Chinese (Lunar) New Year Festivites

Chinese New Year, by Zhang Min, giclée print, 1997 at Museum of Chinese in America

Saturday, January 28th, marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar year  4714 , also known as the Year of the Fire Rooster.   The Chinese zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle, with other Rooster years falling in 1945, 1969, 1981, 1993 and 2005; however, the last Fire Rooster year was 1956. 

Lunar New Year, heralding the beginning of the Spring Festival, is celebrated by many countries in East Asia, where it is also known as Chinese New Year, Sŏllal (Korea), Tsagaan Sar (Mongolia), Losar (Tibet), Tet (VietNam) and Imlek (Indonesia).

Families gather together for a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and clean their houses to sweep away bad fortune on New Year’s Day.  Traditionally, children would be given red envelopes stuffed with ‘lucky money’ and positive wishes on New Year’s Day, but now, there’s an app for that!

Year of the Rooster red envelope

Fire Roosters are known for being trustworthy, punctual and responsible (especially at work), not to mention active, amusing, popular, outspoken, loyal and charming. On the other hand… they are also known to enjoy the spotlight – but can be vain and boastful.  Serena Williams, Eric Clapton, Beyonce and Roger Federer were all born in the Year of the Rooster.

The traditional holiday lasts for 15 days, culminating with the Lantern Festival for young lovers. Here in the Big Apple there are a number of celebrations over the coming weeks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, January 28, the Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival, gets things going at 11:00am, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park. (Grand Street at Chrystie St.)  There will be performances, vendors, and giveaways. The main event, the Firecracker Ceremony is scheduled for noon. You might want to bring your ear plugs!

Starting Saturday, January 28th, with the Chinese New Year Temple Bazaar, Flushing Town Hall in Queens will be hosting a variety of events throughout February to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

At the Asia Society, celebrate the Year of the Rooster on Saturday, January 28th with crafts, music, kung-fu demonstration and theatre.  More information here.  Their New York location is at 725 Park Avenue (70th Street), with offices in 11 other cities around the US and the world.

Join The Korea Society on Saturday, January 28th, to celebrate Sŏllal, the Korean New Year,  a day of fun-filled family activities: enjoy storytelling based on Korean folk tales, play a Korean hand-drum, learn brush painting, compete in traditional games, and more! The Korea Society is at 950 Third Avenue, 8th floor.

Sunday, January 29th, join the festivities at Madison Street to Madison Avenue  which include a variety of  cultural performances and a wide-range of fun, kid-friendly activities inside heated tents, including Chinese face painting, calligraphy demonstrations, paper-cutting, and a themed photo booth. Starting at 11:00am, inside the Harman Music Store, 54th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.  Sponsored by the Confucius Institute for Business (CIB) at SUNY.  

Sunday, January 29th, Celebrate Chinese New Year in Sunset Park, NY’s “other” Chinatown in Brooklyn, with a parade and free performances. A fun family outing whatever your ethnicity, Chinese New Year events in Sunset Park are organized by the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, a community service organization founded in 1987.  Noon to 1 p.m.: Parade starts at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street in Brooklyn.

Saturday, February 4th, Celebrate the Year of the Rooster in the most diverse community in the United States! March with the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce in the Flushing Lunar New Year Parade organized by the “2017 Lunar New Year Festival Committee,” a coalition of community groups led by the Flushing Chinese Business Association (FCBA) and the Korean American Association of Queens (KAAQ).  Meet up with the Flushing Chamber (39-01 Main Street, Suite 511) between 10:00AM and 11:00AM for some hot coffee and donuts … then, head off to the parade which lasts approximately an hour.

Saturday, February 4th, China Institute will host Chinese New Year celebrations, including family workshops and a concert.  You can find more information on these and other programs here.  You’ll find the China Institute at 100 Washington Street; note that there’s a temporary entrance: 40 Rector Street, 2nd Floor.

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is hosting several  Lunar New Year events:   you can start on Saturday, February 4th, and learn how to make dumplings with Joanna Lee and Ken Smith, authors of the Pocket Chinese Almanac (you can listen to my podcast with them last year here); Saturday, February 11th, MOCA will have zodiac themed arts & crafts, lively dance performances, festive food sampling, storytelling, and much more for the whole family; and  on Sunday, February 12th, you can join Joanna and Ken at the Golden Unicorn Restaurant, where they’ll teach you how to order dim sum.

Sunday, February 5th, from noon to 4:30 pm, Check out Chinatown’s Annual Lunar New Year Parade for tantalizing visuals, delicious treats and mesmerizing cultural performances. This party features all sorts of vendors, food, and festivities for all ages to welcome the Year of the Rooster. The parade winds its way through the main streets of Manhattan Chinatown on February 5, and parade starts at 1pm. Show up early to grab a prime spot along the route! Suggested viewing locations: East Broadway or by Grand Street / Sara Roosevelt Park.

February 8th, 6:00pm, the Flushing Chamber of Commerce Lunar New Year Celebration   attendees will enjoy family-friendly performances and get to savor Lunar New Year delicacies include a prosperity toss, roasted suckling pig, golden dumplings, longevity noodles, and more.  6:00pm – 8:30pm Flushing Town Hall, 173-35 Northern Boulevard   

Saturday, February 11th,  Ring in the year of the Rooster at Brookfield Place in partnership with the New York Chinese Culture Center. Get ready for energetic dance and music performances, as well as demonstrations of Chinese customs such as a martial arts demo and theatrical players in full traditional makeup-up and regalia. Guests of all ages should show up early: there will be a dynamic, colorful Lion Parade led by lion dances throughout the space before the show begins. Starting 1:30pm

Looking further ahead, from March 9th to the 18th, you can enjoy Asia Week New York, an annual ten-day celebration of Asian art  with exhibitions, auctions and special events presented by leading international Asian art specialists, auction houses, museums and cultural institutions.

100 Enchanting Views of the Moon

Moon Above the Sea at Daimotsu Bay, from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshtoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery

Moon Above the Sea at Daimotsu Bay, from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshtoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery

Last week the Print Club of NY invited me to their members reception at the Ronin Gallery.  In addition to seeing the wonderful exhibit One Hundred Views of the Moon, we were also treated to a lively and informative talk about the show by the gallery President, David Libertson, son of the owners who founded Ronin forty-two years ago.

On exhibit are about half of the 100 prints which comprise One Hundred Views of the Moon, one of the masterpieces by Japanese artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Born in 1839, Yoshitoshi was one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e genre of wood block printing.   Bridging the Edo period, the Meiji Restoration, and modern Japan, he was noted for his imaginative and innovative style. His prints are imbued with emotion and elegance, portraying people realistically. While his art focused on  traditional scenes from history and kabuki theatre, as well as images of foreigners, Yoshitoshi used the new, aniline dyes that were being introduced into Japan from the West. 

Not only did he live though the political and economic upheavals of 19th century Japan, his own life was incredibly tumultuous, punctuated by periods of precarious finances, personal instability, fragile physical and mental health.  From the age of three, he was raised by an uncle;  at age eleven, he apprenticed with Kuniyoshi, one of the grand masters of the Utagawa School of woodblock printing. In his early twenties, he lost both his father and his teacher, and thereafter knew several years of bitter poverty, living – at different times – with two mistresses, both of whom hired themselves out to brothels to support him.

Jade Rabbit - Sun Wukong, from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshitoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery.

Jade Rabbit – Sun Wukong, from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshitoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery.

Yoshitoshi made his first print in 1853, the year that Admiral Perry arrived and forced Japan to open to the West.  The 1860’s were a period of political upheaval, and many bloody battles, which Yoshitoshi reflected in his work (his “grotesque period”)  – nonetheless, his prints were quite popular.  But tastes change with the times.  In the early 1870’s his work was no longer in demand, and the artist was severely depressed.  However, in the mid to late 1870’s he began working steadily, as newspapers commissioned him to design woodblocks with scenes of  graphic violence and death to accompany their “true crime” stories (I guess gore always sells).

The 1880’s were a period of financial stability, personal stability (he got married) and artistic output:  in 1883, Yoshitoshi  created the Flute Player Triptych, and between 1885 and 1891, the images for three series: One Hundred Views of the Moon; 32 Aspects of Women; and 36 Ghosts, while also creating prints of historical subjects. 

In 1892 he entered an asylum, and in 1892, he died at age 53 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

During his lifetime, woodblocks prints, whose production is very labor intensive, were facing increasing competition from photography and lithography.  Yoshitoshi’s work is concerned with what was being lost – in subject matter and artistic process – as Japan modernized.

The Yugao Chapter from "The Tale of Genji" from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshitoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery.

The Yugao Chapter from “The Tale of Genji” from 100 Views of the Moon by Yoshitoshi. Image courtesy of Ronin Gallery.

One Hundred Views of the Moon is a series of one hundred single sheets, depicting a wide variety of subjects – Japanese and Chinese history and myth, Noh and Kabuki theatre, contemporary Japanese life – linked only by the presence of the moon in each print. While its imagery hearkens back to a softer time, invoking Old Japan, the series employs the more intense colors made possible by the new dyes. The moon was very important in 19th century Japan – in the Meiji period, moon viewing parties were raucous affairs, so it’s no surprise that this was one of Yoshitoshi’s most popular series. People would line up before dawn to buy each new design, only to find that the edition sold out (and you thought only today’s teenage sneaker buyers do things like that!)

Even though we think of the artist when we think of wood block images, in the 1800’s it was the publisher who was the driving force – he hired the artist to create a sketch or painting, which was then handed to block carvers, who, using cherry wood, carved a block for each color; the printer then printed the images on paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree.  After 200 – 250 prints, the block is degraded; after 500 are made, the prints are no longer considered to be in excellent condition.  In 19th century Japan, prints were not framed and hung on the wall;  rather, collectors would put them in a chest, and take them out to view.

David Libertson, Ronin Gallery President speaking to the members of the Print Club of NY

David Libertson, Ronin Gallery President speaking to the members of the Print Club of NY

The Print Club of New York is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  It brings together a group of avid print collectors – membership is limited to 200 – offering an educational program that includes lectures by artists, curators and conservators, as well as visits to galleries, auction houses, print shops and artists’ studios. Every year the club commissions a print for it’s membership. Check out their website for more information.

Lunar New Year Celebrations

Monkey Mask, Bhutan, 20th cent.

Monkey Mask, Bhutan, 20th cent.

Gung hay fat choy!  Yes, the Year of the Red Monkey (4713), begins on February 8th, the start of the Spring Festival.  Celebrated by many countries in East Asia, this holiday is also known as Chinese New Year, Seollal (Korea), Tsagaan Sar (Mongolia), Losar (Tibet) and Tet (VietNam).  Here in the Big Apple, there will be celebrations in all 3 Chinatowns, with parades in Queens on February 12th, and in Manhattan on February 13th.

According to the Pocket Chinese Almanac (article below) “the New Year is a time when families come together to celebrate nature’s renewal.  The elaborate rituals actually begin days before:  cleaning the house thoroughly, thanking the Kitchen God before the evening meal buying new clothes to wear for the new year.  The traditional festival period lasts for 15 days, with the first full moon marking the Lantern Festival, a carnival for young lovers”.

The many Asian cultural institutes in the city will all host activities around this holiday: the Asia Society, the Museum of Chinese in America,  the China Institute,  the Korea Society, and the Rubin Museum  as well as other organizations and institutions, starting Saturday and going through the 15th.  I’ve listed as many activities as I could in the CURRENT EVENTS page.  There’s a lot going on this year!

Capital, Cuxa Cloister, Catalan, ca 1130-40, marble

Capital, Cuxa Cloister, Catalan, ca 1130-40, marble

The monkey is the 9th of twelve zodiac animals on the Chinese calendar, and considered to be quick-witted, charming, lucky, adaptable, bright, versatile, lively, smart.  On the weakness side of the ledger, they are suspicious, cunning, selfish, arrogant, jealous.  The Monkey King is one of the most well-known characters in Chinese literature, and you’ll find him in operas, theatre productions and films.

The Monkey contains the elements of metal and water, which are connected to gold, and wisdom and danger, respectively.  Bottom line for this year:  things will be changing a lot, so be adaptable, and exercise caution when making changes.  Which is good advice no matter what your sign!

Your Chinese Zodiac sign occurs every 12 years.  Yours would be the Monkey if you were born in: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, etc., and you would share this sign with Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger, among other notables.

No matter what your sign, get out and CELEBRATE!!

Chinese Almanac

PCA - Cover Art - Excerpted from "Monkey Riding a Ram" woodblock print, Shandong Province, Qing Dynasty

PCA – Cover Art – Excerpted from “Monkey Riding a Ram” woodblock print, Shandong Province, Qing Dynasty

Last weekend, at the Museum of Chinese in America,   Joanna Lee and Ken Smith  spoke about the Pocket Chinese Almanac,  which they’ve been publishing since 2010. I met them a few years earlier, and have been to their presentations before, which are always interesting and fun. The Pocket Chinese Almanac is an English translation of part of the Tong Sing, the traditional Chinese Almanac, whose roots are in the Imperial Calendar.  But it’s more than a calendar or guide to weather conditions.  As Joanna and Ken note in their introduction:  “The Tong Sing is an expression of cultural memory transcending such categories as modernity and tradition, the original self-help book, and an inspirational guide to channeling positive energy in all walks of life.”

Naturally the almanac starts with the New Year; however, this is no one-day celebration but rather a major week-long holiday in China and other countries in Asia. In addition, many businesses close a week before the festival begins, so people have time to get back home to their villages and prepare, so if you’re trying to get business done during those two weeks, forget about it. 

To properly welcome in the New Year, it is absolutely essential that the house be spotless – like cleaning for Passover – and pomelo leaves are recommended for this task.  Since this is a family celebration, there is lots of food, so its best to prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Because the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year, large meals on that day are seen as a harbinger of abundance ahead – and vice-versa. One of the traditional foods is sticky rice cakes, which are offered to the Kitchen God, so he can’t say anything bad about you to the Celestial Emperor. And don’t forget to make an offering to the Kitchen God’s wife!

The modern Tong Sing divides the Lunar Year into 12 months; like Western almanacs, it includes sections to entertain while instructing the reader, such as Confucian stories of filial piety, and Wisdoms in Governing a Household.  The Pocket Almanac, which features folk art from different regions in China, focuses on the declarations of activities which may be good or bad for a given day.  While many of the activities in the almanac are rooted in an agrarian society, they are nonetheless applicable to modern, urban life, and the authors have included a notes section to explain some of the terminology.  For example, in the below predictions for the start of the year, “destroying houses/walls – only by destroying the old, can you bring in the new;”  “making fishing nets – originally for fishermen, now applicable for modern-day capital overhauls (perhaps an upgrade on your Internet browser?)”:

(original size: 10 x 12 cm; early 1990s) Fan Zouxin (范祚信, b. 1944) hails from Gaomi County, Shandong Province, a locale that became famous through the writings of Nobel laureate Mo Yan. Since the early 1990s, Fan has created multiple series of papercuts based on the Chinese zodiac, always framing the featured animal with an auspicious Chinese character as background, such as “double happiness” (囍) here. As early as 1995, Fan was recognized by UNESCO for his artistic achievement.

(original size: 10 x 12 cm; early 1990s) Fan Zouxin (范祚信, b. 1944) hails from Gaomi County, Shandong Province, a locale that became famous through the writings of Nobel laureate Mo Yan. Since the early 1990s, Fan has created multiple series of papercuts based on the Chinese zodiac, always framing the featured animal with an auspicious Chinese character as background, such as “double happiness” (囍) here. As early as 1995, Fan was recognized by UNESCO for his artistic achievement.

As to what lies ahead in 2016:  change, change, change, so learn to adapt, and go with the flow.

Joanna and Ken ended their talk with a Ming Dynasty poem, sent by their geomancer, over the Internet.  Here’s the on-the-fly translation Joanna gave:

Don’t worry – remember

The Yangtze River flows for a long time

Throughout all these millennia

how many heroes have died

But in life, you must remember

that despite where we human beings are

The mountains, as well as the sun and the moon

will remain