I sat down with Chenfang this afternoon to learn about the Chinese New Year which is on Monday, January 23.

How is the Chinese New Year celebrated?                                                           The Chinese New Year is the biggest festival of the year and it is celebrated for a week. People get together with their friends and family and eat lots of delicious food. New Years Eve, January 22, is the biggest dinner of the year. Also in the Supermarket, there are a lot of foods and songs for New Year’s. The streets are decorated with lanterns. You can feel the New Years’ atmosphere everywhere.

On New Year’s Eve, January 22nd, you have the biggest dinner of the year! Can you describe what one might eat at the dinner and how that takes place?                                                                                                                 I can comment on what the Northern people might eat, because I am from the North. I think Northern China and Southern China have different food on their table on that day. For example, people from the North, definitely have dumplings. Dumplings are made almost right at midnight.

On the Eve of the Chinese New Year, dinner is a feast and there will be lots of delicious food people normally don’t eat. Food will include pork, duck, shrimp, fish and sweet delicacies. The family will get together and cook together. For example, there is one dish that is made of sweet potato. You first fry it, and then you glaze it with honey. You eat it when it comes out of the pot and is very hot. You eat it with chop sticks and the honey makes strings of sugar. This dish my mom sometimes cooks for New Year’s Eve, and she sometimes only cooks it once a year because it is very complicated and involves a lot of time and many procedures.

When people eat dinner, they will watch the Spring Festival Gala, which is once a year and it is the biggest performance.

Is that on TV?                                                                                                                           Yes, it is on TV and it is live. It is a tradition to watch the Spring Festival Gala and have dinner together. It usually goes from 8PM to midnight with no commercials. It has dance, songs and the Beijing Opera, music, aerobics, and other performances. There also magicians and many other forms of traditional performance.

Does the government sponsor this?                                                                        Yes.  The Gala started in the 1980s.

When you talk about family coming over, are lots and lots of people at the house, or is it your immediate family?                                                      It is immediate family. Usually, in China, if you are married you go to your husband’s home. That is the Chinese tradition. The day of the New Year is the time to visit friends—in the morning, and greet each other. We wish each other “happy new year and a safe and prosperous new year.” Also, on New Year’s Day, kids usually wear new clothes and receive money from the family and family friends. The second day of the New Year is the day to go to the daughter’s parents’ home.

At the New Year, is there a feeling of unity, excitement, hope?              Yes, everything you just said.

I feel like in America, on NYE, people go to parties with their friends and drink a lot. The party is definitely the main feature of the American NYE. This seems like a distinction from the Chinese New Year.                                                                                                                                           Yes, the Chinese New Year is more like a family reunion.

Is this holiday very important in China? In the US, the New Year in not the most important holiday.                                                                                   Yes, it is the most important. It is important because family’s get together. Many people go away to jobs, and stay there throughout the year. At the end of the lunar year, or about a month before the New Year, people start to go home.

There is a problem or phenomena that the people from the rural area cannot buy a ticket to go home, because there are too many people going home. If people do get a ticket, they have to stand or sit in the hallway of the train. It is very crowded. This is a huge social problem.

This is only a problem that rural people face?                                                                                                                                                          Yes, because the city people usually stay in the city. If you are richer than the rural people, there are other ways to get home, like flying.

Thanks so much for speaking to me Chenfang! And, Happy New Year!

Look for Chenfang’s book display featuring books about China, from the Collection, on the campus level of the library.

Here are a few on display:

China’s political system : modernization and tradition

Chinese Herbal Medicine: Comparisons and Characteristics

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Mao’s new world : political culture in the early People’s Republic

Encountering the Chinese: a modern country, an ancient culture

Culture and sustainability : a cross-national study of cultural diversity and environmental priorities among mass publics and decision makers