Maspeth living room is transformed into a Thanksgiving
dining room that can seat visiting family. Tribune
photo By Brian M. Rafferty
Out From Communist Rule, Faith Grows
By Juliet Werner
Alina Wang, 16, is training to be a professional Chinese classical dancer. She attends Fei Tian Dancing School in upstate New York, where she also receives academic instruction and practices Falun Gong, a system of mind and body cultivation.
Her mother, Mei Jiang, lives in Forest Hills. Originally from the Canton region in China, Jian discovered Falun Gong while living in Peru. She practiced regularly with various dignitaries who worked at the Chinese embassy until 1999 when the Chinese Communist Party banned Falun Gong and Jiang was ostracized by her fellow practitioners.
When the family moved to Queens in 2004, Alina started taking dance at Tianjiao Arts and Culture Center in Manhattan.
"In Peru my daughter had cultural events, but not on the same scale," Jiang said, adding that she was eager to have her daughter exposed to traditional Chinese values.
"There's an emphasis on being a nice person, polite, helpful, trustworthy and wise," she said. "And so many values get lost."
Wang was receptive.
"Modern people have forgotten about ancient ways when people were more simple, more connected to nature and more kind," she said. "Dancing is not just about movements, but the inner feeling."
Wang's talent attracted the attention of New Tang Dynasty Television, a Manhattan-based nonprofit Chinese network that also produces live entertainment during the holiday season. She was quickly cast in NTDTV's Chinese New Year Spectacular Show.
The Other New Year
NTDTV's Chinese New Year Spectacular, which is presented in the last week of January or first week of February depending on the lunar calendar, is now in its fifth year. Production manager Rong Pei said the show provides westerners and Chinese with a much-needed celebration of traditional Chinese culture.
"Overseas more and more Westerners feel very interested," Pei said. "When they go to China they are not going to see it. So that's why we started doing this show. It's the responsibility of the artist to show the world how beautiful Chinese culture is."
The Chinese Communist government is adamantly opposed to NTDTV's New Year show and has allegedly placed prank phone calls and clogged the ticket hotline.
"There are a lot of things they don't like and we don't see why that should stop us," Director of Corporate Relations Jenny Fang said.
Several sponsors backed out under pressure from the Chinese government, but when representatives from NTDTV traveled to Canada last year, they successfully convinced the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to come back onboard.
Not only has NTDTV increased the reach of its New Year Spectacular tour - this year it will reach 50 cities in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia - it has rolled out a new production: Holiday Wonders.
"Last year we started thinking there's more market [in December] and people love it so much so why not do another one during an important holiday season for most people in the world," Pei said, adding, "It's a new art form."
Holiday Wonders combines traditional Chinese music and dance with various Western elements such as ballet, a brass ensemble and an appearance by Santa Claus. The hosts speak both Chinese and English. The full orchestra also includes Western instruments as well as Chinese instruments such as the Erhu, Pipa and Suona.
"We don't do it for religious or commercial purposes," Pei said. "We just present what's beautiful."
Fang said she doesn't worry that catering to a Western calendar will expedite assimilation among New York's Chinese-American population.
"These are challenges, but I think in their hearts they're still looking to New Year's," Fang said.
Christmas in China
Christmas is gaining popularity in China, where the influx of Western companies has exposed the Chinese to new levels of materialism. The upcoming Beijing Olympics may further encourage a global-approach to the holiday season.
Chinese blogger Raymond Zho thinks Christmas is misunderstood in China.
"Most people in China cannot tell the religious from the secular in Christmas celebrations," Zho said. "They like the holiday for its festiveness…Many of our cities have Christmas-like lights all year round."
According to NTDTV Events Coordinator Crystal Liu, the Chinese have turned gestures normally associated with the New Year - such as the exchange of greeting cards - into Christmas traditions. She buys her Chinese Christmas cards in Flushing and said she regularly receives Christmas cards from her non-Christian friends and family who still live in China.
Last year 10 Ph.D. students posted an Internet petition titled, "Out of Cultural Collective Unconsciousness, Strengthen Chinese Cultural Dominance," which urged the younger generation to be less fascinated by the foreign holiday.
A more religious celebration of the holiday is also considered suspect in China, especially by the ruling Communist party. Although the government supports the right to religious freedom, the International Coalition for Religious Freedom has found that very little religious freedom actually exists. Christians can only attend services in buildings registered with the government, leaving the majority to gather in private "House Churches." And for the past 10 years, the government has been steadfast in its attempt to keep religious groups working in concert with the Communist agenda.
Fang, who emigrated from China in the 1990s, said she read the Bible for the first time once in the States.
"I am no longer an atheist," Fang said. "Quickly in free society you have all sorts of information open to you."
John Wang, pastor of the Chinese congregation at Flushing First Baptist Church, is not surprised by evangelism's success within the Asian-American community.
"The Gospel is very appealing and very attractive because it's good news," he said.
The Flushing church is home to English and Spanish speaking congregations as well.
"That's the teaching of Christ," Wang said. "We should not have barriers in ethnic groups."
Whether they speak English, Spanish or Chinese, all members of the Flushing church celebrate Christmas with a focus on charity. An annual program called Angel Tree collects toys for children whose parents are incarcerated. There's also a food drive.
As is the case in American churches, services will be held on Christmas Eve and Day. There is not, however, the same emphasis on Christmas-specific music.
"There are some Chinese artists who have intended to compose Christmas music, but it's not overwhelming," Wang said.
Even within the Chinese congregation, backgrounds vary.
"We have believers who became Christians in China, other people who had never heard of Christianity and were introduced to it by our church," Wang said. "And then there are some people who had exposure, but once they came to the United States they changed their attitude and became much more receptive to the Gospel."
Wang became a member of the Church in 1988, a pastor in 2002. He is very precise about the intended meaning of Christmas.
"The message of Christmas is that Jesus is the greatest gift God has given to human beings," Wang said. "My hope is that our members and even the community would focus on this area instead of on the commercial aspect."