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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.