News / Arts & Entertainment

Unique US Festival Showcases Wonders of Chinese Culture

  • The Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington. This year it focuses on China and Kenya. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • A workshop on fan dancing at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • A Chinese cooking demonstration at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • A Chinese puppeteer entertains the crowd with the antics of his monkey on a bicycle at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • Performers wait for their show at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • Performers pull strings for their show at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • Beijing artist Yang Guangxin patiently paints a visitor’s name in Chinese calligraphy at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • An artisan untangles thread and readies a needle in the Chinese textiles tent at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • Artisans look over each others' work at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)
  • A young woman and a visitor talk in the market place of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 25, 2014. (Regina Catipon/VOA)

Images from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2014

Ira MellmanRegina Catipon

A curious child waddles up to the man holding a brightly colored kite. She asks him a question but he can only sheepishly smile to show that he does not understand her language. She nonetheless smiles back broadly as he lets her hold the paper kite. Though they cannot speak with each other, they’ve just experienced what the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., is all about: cultural exchange.

Between the classic American landmarks, the Capitol building and the Washington Monument lay China and Kenya -- or, rather, a small taste of the culture and traditions that these countries have to offer. They're this year's featured countries for the annual festival, which opened last weekend on the National Mall and resumes July 2-6.

The festival attracts almost one million visitors each year, who come to see an array of performers and artisans.

Outreach to China

"We're bringing about 120 people from China - musicians, dancers, calligraphers, kite makers, embroiderers, batik dyers - to demonstrate and to share their traditions with our public," said Jim Deutsch, the Smithsonian's program curator.

Together, they provide a diverse picture of China's landscape.

Deutsch and his colleagues have been collaborating with the China Arts and Entertainment Group, the production arm of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. A performer from the Chinese production group, who gave his name as Zhao, said the Chinese artists have come from all over China.

"They are from 15 different provinces in China and they will present eight different kinds of performance programs and 16 handcraft programs," Zhao said. "Now, for example, you can see the New Year springs and the doll sculpture, and for the performance there are groups, companies from the Wu Opera and also the Inner Mongolian song."

Participants and performances are scattered throughout the festival for visitors to discover as they journey through the various tents. There are musical performances in the Moonrise Pavilion, cooking demonstrations in the Five Spice tent, and discussions in the Tea House Commons stage. There are also Chinese language lessons and martial arts demonstrations, all organized so visitors can interact and learn from the Chinese participants.

Hands-on experience

One hugely popular tent offers visitors the chance to see demonstrations of traditional Chinese calligraphy -- and to get samples of their names translated in caligraphy as free souvenirs. Visitors crowd the table and compete to peer closely at the scrolls.

One day last week, caligraphy artist Jong Wang sat calmly amid the clamor, churning out name after name. Originally from Taiwan but now living in metropolitan Washington, D.C., Wang said he came to the festival to demonstrate not only the artistic aspect but also the meditative qualities of calligraphy.

“If you can control the brush, then you are able to write," Wang said while taking a break between workshop shifts. "This practice is over a thousand years old. It takes a lot of control, just like our daily life. For example, when you move the brush backwards to the opposite position to where you want to go, it takes discipline.

"It is like how we must think of things in our mind first. Prepare and then stop,” she said.

Desiree Sisitka, making her second visit to the Folklife Festival, called the Chinese exhibits and demonstrations "lovely."

“We just walked around and looked at crafts over there and the textiles and the clay and it was beautiful," she said.

Cultural preservation

As its title suggests, "China: Tradition and the Art of Living," the festival also aims to demonstrate how the featured countries preserve traditions.

Curator Deutsch said cultural preservation has become a focus in the face of China's rapidly changing landscape.

He initially visited the country in 2006, then returned in 2012 and 2013.

"What impressed me the most was the transformation," Deutsch said. "China is transforming more rapidly than anyone had ever imagined. And that's one of the things we're incorporating into this program: How is China maintaining its cultural heritage and maintaining its traditions in the face of this massive transformation? China is a global phenomenon, the 21st century may be the century of China."

The festival, Deutsch said, intends to help people understand "the global phenomenon that is China."

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.