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The Met museum celebrates Year of the Dragon

By MINGMEI LI in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-05 10:58

Young visitors apply ink to the woodblock to experience traditional Chinese culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday in New York. MINGMEI LI / CHINA DAILY

The beat of drums echoed off the museum's walls as dragon dancers entered in procession. A golden dragon gracefully wove and twirled through the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.

That was the scene Saturday as the largest museum in the United States celebrated the Chinese New Year with visitors from around the world, featuring traditional Asian cultural experiences through hands-on workshops, including woodblock printing, lucky lantern decorating, and paper dragon folding.

Attendees also enjoyed traditional performances and demonstrations such as Chinese glove puppetry and calligraphy, poetry readings and Asian jazz performances.

"We're very pleased to start and kick it off with a dragon dance. We used to have lions, but I felt that since the dragon is such an auspicious animal in the zodiac, as well as being connected to Chinese culture and even to the world, it was really important for us to have the dragon dance this year," Heidi Holder, the chair of education at the Met, told China Daily.

She said that this year's celebration, which is the sixth for the Lunar New Year at the Met, is more extensive than in the past. The Met had 18,000 participants in 2023, and Holder anticipates 20,000 visitors this year.

Holder said one special thing about this year's celebration is that the Met is working with the Chinese Consulate General in New York and invited woodblock makers from the Zhejiang Cultural Conventional Center in China to demonstrate Chinese traditional woodblock printing.

"During the Chinese New Year season, we take down the old New Year paintings from the past year and put up new ones, anticipating a wonderful year ahead," Huang Jiecheng, the representative inheritor of the national intangible cultural heritage project Hangzhou Woodblock printing told China Daily.

He demonstrated a painting of "the god of fortune" and showed it to workshop participants. "Woodblock printing encompasses two of our Four Great Inventions — papermaking and printing, and it has nearly 1,400 years of history since the Sui Dynasty," he said.

"This is a deeply rooted cultural tradition in China. We are glad seeing so many children participate, which provides them with an opportunity to engage and understand traditional Chinese culture from a young age, instilling in them the concept of learning from traditional heritage," he said. "Some of China's excellent traditional skills and crafts play a crucial role in paving the way for cultural exchange between East and West. It serves as a window to understand China."

Huang said that before the pandemic, "we hosted many American students from Chicago to experience woodblock printing in Hangzhou. I believe there will be many opportunities for such mutual exchanges in the future," he said.

Jacob Wolfard, 14, told China Daily: "I knew what the Chinese New Year was, but I had never really gone to anything until this morning," adding that the woodblock printing "is very fun, it's very cool, and we are going to see the Chinese calligraphy later."

"I'm excited about that there is so much culture here, and we just wanted to learn about it," Jacob's mom, Krystal Wolfard, told China Daily. Wolfard said she was new to the city, and it was her first time celebrating Chinese New Year in such a way.

Julie, who was with her daughter Tabi, told China Daily: "It's beautiful, and it's so intricate. I love the different textures that come out through the wood. I also saw the video of the wood for carving and going into making the block. I actually touched the woodblock and put the paint on it, getting engaged with the art.

"There is a lot for me to learn. I find it very vibrant and exciting. I'd like to understand more of the meanings behind the different symbols and different holidays. We need to keep building relationships, engaging in each other's culture, don't let the political and economic divisions keep us from enjoying each other's culture," she said.

"This is a very exciting opportunity to work with living artists to preserve culture. This is very much a family day. For little kids, they may not remember it, but they would know that they would see master craftsmen from China who would show them how to do woodwork," Holder, who is also the New Year celebration spokeswoman, told China Daily. "So it's a very sort of transformative experience."

"A big part of this celebration is about cultural understanding. Cultural exchange is a part of the bread and butter. It's the fabric of the document as is a lot of what the Met does," she said.

"If we can have one wish for the new year — improving cultural understanding, peace and prosperity," she said.

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